Leveraging Technology to Enhance Community Supervision

Identifying Needs to Address Current and Emerging Concerns

by Joe Russo, Dulani Woods, George B. Drake, Brian A. Jackson

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Research Questions

  1. What challenges do community corrections agencies face in terms of leveraging new technologies, and how can these challenges be addressed?
  2. What are the high-priority needs associated with leveraging technology in community corrections?

Community corrections agencies serve more than half of the corrections population but are generally underfunded. The need to manage increasing caseloads with diminishing resources has driven the field of community corrections to embrace innovations designed to improve the delivery of services. Examples of such innovations include offender location-tracking systems, advanced drug and alcohol testing methods, automated reporting systems, offender computer-monitoring tools, and automated risk and needs assessment instruments. RAND researchers convened an expert workshop of correctional administrators and researchers to explore how such technology and innovations could be used to enhance public safety and improve outcomes for offenders.

The group identified several needs related to developing tools to help the community corrections sector more effectively and more efficiently perform its mission, but the development of tools is only part of the equation: Implementing innovations in a way that maximizes utility can be far more challenging. Although evidence-based community supervision practices can guide the implementation of technology, in most cases, technology far outpaces research or offers possibilities that have yet to be investigated. Therefore, rigorous evaluation of innovations is required to determine their effectiveness. The development of technology solutions and the evaluation of these solutions — such as those prioritized by the workshop participants — can be an essential component of a community corrections system that meets the needs of the public moving forward.

Key Findings

Technology solutions could improve officer safety and skills

  • Technology can be leveraged to train officers more effectively on basic skills and evidence-based interventions, assess whether they are implementing that training with fidelity, and facilitate a timely feedback loop. Given an increasing emphasis on providing supervision services in the communities where offenders live and work, technology should be leveraged to enhance officers' ability to work in the field. One key aspect is safety; advanced emergency duress systems should be developed and evaluated to determine their impact on lone-worker safety.
  • Technology can assist in the delivery of evidence-based interventions known to reduce recidivism. Automated tools are needed to help officers identify the most criminogenic needs to target with a particular offender. As agencies consider transitioning to community-based supervision, research is needed to evaluate the impact of a more mobile workforce. Best practices also are needed to guide agencies as they implement mobility strategies.

Technology can help maintain accountability and facilitate positive behavioral change

  • The use of location-monitoring technologies is increasing, and there are significant associated costs in terms of equipment and officer workload. Research is needed to guide implementation of these technologies to achieve desired outcomes. Evaluations are needed to determine the most effective technology-based approaches to supervising lower-risk offenders.

Technology can help agencies improve their operations

  • The group identified multiple opportunities to improve operational or administrative efficiencies, which would allow for better use of scarce resources. For example, the group participants argued that cost-effective, web-based approaches for victim notification are needed. Furthermore, using modern communication methods (e.g., text) should be explored as a way to maintain contact among officers and offenders between in-person interactions.

Recommendations

  • Analyze emerging technologies for their potential to improve officer safety.
  • Assess the costs and benefits of using virtual reality for skill development.
  • Explore the viability of automated video analytics to assess the quality of interventions.
  • Evaluate wearable communication technologies that could improve feedback.
  • Evaluate the impact of automated reminder technologies on appearance rates and officer workloads.
  • Identify benefits of incentive programs.
  • Identify existing (or develop new) tools that can be used to prompt officers about key criminogenic issues when engaging with offenders.
  • Conduct research into the effectiveness of mobile, community-based supervision approaches versus traditional, office-based supervision.
  • Identify effective strategies to prepare officers to work in the field.
  • Conduct research on location monitoring technology to identify the populations best suited for this approach and optimal periods of monitoring.
  • Conduct research to identify appropriate technology solutions for monitoring lower-risk offenders, accounting for differences in offender characteristics.
  • Research the risks and benefits of victim portals where victims can access offender or case information.
  • Identify best practices regarding choosing appropriate technology.
  • Develop case studies that highlight the benefits of leveraging geographic information systems.
  • Identify best practices for implementing modern communication technologies.
  • Develop dashboards that improve officers' ability to extract insights from the collected data.
  • Develop case studies demonstrating the impact of improved user interfaces on decisionmaking and supervision outcomes.
  • Research the predictive value of offender data — such as stable employment, drug test results, and failure to appear — on recidivism rates.

Research conducted by

The research described in this report was prepared for the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) and conducted by the Justice Policy Program within RAND Social and Economic Well-Being.

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