Advancements in Community Correction Technology
In some jurisdictions, community corrections agencies struggle to manage massive caseloads. Some organizations view artificial intelligence (AI) as a future solution to assist overburdened corrections supervisors. Others desire more subtle improvements such as smaller, less conspicuous GPS devices that will help monitor offenders. Another innovation – family mapping tools – enables correctional supervisors to develop visual representations that help offenders see available resources, such as the location of family members or support services. Nationwide, agencies use technology to monitor probationers and parolees, but these advancements can come with challenges.
Community Corrections Technology in the United States
In 2013, U.S. criminal justice correctional systems managed almost 7 million adults, according to research from the U.S. Department of Justice. Among the group, almost 5 million were on probation or parole. Across the nation, parole caseloads vary greatly, with some supervisors monitoring four individuals and others monitoring almost 150 individuals. On average, supervisory officers manage 38 parolee cases concurrently. As movement toward incarceration alternatives grows, caseloads could continue to grow in tandem.
Community correction technology holds the promise of helping agencies with limited resources manage large caseloads. As such, agencies in almost all states use some sort of technology to manage clients.
Improving a Standard Tool
Some community corrections agencies use an Offender Tracking System (OTS) to manage the movements of probationers and parolees. First generation OTS devices required movement restriction for effective tracking. Current technology tracks probationers and parolees wherever they travel. Modern OTS devices feature the same framework used by cellular devices to locate and report mobile equipment. However, the devices are bulky and easily defeated. There is also the concern that the conspicuous visibility of these devices may make securing and sustaining employment difficult and that smaller devices are safer for clients who work with heavy machinery.
Researching GPS Effectiveness
A Corrections Today publication article titled “A Tale of Two Studies: Lessons Learned from GPS Supervision in California Corrections,” reports on a study conducted on over 500 GPS-monitored parolees and probationers. The report — authored by Steven V. Gies of Development Services Group — acknowledges that while probation and parole officers are more likely to uncover minor violations due to GPS technology, recidivism drops greatly among offenders monitored by location tracking devices. While GPS technology is not a solution in itself, it is one useful community corrections tool.
Discovering Resources with Family Mapping
Corrections agencies can also evaluate clients’ familial connections using family mapping technology, this according to a recent report by the American Probation and Parole Association. Supervisory officers use the technologies to build rapport while helping clients discover resources. Using genograms, the officers outline the client’s familial support network on a family tree and ecomap community resources such as counselors, housing and community services. The representations help clients discover options and make informed decisions as they reintegrate into their communities.
Uncovering Familial Resources
Data also from the American Probation and Parole Association highlights how family mapping tools support Native American clients. In the report, a tribal corrections supervisor outlines familial information with a client to reveal positive influences, such a mother’s successful recovery from drug addiction and family members’ steady employment. Using a graphic called a genogram, the corrections supervisor outlines family characteristics, helping the client and supervisor reach reintegration objectives and discover available resources.
On an ecomap, the corrections supervisor records each person in the client’s social circle. As the supervisor records social connections, they examine how individuals will potentially affect the client’s behavior and together the supervisor and offender work to discover positive influences.
Engaging Clients in the Digital Domain
A separate report from the American Probation and Parole Association reveals that the online presence of parole and probation officers is just as important as their in-person involvement. Social media platforms expand the social reach of clients and simultaneously shape their behavior. To assess the risk of re-offense, correctional supervisors observe the social network activity of clients. By ensuring offenders’ interaction with positive social media influences, correctional supervisors seek to help increase public safety by curtailing the detrimental activity of offenders which may lead to unlawful incidents, such as drug use and other crime.
The Road Forward
Technology is inescapably merging with corrections work as agencies work to decrease cost and increase effectiveness, according to the Director of the Texas Criminal Justice Policy Council, Dr. Tony Fabelo. Early technology adopters lead the way through new learning that have the potential to increase public safety. Advances are emerging in GPS, such as artificial intelligence and family mapping technologies. Still, community corrections agencies face key challenges, including balancing public safety with individual privacy rights and staying ahead of technology-related legal issues.