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Community Supervision

An article published by The Mercury News talks about how Contra Costa County might temporarily stop collecting certain court fees from people facing criminal charges or getting out of jail. Justice reform advocates argue it is an unfair burden for the poor as they cannot afford the fees and struggle to pay them. The Board of Supervisors met two weeks ago to consider suspending the fees until the end of the year and possibly permanently eliminate them. The fees in consideration of suspension are probation report fees, public defenders’ fees and fees for alternative custody programs, including electronic monitoring and work alternatives to jail time. To make it fair for all people, the fees would be waived for everyone in court, not just those who cannot afford them. 

The fees can add up to thousands of dollars, adding additional stress to those who are transitioning out of the criminal justice system and back into society, as many do not have a job or support system to help them pay the fees. However, eliminating these fees runs the risk of losing around $1.8 million spent on court programs and operations. This would cause the courts to decide which programs to reduce or eliminate and how to deal with this loss of revenue each year. The court system is willing to work on finding the money elsewhere as the fees create huge barriers to people re-integrating into society successfully and debt free. 

The move to eliminate these fees for people has moved in the right direction and has support from district supervisors and governmental officials. Since 2017, California has been moving in the direction of not collecting fees from families and focusing on helping people rehabilitate and become functioning members of society again. Contra Costa County is hopeful they will be able to help people coming out of jail by not having to pay the fees and saving them thousands of dollars that can be put to good use for themselves and their families. 

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Community Supervision, Public Safety

For years, the United States has struggled to provide effective support to the more than 650,000 people who return to society from prison every year. As imprisoned individuals prepare to re-enter their communities, there are many factors that determine whether they are going to build a successful life after incarceration or whether they end up back behind bars. The potential challenges for re-entry include compliance with probation requirements, gaining employment, housing security and access to behavioral health services. If we are to succeed in reducing the number of re-offenders in America, we must find ways of changing the status quo in current policies and practices and embrace emerging technologies.

Technology has the capacity to greatly affect this intractable problem of recidivism in countless ways. The benefit of technology is that it can be customized to fit countless situations. Devices that continuously monitor alcohol intake of a person have completely changed how supervisors tackle alcohol abuse with offenders. Access to internet-based applications can provide automatic updates on job opportunities, deliver therapeutic materials and assist with training skills for the offender. Case Management Systems make it easier for case workers to monitor compliance and provide rehabilitative support though a streamlined secure website. Electronic monitoring devices can be customized to fit the needs of the offender using it, such as approving certain apps, controlling internet access, and monitoring their behavior. Video conferencing and messaging can allow for constant contact with a probation officer, including after normal business hours or across distances, which would minimize conflicts between work, family, and probation obligations.

TRACKtech™ provides two options for electronic monitoring. The TRACKPhone™, which is a specialized smartphone issued to Program Members, is intended to enforce compliance for those in need of more severe supervision. It provides biometric verification, GPS tracking, and more strict compliance enforcement. TRACKphoneLite™ is a more moderate alternative in the form of a smartphone application. This application can be applied to the Program Member’s smartphone and allows location check-ins, communication with their supervising officer over video chat, calendar reminders, and community-based recovery resources. These emerging technologies have the potential to transform reentry compliance and drastically reduce recidivism.

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Community Supervision

Community supervision, such as probation and parole, is beneficial in lowering the fiscal impact of prisons and reducing overcrowding while helping people reintegrate into society. While community supervision has been considered an effective way to tackle prison populations, new data shows that parole and probation might be having adverse effects. A concerning reality of the probation and parole violations effects on prison populations has been discovered in a new analysis provided by The Council of State Governments (CSG) Justice Center. These numbers are taken from corrections and community supervision leaders in 50 states and develops the first thorough look into the effects of these violations.

In 2017 there were a total of 590,234 admissions, 45% of which were due to technical violations or new offenses of probation or parole. A technical violation is misconduct by a person under supervision that by itself is not considered a criminal offense and usually does not result in an arrest. These include failing to report for an appointment with a supervision officer, failing a drug test, missing a curfew, contacting a victim, or lack of employment. Technical violations are responsible for nearly 1/4 of all state prison admissions, which can result in very hefty fees. Nearly 280,000 people are incarcerated on any given day in result of a supervision violation, costing states over $9.3 billion annually.

TRACKTech™ is working to reduce these violations by making it easier for supervisors and offenders to better communicate and avoid technical violations. Our products help with the rehabilitative process and making sure program members do not violate their parameters, continually check-in remotely with officers through biometric verification and have the ability to video conference with supervisors. They are constantly sent calendar reminders for appointments, court dates, meetings with supervisors and various other needs to alleviate the excuse of forgetting or not knowing the offender had them scheduled. Rehabilitative support is provided in an array of assessments and can suggest targeted therapeutic materials to the program member, while also aiding with obtaining employment and attending community groups. With TRACktech, supervisors can keep their program members under better supervision and reduce the risk of them receiving technical violations for controllable reasons.

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Community Supervision

Visits between parolees and their probation officers have been an instrumental part of the criminal justice system. The goal has always been to promote rehabilitation while keeping the public safe. But is this worth the countless hours parole officers spend driving to see their clients while facing safety risks during curfew checks at night in rough neighborhoods?

Are unscheduled visits more effective? Is it more productive to have visits at home or the workplace? Are these extra lengths worth the immense caseload? With all these factors on the table, answers to these questions are critical. An insightful recent study gauged the effectiveness of these practices. The evaluation consisted of data analysis, examination of officer’s visit checklists, interviews and focus group discussions. Though the results were promising, they did not give sufficient answers to the underlying questions. It is increasingly difficult to evaluate a visit between a parolee and their officer. The results varied greatly between jurisdictions.

An online survey by the American Probation and Parole Association in accordance with community supervision authorities in Ohio and Minnesota was sent to corrections departments. An online survey was also sent to all 50 states in an attempt to get a firmer grasp on the struggles of parole meetings and their effectiveness on rehabilitation. Thankfully, field visits overall seemed to decrease recurrence. In Ohio, people who have been contacted in the field by their parole officer at least once have had a reduction of 47% in returning to prison within two years, and a decrease of 54% in returning to prison for the rest of their life.

Some of the other results from the survey between Ohio and Minnesota were concerning, however. Supervision officers stated that they preferred field contacts at the home of the offender, so that they can understand the client’s environment, but also liked visits at their place of employment as well. This was to ensure compliance with their work requirements and helps to avoid a client having to take time off work. Which is more effective? Which is less disruptive to a client’s life and routine? Unscheduled visits in Ohio were equally as effective as scheduled ones, while in Minnesota the unscheduled visits led to significant reductions in recidivism. Why such a drastic change?  In Ohio, evidence-based practices such as motivational interviews during field contacts were important for alleviating recurrence, but in Minnesota they had no impact.

There are many variables, but the results clearly show that field visits are a critical practice to reducing recidivism. More thorough programs that assist probationers and parolees while protecting the public is crucial. There are 9.3 million people on community supervision in the United States, and over 200 caseloads per officer. These numbers are overwhelming, and with the recent changes to mass incarceration, parole is becoming even more common. TRACKtech’s revolutionary app, TRACKphoneLite (TpL), has been proven to reduce caseloads for officers while streamlining critical visits. Stressful, time-consuming traveling and dangerous evening visits are a thing of the past for officers utilizing this application. With TpL’s video conferencing system, officers can be shown around the client’s home, look in their fridge, etc. while talking face to face with the client. The application also employs a check-in system, so clients can verify their location whenever requested by their officer, negating the need for curfew visits.

Visitation is not the only aspect of parole that this intuitive application assists with. It can also help to provide rehabilitative support and behavioral health assessments tailored to each specific client. TpL monitors compliance, tracks locations, and assists with remote meetings while ensuring that the public is safe. All of the information gathered is sent to TRACKcase, lessening the strain on an officer’s caseload immensely. TRACKtech’s platform enhances the capabilities of officials and agencies in implementing individualized and responsive case plans with a more expansive spectrum of data and workflow automation, connecting program members (supervised individuals) to prosocial and communal resources, satisfying criminogenic needs, and reducing the chance of recidivism. Reaching out to those on probation and parole is imperative to increasing their chances of becoming a successful citizen of their community, and TRACKtech is here to help – one future at a time.

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Community Supervision

Despite changes and reforms in the treatment of those prosecuted and detained in jails, our legal system is still riddled with dilemmas and uncertainty. Though much reform has occurred in the past year and a half, Co-Executive Director of the Chicago Community Bond Fund, Sharlyn Grace, stated that there are still concerns about the more than 2,000 people in Chicago that are supposed to be tracked under electronic monitoring. Grace insists that there is no research confirming if electronic monitoring is effective, but that ankle monitors cause a very serious restriction on liberty. Lavette Mayes, who was under electronic supervision for five months, stated that ankle monitors are just little miniature jails in the community. There is a thin line between public safety and the rights of the accused.

The goal of our criminal justice system is to improve public safety and to ensure that justice is properly and impartially administered. But how far is too far when it comes to the rights of those under electronic supervision?

Theoretically, ankle monitors are an appealing alternative to jail and provide the chance to be in the community with family and friends, but they also seem to deprive people of their rights and liberties  to a certain point. Ankle monitors require hours of charging or the offender risks being sent back to jail, so they often must stand by a public outlet and charge their ankle monitor while enduring the judgement of those around them. The monitors are also incredibly expensive, sometimes costing up to $40 per day. This exorbitant cost can keep someone from being able to pay their bills and cover basic needs. This can result in a higher risk of ending up back in jail or becoming entangled in crime as a last resort, causing a more prudent threat to public safety.

Despite the increase in usage of ankle monitors, there is a lack of extensive research to suggest that ankle monitors inherently keep the public safe to the extent that this intrusion of rights is warranted. Punitive technology is not addressing the root of the problems that people face and why they end up in prison. Instead of punishing these people, we should be using technology to help them to create better and healthier lives.

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Justice Reform

Many states are beginning to pass common-sense laws that reform the criminal justice system and help get people out of jail and back into their communities. At the inauguration on January 15th, new Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf stated the changes he wanted to see over the next four years and his hope for a justice system that does not treat the poor unfairly. Surprisingly, lawmakers in Pennsylvania from both parties are coming together in attempts to produce this change. Jordan Harris, Democratic Representative, and Sheryl Delozier, Republican Representative, joined forces to form the “Criminal Justice Reform Caucus.” This caucus will examine problems such as job licenses, inability to pursue employment, availability of educational programs during imprisonment, probation and parole and other complications that may hinder people’s ability to enter society successfully after a criminal conviction.

This past year has been a time of instrumental change for criminal justice reform, with movements such as the Clean Slate bill, which allows non-violent criminals to have their records sealed after a predetermined amount of time. Delozier was a strong supporter of the Clean Slate bill and believes that our justice system should not be primarily punitive but should strive to make released offenders into productive members of their communities.

The need for improvement in our justice system and the desire for a strong group of lawmakers with a primary goal of reform and community change was apparent last week, when 32 members of the House had already joined the Criminal Justice Reform Caucus.

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