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New York City Probation Uses Technology to Improve Probationer Reporting
By Suzanne Brown, Internet Reporter
Published: 04/19/2002

For probation officers across the country, finding time to track down offenders who fail to report to the Department of Probation is a problem complicated by constrained budgets and unmanageable caseloads. As a result, New York City has developed a more sophisticated way to supervise probationers. The program, which relies on an advanced classification system and automated technology, allows probation officers to maintain regular contact with offenders who do not pose a serious risk to the community through the use of automatic reporting kiosks.

The reporting kiosks, located in five probation offices citywide, are open during business hours only and resemble Automatic Teller Machines. Probationers who were once required to answer a monthly questionnaire from the New York City Department of Probation (NYCDOP) as a means of reporting to the agency now use the kiosks to maintain contact with the agency. A personal identification number and hand geometry which identifies an offender through infrared imaging of his or her hand shape, are used for verification. 

'It takes less than a second to identify a probationer,' said Jerrold Alpern, Assistant Commissioner for operations at the NYCDOP. 

According to Alpern, the technology is easy to navigate. A 'talking head' video guides the probationer through the check-in process. First, he or she is asked to update address, employment or education information, which is immediately entered into the offender database. According to Alpern, kiosk reporting, which takes less than four minutes, marks a significant reduction in the amount of time a probationer spends in the probation office.

Among the questions asked of a probationer by the kiosk machine is whether he or she has been rearrested. Alpern said, information about a rearrest is usually in the system already and when a probationer checks in at a kiosk a notice is automatically generated to a probation officer who can come to interview that offender on the spot and then determine the appropriate course of action. 
To familiarize probationers with the technology, the department holds an orientation session about the new system. Because most of the probationers who use the kiosks are younger and are well acquainted with ATMs, computers and video games they learn easily, Alpern said. 

People who use the kiosks do not need to schedule face time with a probation officer if there is no evidence of misconduct but this does not mean the probationers are not interviewed, Alpern said.

'We have tight control over probationers who report to the kiosks because the information they enter is tied directly to a database. The system is constantly updated and the department is able to maintain an offender's history.'

Offenders who use the automated system are required to check once per month. If a probationer fails to report to a kiosk then a letter is generated by the system and mailed to the offender. Consequences may be violation of probation and loss of freedom, according to Alpern.

The previous method of probationers submitting questionnaires was highly unreliable, Alpern said, because many, about 40-50 percent, failed to report and the department was unable to verify that the probationer had completed the form.
Since New York City began using the automated system, failure to report rates have dropped to about 10-15 percent, Alpern said.

A recent enhancement to the system allows the department to isolate offenders who demand special attention because they have not enrolled in the program or continue to reoffend, Alpern said. The reporting kiosks afford probation officers the time to follow up with those probationers if there is any additional evidence of misconduct, address the underlying cause of the offense and transfer that offender to the Department's special conditions track. Offenders on this track are required to report directly to an officer rather than the kiosk. He or she must then report directly to an officer instead of the kiosk.

The kiosks are part of a comprehensive effort to restructure the NYCDOP while a redesigned classification system, which groups low risk offenders and those probationers who have completed relapse prevention into a Reporting Track, is at the heart of the program. Probationers assigned to the Reporting Track use the kiosks. 

The Department has found that separating probationers by risk allows for more effective supervision during a budget crunch, Alpern said. The kiosks allow probation officers to instead focus their energies on violence prone offenders.

Before the system was installed, the demand on a single officer was great, Alpern said because although low risk offenders did not pose an immediate danger to the community they were not reporting to the agency.

Although the initial cost for the automated system was high, about $750,000 for 16 kiosks, hardware and training, Alpern said, the technology has been invaluable in helping the Department streamline its practices.

'The new system really makes a dramatic difference,' he said.

New York City Department of Probation

To find out more about the use of automated reporting kiosks in New York City go to http://www.nyc.gov/html/prob/home.html 


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