Technology that Works:An Overview of the Supervision and Management Automated Record Tracking (SMART) Application

By Frank Lu, Laurence Wolfe, Beverly Hill and Leonard Sipes. Edited by Cedric Hendricks and Joyce McGinnis

See http://media.csosa.gov for “DC Public Safety” radio and television shows.

See www.csosa.gov for the web site of the federal Court Services and Offender Services Agency.

This is not an article about an information system; it is an overview of our attempt to dramatically improve the criminal justice system in Washington, DC and beyond. For too long, justice system managers could only guess the impact of their operations and strategies. In the nation’s capitol, we know (or will know) the impact of policy quickly, and in some categories, daily. Our information system is a management tool more than it is a collection of data. Finally, we intend to prove that aggressive and fair community supervision of offenders in the community is a cost effective method of reducing crime and recidivism. We intend to offer the supervision, staffing ratios, drug testing and treatment, partnerships and services to have an impact. SMART provides us with the accountability and measurement tool to accomplish our goals.” Paul Quander Jr., Director, Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency.

There was a murder of a young woman in the District, and the Metropolitan Police Department had scanty information about a possible suspect. Within a few minutes, we were able to run a series of screens regarding aliases and offences, and we were able to provide a list of possible suspects. When the investigation narrowed the field to one suspect, we were able to provide a recent digital photograph, and the names, addresses and telephone numbers of relatives, friends, coworkers and treatment providers. The suspect was quickly found, and brought to justice.” Community Supervision Officer.

Introduction

The Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency (CSOSA-a federal agency) of the District of Columbia got its start during the “Revitalization Act” of 1997 when Congress “federalized” selected agencies that were part of DC government. With CSOSA’s independence in August of 2000 and the implementation of the SMART system in January of 2002, the agency publicly declared that a system of (1) risk and needs management, (2) close supervision, (3) treatment and support services and (4) partnerships would have a significant impact on recidivism.

To achieve long lasting results, management decided to measure key variables, and to constantly add or alter more as initiatives progressed. Rearrest, reincarceration, technical violations, drug use, job retention, contacts with staff or treatment providers, educational or vocational efforts are or will be a growing package of measurements. Management can track progress (or lack of progress) by employee, team region or the entire system. Early warnings are built into the system to provide frontline managers with the tools to insure that offenders are properly supervised.

Advocates for effective supervision of criminal offenders in the community have long called for adequate training, salaries, supervision levels and services to €˜prove” that state-of-the-art strategies work. Some criminologists have stated, with proper funding and structure with a robust management and record keeping system, community supervision agencies could take their place as equals in the provision of crime prevention and safer communities.

CSOSA reports its findings to the President through the Office of Management and Budget, the US Congress and indirectly, the international and national media based in Washington, DC. You may not be aware of CSOSA and its status as an independent federal agency, but the agency and the SMART system are about to take center stage. Public accountability in the criminal justice system is about to enter a new day.

Overview

SMART is a superior means of case management; everything is at your fingertips immediately. You do not have to read someone’s handwriting. The information is current. You can respond with accurate and timely information. You hit a few buttons; you can get anything at all.” Tosha Trotter, Community Supervision Officer,

Imagine the serious effects on public safety of using manual pen and paper methods and a two-decade-old database to track convicts, felons, sex offenders, and violent criminals when they are released back into society on parole or probation. That was the situation in the nation’s capital, Washington DC, until the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency developed its new automated criminal offenders case management system – SMART – the Supervision and Management Automated Record Tracking (SMART) system.

Taking an innovative approach to applications development, CSOSA developed its new SMART system to serve as a Web-based information retrieval and tracking system providing enhanced capabilities not found elsewhere. Building on top of traditional SQL technology, SMART adds enhanced logic through specialized modules that provide tracking and monitoring capabilities not found in other law enforcement applications. It incorporates features including E-mail notifications and workflow support, and is recognized as a highly successful project. SMART’s success is demonstrated by the use of SMART data by several local government bureaus, federal agencies, and the federal and local courts to perform their judicial functions. SMART is used to monitor and supervise convicted offenders on parole, probation, or supervised release; and offenders undergoing pre-sentence investigations in Washington DC. SMART is on track to add advanced capabilities such as biometrics, predictive logic, and mobile computers to aid fieldwork.

As the provider of supervisory and treatment services to over 26,000 individuals on pretrial release, probation and parole, as well as the key advisory agency in assisting federal and local courts in determining eligibility for release, CSOSA made the decision in September 2001 to replace an existing case management and tracking system that was difficult to modify and no longer able to meet the changing requirements of its users, mainly judicial and paroling authorities. The decision to develop a system from the ground up was made after careful research into the options available to CSOSA: customizing a commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) system. Ultimately, an analysis of the time constraints, financial comparisons, and core system requirements led to the decision to develop SMART as a new, independent, Web-based system that would address the agency’s needs.

The Core Requirements

It can document everything. You can go back many months to see the offender’s entire history. It saves a lot of effort. You can research the offender in record time. The information you need is always at your disposal. ” Randy Holley. Community Supervision Officer

CSOSA’s IT team conducted numerous interviews with senior management and users of the existing legacy system, who formed subcommittees for each of the agency business processes. A key factor of the project’s success was not only to secure senior management buy-in from the beginning, but partnership, with the business users for whom the system was being developed and the vendors that are going to help developing the system. Leadership emphasized the importance of strong user participation in providing the requirements for the system.

The requirements gathered from the users, coupled with comments in a GAO report describing the need for better coordination among DC’s criminal justice agencies[1], resulted in the following key requirements, which the new system needed to address before it could be claimed a success:

  • Reduce paperwork as a step toward a long-term goal of a paperless office;
  • Provide automatic notification of events in support of CSOSA policies and procedures;
  • Track historical data;
  • Seamlessly integrate with other agencies, where appropriate and viable;
  • Provide secure access from inside and outside the agency;
  • Present a usable and navigable interface;
  • Produce management-level and operational reports;
  • Include a fully searchable diary function;
  • Provide access via the Internet; and
  • Assist senior managers in their supervisory roles.

SMART (v.1.0) released in January 2002, addressed the core agency business needs; since then, additional modules to provide enhanced functionality, automated workflow, and added business functionality have been added. Specifically, SMART (v.1.0) consists of the following core modules and functionality:

  • Intake, including automatic assignment of cases to CSOSA teams based on offender demographics and round-robin cycles;
  • Reports, including detailed management-level caseload summaries, operational reports for use by case supervisors, and reports to demonstrate agency critical success factors;
  • “Home page” defaults to show caseload list, team assignments, or branch assignments;
  • Security roles to restrict access to modules based on a user’s assigned role;
  • Limited access for external users (e.g., judges, US Attorney’s Office, Metropolitan Police Department) to review case information and documents;
  • Tracking of offender demographics, including physical descriptions, identifiers, housing and employment history, contacts, drug test results, assessments, and victim data;
  • Replication of drug testing results;
  • Detailed supervision information, including dockets and charges, supervision sentences, and violations;
  • Treatment referral, placement, and tracking module;
  • Automatic generation of complex pre-sentence investigation and alleged violation court reports;
  • Attachment of case documents, including Word documents, offender photos, and Adobe PDF documents;
  • Electronic signature and workflow feature, including the integration of the supervisors’ signature image into an non-editable, secure document for delivery to the courts (see also figure 1);
  • Spell check for running record (diary) entries;
  • Tracking of offenders in Community Service and *Vocational, Educational, and Employment programs

Technical Specifications

“Smart is the most comprehensive computer based probation system I have seen. The different subtexts in Smart allow you to have complete picture of an offender from housing and employment to his drug usage to sanctions taken against them and appropriate interventions. . Smart allows me to access physical description of our offenders and cross reference them with recent sex offenses that have taken place in the Metropolitan area.” Akil Walker Community Supervision Officer

SMART is the result of over three years of research and development effort by the CSOSA’s IT Service Development team in partnership with SRA International, Inc. (a company providing systems design, development and integration services).

Unlike traditional case management solutions, SMART is “offender-centric” – i.e., all data center around the offender, with the specific case information represented as simply one attribute of an offender. This model is particularly representative of the real business process of supervising offenders on parole, probation, or supervised release, since the agency’s concern is truly with the activities surrounding the offender, rather than the court actions or other activities.

SMART is a fully Web-based application. It is designed based on a three-tier architecture, with HTML as the presentation layer, Microsoft Active Server Page (ASP) as the business logic layer and Microsoft SQL Server 2000 as the database layer. It is running on a Microsoft Windows 2000 server with IIS 5.0 Web server. Data communications to the SMART system were secured through the use of V-One’s VPN software, and code was maintained using Microsoft Visual SourceSafe and Source Offsite

Conclusion

“Record keeping and management systems within the criminal justice system are vital ingredients in keeping the public safe from harm,” states Director Quander. “CSOSA offers some of the best supervision and services within the criminal justice system. But we are only as good as our management and supervision systems allow us to be. State-of-the-art information systems must be an everyday part of effective operations. At CSOSA, they are.”

With its modular architecture and extendable platform, SMART can react to new business requirements. Its reliability, sturdiness, and user-friendly qualities have translated into increased business efficiency. Though SMART was designed to reflect business processes that are specific to the needs of CSOSA, the processes used in gathering requirements and developing SMART, along with the advanced technologies used throughout the system, can be applied to offender-based case management solutions for other criminal justice agencies.


[1] GAO, D.C. Criminal Justice System: Better Coordination Needed Among Participating Agencies, March 2001. http://www.gao.gov/new.items/d01187.pdf

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