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Research Questions

  1. What challenges do small, rural, tribal, and border (SRTB) criminal justice agencies face?
  2. How might technology help those agencies address those challenges?

Technology is important to improving the effectiveness, efficiency, and safety of the criminal justice system. The development of new technologies and new approaches for applying them has been and will likely continue to be an important catalyst for improvement in law enforcement, corrections, and the courts. However, use of technology in these sectors can be challenging, particularly for agencies located in small, rural, tribal, and border (SRTB) areas. SRTB justice systems account for three-quarters of all criminal justice agencies nationwide. Because these agencies are so geographically dispersed and have relatively few employees, they lack a centralized voice to influence the development of technologies and other solutions. To date, relatively little research has examined the needs of such agencies.

The National Institute of Justice created the Justice Innovation Center (JIC) to provide current, rigorous, and actionable information on technology needs and priorities specific to SRTB agencies. JIC's purpose is to gather information on the challenges that SRTB agencies face, identify relevant technology solutions that can address those challenges, and assess these technology solutions as they are implemented in real-world situations. These activities will provide guidance to SRTB agencies for prioritizing, planning, and implementing technology. The JIC research team consists of staff from RAND Justice Policy and the Arizona State University Center for Violence Prevention and Community Safety.

This report summarizes JIC's research goals and efforts, which include a literature review, in-depth interviews with nearly 150 practitioners and topical experts, and focused discussions with an advisory panel of experts and practitioners.

Key Findings

Criminal Justice Agencies Face Challenges in Four Main Areas

  • All types of criminal justice agencies deal with challenges in information technology (IT), agency operations, geography, and funding and resourcing.
  • In IT, the most-common challenges are in interoperability and infrastructure. Other issues include difficulties adopting new technologies, wide dislike of available jail-management systems, lack of qualified vendors and IT support serving rural areas, and challenges providing remote data access.
  • Each agency type has unique concerns related to agency operations: Law enforcement agencies find it difficult to support specialized positions and assignments, recruit and retain qualified personnel, and manage positive relationships with the communities they serve. Courts need help applying innovative tools to case processing and need to improve access to justice. Institutional corrections agencies are challenged to provide sufficient quality mental health and substance-use treatment training and have difficulty with staffing and turnover. Community corrections agencies see the biggest challenges in managing electronic files, conducting supervised substance-use testing, and effectively managing offices with limited personnel.
  • All types of agencies report geographical challenges, including lack of key local resources and the effects that long distances have on such things as response and travel times, the ability to adequately supervise dispersed populations, the cost of transportation, and staff productivity lost because of transportation time.
  • Resource challenges range from limited technology funding, difficulty in applying for federal funding, limited budgets, and revenues to lack of new or upgraded equipment, understaffing, facility maintenance and upgrades, and adequately providing health and other services to those who come into contact with the criminal justice system.


  • Law enforcement agencies should identify strategies to improve relationships with their communities, including improving transparency and public relations. They also need to improve data- and information-sharing with other agencies and jurisdictions; leverage common standards for data management and other IT resources, and address problems with IT management.
  • Courts should address the surge in pro se litigants by exploring streamlined administrative processes and remote filing options for these litigants, improve security and resilience, and improve IT infrastructure — especially regarding the compatibility of systems with those of other agencies in the jurisdiction.
  • Institutional corrections agencies should improve mental health service provision and increase the availability of other services for inmates, and provide professional development for corrections personnel. They also need to improve jail-management systems and information-sharing and prepare for funding shortfalls.
  • Community corrections agencies should refocus on rehabilitation and positive behavioral change. They need to improve information-sharing, manage resources across geographically dispersed agencies and personnel, and prepare for funding shortfalls.
  • All agencies should improve information-sharing between other agency and other governmental systems, work cooperatively to procure and manage IT systems, explore the use videoconferencing of to overcome distance barriers, seek help applying for various grants, and use nonstandard personnel to address staffing shortfalls when appropriate.

Table of Contents

  • Chapter One


  • Chapter Two


  • Chapter Three

    Literature Review

  • Chapter Four

    Agency Interviews

  • Chapter Five

    The Justice Innovation Center Advisory Panel: Identifying Science- and Technology- Related Needs to Address Pressing Issues

  • Chapter Six


  • Appendix A

    Letter of Invitation to the Study, Letter of Support for the Study, and Justice Innovation Center Announcement Letter and Mission Statement

  • Appendix B

    Interview Coding Framework

  • Appendix C

    Members of the 2015 Justice Innovation Center Advisory Panel

  • Appendix D

    Advisory Panel Read-Ahead Material

  • Appendix E

    Tier 1 Needs from the Justice Innovation Center Advisory Panel, by Agency Type

The research reported here was conducted in the Justice Policy Program within RAND Justice, Infrastructure, and Environment.

This report is part of the RAND Corporation Research report series. RAND reports present research findings and objective analysis that address the challenges facing the public and private sectors. All RAND reports undergo rigorous peer review to ensure high standards for research quality and objectivity.

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