Judge (insert your last name here), John Doe pleaded guilty last week to breaking into his neighbor’s car and is ready for sentencing. Judge, what is your sentence? If you decided to place Mr. Doe on probation or sentenced him to anything less than life imprisonment, then your community is now faced with the same challenges that every community faces on a daily basis.
Regardless of what you believe about sentencing, most individuals who commit crimes will either be placed on probation or released at some point after their imprisonment. So Judge, how do you best protect the community? How do you hold Mr. Doe accountable and give him a second chance? How do you ensure that he has a real opportunity to succeed so that there are no more victims? How do you wisely spend the limited tax dollars available? Before we try to answer these extremely complicated, nuanced questions, let’s take a step back and look at the problem from a bird’s eye view.
According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, there were 4,650,900 adults, or 1 in 53 adults, under community supervision at the end of 2015.1 Additionally, 67.8% of released prisoners in 2005 from 30 states were arrested for a new crime within 3 years and 76.6% were arrested within 5 years.2 If you are like me, then you think that these figures are unacceptable and that it is our responsibility to do everything within our power to prepare those under community supervision for the challenges ahead. If we do nothing and keep the status quo, there will be new victims, the ugly cycle of recidivism will continue, our budgets will soar out of control, and the rehabilitation of those under community supervision likely will not occur.
While I do not have all of the answers, I suggest that we reimagine the criminal justice system and consider operating like other social service industries. Take for example the health care industry. Why not look there for possible solutions and consider using the technologies doctors and dentists use on a daily basis to run their practices in the criminal justice system?
Assume for a moment that you have a cold and that you schedule an appointment with the doctor next Wednesday. What are the chances that you are going to show up for that appointment? Very high, because shortly after you hung up the phone, you probably received a calendaring notification from the doctor’s office that you placed on your smartphone. You also probably received a text and/or email the day before to remind you of the appointment. Now assume that after your visit with the doctor, you were referred to a specialist. Your information would likely be transmitted electronically to the specialist so that your arrival the next week would be expected and documented. The use of technology in the healthcare model has drastically improved the coordination of services necessary for all of us to get healthy. And your health is a benefit to you, your family and our community as a whole. So what would the criminal justice system look like if we followed this health care model and utilized similar technologies? I hope to answer this question soon.
Over the past few years, we have been working with our criminal justice partners and various technology companies to develop a fully integrated case management system with a complimentary communications platform to improve the likelihood of success. When I place a probationer under one of our Smart Supervision programs, his/her personal information is electronically transferred from the Clerk of Court into a case management system. The Smart Probationer is then assessed by a licensed professional to determine his/her individual needs. The Smart Probationer is then required to place an “app” on his/her smartphone, which provides the probationer with easy access to important information, including a calendar, phone numbers, group class schedules, and a geomap that plots services available throughout the community. All of this information is web-based so that the Smart Probationer can access this critical information even if something goes wrong with his/her smartphone.
We also built a website, which contains a careers page for potential employers and a legal aid page for lawyers willing to volunteer to handle any of the collateral consequences a Smart Probationer may face. Further, we have implemented a communications platform that allows the Smart Supervision Team, which includes the Judge, Prosecutor, Defense Attorney, Probation Officer(s), Social Workers(s), Counselor(s), Minute Clerk and other law enforcement, to communicate with one another in real time so that we can be more responsive to the needs of the individual, hopefully before it is too late. This Smart Supervision model promotes efficiency and helps eliminate error. We also hope to soon place the Smart Probationers within this smartphone ecosystem (with the proper permissions, of course) and implement a videoconferencing platform.
While the proposition of eliminating crime in its totality is impossible, the Smart Supervision Programs aim to change the existing model and use technology to improve public safety and drastically reduce recidivism.
Hon. Scott U. Schlegel
District Court Judge, Division “D”
24th Judicial District Court
200 Derbigny Street, Suite 5400
Gretna, Louisiana 70053