Technology in Corrections

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Leonard: From the Nation’s Capital, this is D.C. Public Safety, I’m your host, Leonard Sipes. Ladies and gentlemen, the topic for today is technology in corrections high priority needs, a really innovative, really interesting document that came out of the RAND Corporation. We have two people by our microphones today. We have Brian Jackson. Brian is Director of the Safety and Justice Program and a senior physical scientist at RAND. His research focuses on technology issues in public safety, including both the use of technology in policing, corrections and the courts and technological use in crime by adversary groups, which I’d love to hear a little bit more about. Joe Russo is a researcher at the University of Denver, focusing on technology issues in the correction sector. He is currently in support of a number of initiatives for the National Law Enforcement in Corrections Technology Center, a program of the National Institute of Justice. To Joe and to Brian, welcome to DC Public Safety.

Brian: Thanks very much.

Joe: Thank you.

Leonard: All right. Joe’s been at our microphones several times before. Every time we do a show on technology it turns out to be one of our most popular shows. I read this document and I find it fascinating, “Fostering Innovation in Community and Institutional Corrections: Identifying High Priority Technology and Other Needs in the U.S. Corrections Sector”. There’s a variety of documents that comes out on technology or corrections or the criminal justice system. I define this to be a seminal document. I find this to be one of the most important documents I’ve seen within the correctional arena. Am I overplaying my hand here, Brian or what?

Brian: Well, that’s certainly what we’re trying to do here though the goal of this project really is a very ambitious one to try to help catalyze innovation in the criminal justice community. Certainly we hope that this document will be that important but whether it actually is that important will depend on a lot of other actors in the corrections center to take the ideas that came up in this study and put them into practice.

Leonard: What it does is takes virtually every issue that we have in both community corrections and mainstream corrections, analyzes it, prioritizes, but makes it a priority or puts it in rank order, and figures out whether or not there is technology that could have an impact on those particular issues. I mean all the problems that we have today could have a technological solution. If they do you list them and put them in rank order. In the ballpark?

Brian: Yes, that’s certainly what we did. We did it in collaboration with a lot of practitioners from the community to take advantage of their expertise and their on the ground knowledge, and with their help tried to rank them to identify where to start. There’s always a lot of ways that improvements in technology are practiced could help organizations be more effective or more efficient. The challenge is always to figure out where to start so in this effort we not only try to be comprehensive and look at a lot of the challenges facing corrections, a lot of the potential solutions, but then try to winnow them down to the ones that really looked best to practitioners in the area.

Leonard: Joe, how did the University of Denver that supports JustNet, which is an organization funded by the National Institute of Justice of the U.S. Department of Justice, how did the University of Denver get involved in this project?

Joe: [00:03:46] Well, we’re partners with RAND on a larger NIJ funded effort to identify high priority needs across the criminal justice sector. Our role in support of RAND is specific to the corrections community so we assisted with developing this report to assembling the advisory panel and so on.

Leonard: Joe’s been by our microphones a thousand times again producing some of our most popular programs in terms of talking about technology and corrections technology in the criminal justice system. Okay, gentlemen, now that we’ve introduced the document … oh, and by the way, the document is going to be in the show notes, the address for the document on the website www.RAND R-A-N-D .ORG, www.RAND R-A-N-D .org. Oh, before going into further into the show, Brian, for the uninitiated, what is RAND?

Brian: Oh, well certainly. RAND is a nonprofit, nonpartisan research organization. We do research for a wide variety of clients, a lot of them in government, federal agencies, state and local government, but also the private sector. Our mission is to improve policy and decision making through research analysis. We’re a lot of academic researchers but we’re academic researchers that really judge our success by whether what we do makes things better in the real world.

Leonard: For the practitioner community I’ve been following RAND since the beginning of my academic career. RAND has put out some of the most famous and well known studies involved in the criminal justice system. I remember decades ago reading your research on habitual offenders and found it fascinating and that prompted a discussion throughout the criminal justice system. Joe, how do people use this document? How do policy makers, how do practitioners use this document?

Joe: As you mentioned, it’s a seminal document and foundation in a lot of ways. Then part of our approach was to establish the state of the art so we took a look across the spectrum of what corrections is, what it has been and identified the different technologies and different policies and practice that are currently in place. Then from there, as we alluded to, we identified emerging or current needs and tried to develop associated on problems or ways to address those problems.

How various groups can use this information is diverse depending on the audience. Private industry can use this information because it’s a very valuable source of needs from the horse’s mouth, so to speak, from the end users themselves who have articulated what their needs are. Private industry who is interested in making investment in the sector have the blueprint that identifies a starting point of what the needs of the community are. From the federal perspective, funding sources again have that ready made source of that previously identified high priority area so they can target their research and development portfolios accordingly.

Leonard: All right, either one of you can come in and answer this question. There are seven million people under the adult correctional system, the supervision of the adult correctional system, every single day, seven million people. Seven-hundred-thousand people come out of prisons on a year to year basis. That does not include the numbers in terms of the juvenile justice system. That does not include people coming out of the jail system. There are enormous numbers of people. We in the criminal justice system, I’ve heard from my peers throughout the country that they are overwhelmed by the numbers, overwhelmed by the complexity, overwhelmed by the problems. What we’re talking about is, I don’t know, how many problems do we want to look at. Mental health, so if I said mental health from a technology point of view, what would the response of the document be?

Brian: Well, I can jump in on that. Certainly those are two of the really big challenges that the practitioners that we worked with here talked about. It’s simply the ideas of scale and also the challenges of mental health issues in prisoner populations that the correctional system is having to deal with today. I mean when you look at the options that were talked about in the document, they ranged from low tech approaches that are training to help deal with mental health issues, all the way up to high technology activities, better censors or systems to try to prevent suicide attempts in institutional settings, or in the case of the large supervision burden for individuals who are in the community correction system, better technologies to do individual tracking and make that a more effective element of corrective supervision and dealing with offenders in that context.

Really that’s what, for me at least, was one of the most interesting responses or interesting findings that came out of this work is that these very large problems can have multiple solutions to them, some of which may be technological systems, but some of them may be more about policies and practice, how we do things. The opportunities there to match solutions to the needs of different correctional systems and so on is an opportunity to make a broader change across the sector as a whole.

Leonard: Right. There are going to be practitioners throughout the country listening to this program today going, “Oh, thank God.” This is so needed because the discussion throughout the country today is taking about less use on prisons, less reliance on mainstream incarceration and a greater reliance on community supervision. Community supervision is sitting there going, “Oh my heavens, there’s no way we can take on more people.” I mean it would have to be a technological solution because the money isn’t there. The average caseload right now … I don’t think there is a national average but I think it comes close to 150 to one parole and probation agent. I have seen cases where it’s 250, 300 cases for one parole and probation agent.

Here in my agency, the Court Services and Offenders Supervision Agency in Washington, D.C., we are so lucky. We have under 50 to one ratios but we’re unusual and we’re lucky because we’re a federal agency but for everybody else they’re overwhelmed. They’re saying, “If you can’t give me a technological solution to handling this huge caseload and to provide the services and the supervision concurrently, if you can’t provide me a tech solution, we can’t do this.” Are they right?

Joe: I’ll jump in. I think they’re exactly right. It’s interesting that this issue was brought up by both parts of the panel. The community institutional correction side brought up the issue that a lot of the prison realignment strategies, particularly in California, have created a burden on the local jails. They going to have to identify the need for more alternatives to incarceration to get folks out of the jails. Well, at the same time in a nearby room, the community correction folks were gathering and they said, “Well, you know what, we’re getting all these highly violent folks who we typically would not previously get. Due to realignment efforts across the board now they’re being pushed into the community so we have a situation now known as mass supervision versus mass incarceration, which gets to exactly what you’re speaking about.

We don’t have the resources, we don’t have the tools to deal with this ever growing population. What the community corrections folks said the need was more targeted resources specifically for community corrections so they can meet this challenge. It was interesting how both groups identified similar problems coming from different approaches.

Leonard: What would be the technological solution? What immediately comes to my mind would be global positioning or satellite supervision of individuals, GPS supervision of individual offenders but, as effective as that may be, that puts a brand new set of requirements and a brand new workload onto the shoulders of parole and probation agents. In some cases, technology is a plus and in some cases it is not nearly as good as people make it out to be. I’m not questioning the effectiveness of GPS, I’m simply saying that instead of talking to this person once a week, now they’re getting data points, hundreds of them, every single day and they’re saying that they can’t process all that information.

Brian: Well, figuring out ways to improve technologies as they exist now was a big element at what we covered in the advisory panel discussions. In that case, one of the things that was discussed was better analysis tools, where reviewing those hundreds of data points didn’t produce hundreds of false alarms that were bouncing into the inbox of all of these supervision officers, but analytics that helped filter that data stream to make it possible to focus on the truly important elements of that.

Other pieces of technology, in terms of trying to deal with volume and deal with distance that came up, were ideas like the ability to deliver programming at a distance, whether that’s using a technology like Skype to allow people to more efficiently meet with the people that they were supervising, or in the case of treatment provision, the people that they were treating as part of their supervision. You’ll have better understandings and evaluations of the effectiveness of those alternative models of delivering that could help remove some of the travel burdens, if you will, in a jurisdiction where officers have to travel over long distances to visit their supervervisees in person.

Leonard: To deal with individuals on supervision through video visitation, either through … I don’t know. My app on my iPhone or my iPad gives me the right to instantaneously communicate with my wife through her iPhone or iPad. Technologies along those lines to deliver services to individuals to ask them questions or to supervise them, that’s what we’re talking about?

Brian: Yes, absolutely but the challenge of understanding whether that’s as effective as the traditional ways of doing that, emphasizing that in order to enable inhibition, we both need the good technology ideas and also need the evaluations, so we have confidence going in that the new ways of doing things will work well.

Leonard: Right. People are saying that, mixing radio shows here, because I’ve done radio shows … I just did a show on video visitation. I’ve done a show on correctional education. People are saying that the overwhelming majority of individuals caught up in the criminal justice system do not get the services they need. If it’s not done by video, if it’s not done by distance learning, it’s probably not going to be done at all. I think people need to understand that, out of everybody out there who has a substance abuse problem when they come in the program probation or when they come in the mainstream corrections, the data that I’m looking at is that only a small minority of those individuals get substance abuse treatment or substance abuse education. Some people are suggesting if it’s not done by video it’s not going to get done.

Joe: That’s certainly an approach that should be examined and exploited but what you’re describing there is an efficiency issue, if we can deliver these services in better, more efficiently, more inexpensively and so on. Certainly that needs to be examined. I think Brian is right. At the end of the day we need to evaluate is it truly better than nothing and if so how much better than nothing. These are things that shouldn’t impede agencies exploring these technologies but research is lagging. We’ll have to examine that and look at it and determine the effectiveness and whether it’s worth the investment.

The larger issue I think we need to talk about GPS and other technological tools to supervise offenders, is most technologies, other than the process type technologies, most supervision type technologies involve work. That’s a point that often people miss is that we just put folks on GPS and that makes it easier, more efficient. Well, that creates a lot of workload. That needs to be examined from the larger context of risk assessment, which is a common theme in the community corrections group as part of this panel. We need better tools to identify who needs what level of service and then targeted resources directed to those folks.

That gets to the larger issue is everyone within this criminal justice system need to be there and the folks that are within that criminal justice system already, do they need the same level of resources. Obviously the answer is no. We need better tools to differentiate who needs what type of intervention.

Leonard: Gentlemen, I want to reintroduce both of you. Ladies and gentlemen, we’re doing a show today on innovative use of corrections technology. Brian Jackson is the director of the Safety and Justice Program and a senior physical scientist at RAND. Joe Russo, back at our microphones, is a researcher at the University of Denver focusing on technological issues within the correctional sector. The document that we’re talking about is “Fostering Innovation in Community and Institutional Corrections: Identifying High Priority Technology and Other Needs in the U.S. Corrections Sector”. Want to give out the websites for both gentlemen and the document for RAND We’ll have the direct URL or the address to get you to that document but you can also find it by searching RAND’s website or simply Googling it. Joe is at the University of Denver, www.JustNet J-U-S-T-N-E-T .org O-R-G.

Gentlemen, to enter into this new era of corrections, whether it be mainstream corrections in a prison or whether it be a parole and probation agent who usually comes with a bachelors degree or higher, you’re talking about a fairly technologically sophisticated individual who can handle multiple technological platforms at the same time to supervise his or her community supervision population, or to run a safe and efficient prison system. We’re talking about a level of technology that we do not have now, correct?

Joe: It is in some respects the technology is already in place. The technology will grow and improve and that’s going to be continuous. I think that the point that you’re getting at, Leonard, is that correction is changing to a degree that there’s a large [inaudible 00:19:07] from specialization. If you go into a prison, a newer prison these days, almost everything is wired so the technical skills needed to operate a prison or run facilities within a prison, are much different than they were 20 years ago. That’s going to continue to change. More and more prisons are looking at allowing access to the internet for inmates as part of education reentry services. Almost every security system plugs in or is connected to a network in some way.

A lot of the same things are happening through the corrections whether it’s GPS or social media, monitoring, whatever the case might be. As society changes and becomes more technologically advanced, the supervision services have to keep pace and certainly the job is changing. On the positive side, with millennials and other generations coming into the workforce, they’re more ready and adaptable to that approach.

Leonard: To ask that person … Let’s just say going back to community corrections, and I don’t mean to keep harping on community corrections, but that’s where I’ve spent the last 11 years with Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency here in downtown Washington. To be able to analyze an individual, figure out through some algorithm as to whether or not this person is high risk, medium risk, or no risk, what that person’s needs are, what they’re not, figure out whether or not that person should be supervised at all or placed on the lowest level of supervision or the highest level of supervision, operate a GPS unit, video interface with that person on a fairly regular basis, that requires a certain sophistication. That requires a certain wherewithal and do we have that workforce now?

Brian: In all sectors we have that challenge as technology changes. Me working at a research environment, I use very different technologies and interface with my colleagues in a very different way than what’s happened 20 years ago, and that creates training challenges. Some of that is solved by, as Joe pointed out, the millennials coming in to the sector and bringing with them greater technological familiarity and a comfort level simply because they’ve used a lot of technology similar to this.

In many of the areas, in the discussions with our advisory panel as part of this work, is through the training implications of both technologies and how to use them and how to make decisions about acquiring them, came out as part of the discussion as a key element to thinking about innovation in corrections, whether that is training up individual practitioners to use the technology effectively, or whether that’s figuring out how to present information to leaders who are making decisions about technologies that they have to learn about as they’re making the assessment in procurement decisions.

A lot of this falls into an area of how do we produce that information in a way where the sector can use it effectively, since if we want innovation, part of that is arming the people, who are making the choices and who are using the technologies on a daily basis, with what they need to use it effectively. You can’t get good outcomes just by buying new technology and assuming that it will happen and work well if there’s an investment that needs to be made there to let it be adopted effectively by the organization and its members.

Leonard: Part of the document talks about the poor outcomes on key correctional measures of effectiveness, notably offender recidivism. Offender recidivism measured by … I can think of three historic documents and documents from other individuals and taking a look at individual research programs, is pretty daggone high in terms of recontact with the criminal justice system, rearrest. Generally the mantra has been within three years of two-thirds of rearrested and fifty percent re-incarcerated. You take a look at other reports and you get variations on those figures but in essence the figures are high. How does technology have an impact, have a bearing on improving the effectiveness in terms of offender outcomes?

Joe: Well, I’ll jump in. I think technology in the prison sector can be very useful and then is already being applied to support reentry. I mentioned earlier about agencies being more open to internet access if not complete, that which is not on the table yet, but at least access to internet content to help offenders develop their young vocational skills, education skills, make connections with potential employers and then in resources in the community. Between video visitation, video conferencing in general, giving offenders access to the community before they reach the community, I think technology can be leveraged to a great degree.

Leonard: RAND, interestingly enough, did an overview. Correct me if I’m wrong. I’m pretty daggone sure it was RAND. I think I saw it yesterday. Talking about correctional education in part of that document they suggested that the video delivery of services was as effective as in person. I may be overplaying my hand here but it was pretty encouraging in terms of what you can do through video delivery. Am I right or wrong?

Brian: Yes, that was certainly part of that study done by a number of my colleagues here at RAND who were looking both at the effectiveness overall of educational interventions and the very significant effect and cost effective effect that they have on reducing recidivism after release, but also development of technology in delivering those educational interventions. Again this comes down to resources, where it may be more costly to deliver education in person and be able to deliver it at a distance, whether that’s on a tablet based system or a video based system in a classroom, where the technology can become the force multiplier to let these services to reach more inmates, and as a result hopefully have a better effect for them as they leave to reintegrate into society, and hopefully find other things to do that do not lead them back into the correctional system.

Leonard: There are companies out there and I guess I shouldn’t mention the one company that I have in mind. I’m confronted as a person in the criminal justice system who’s been doing public affairs for the last 35 years. I’m always confronted with new technologies and I’m always confronted with a need to learn. There’s a company out there that provides technological overviews of equipment, of programs, of modalities that don’t assume that you have any prior knowledge of that technology at all. They walk you step by step, bit by bit, to the point where you feel pretty comfortable creating Final Cut Pro and creating a green screen movie in Final Cut Pro. This seems to be a powerful event in our lives in terms of the potential for delivering educational programs, vocational programs, maybe even mental health issues.

Joe: Well, absolutely. I mean often we talk about telemedicine as a way to deliver medical services but it’s established as well as a way to make contact and deliver services to inmates in prisons and even folks in the community. One of the things that came across during our research here was the needs of the rural agencies. Because of isolation, it’s not an efficiency issue in terms of using video to connect with their clientele. It’s not a resource issue. There is no other way to effectively connect with their clientele other than video and other technology approaches so it’s very important.

Leonard: Final three minutes of the program, we have a criminal justice system that is emerging in the technological arena but I don’t get the sense that we’re all that terribly sophisticated. I don’t get the sense that a lot of our agencies are run by people with tech backgrounds. How long will it take the criminal justice system to gear up, fund, train, implement a technological solution across the board for managing offenders, both in the community or managing people behind prison bars?

Brian: Well, certainly innovation across the entire system is a high bar. I mean in our criminal justice system the fact that we do this in a decentralized way means that we have answered to a lot of independent actors that are making their own decisions, that face their own financial constraints and their own legacy systems constraints. If you’re thinking about innovation across the board in the same way, it’ll be a long time, but the advantage that we have in that is that we have a lot of separate agencies that can do experiments and can try things and figure out what works. That provides a benefit to the other agencies that would come after them. On the one hand, thinking about uniform innovation, it will be a long time but what I’m encouraged by, particularly with the great ideas that came up in our advisory panels, is that we’ve got a lot of agencies out there that are trying new things and their experience can help lead the way for other agencies that come after.

Leonard: Yeah, but I’m suggesting that there’s a sense of … I don’t want to use the word panic but apprehension on the part of community corrections saying, “We need this stuff now.” If we’re going to deinstitutionalize, therefore rely more upon community supervision and you’re going to even increase the caseloads that we’re dealing with now, you’ve got to give us tools. I think that what I’m hearing is a need for speed.

Joe: There’s no doubt that there’s urgency but it’s a double edged sword. You don’t want to introduce technologies that haven’t been validated in the field or that potentially create an increased workload like GPS’s so it’s a balancing act. As Brian said there are agencies who are doing things piecemeal. It’s probably not the right term. Here and there they’re experimenting and some are having very good results.

Leonard: All right, Joe. You’ve got the final word. Ladies and gentlemen, we’ve had Brian Jackson, the Director of safety and justice programs for RAND, Joe Russo, a researcher for the University of Denver today talking about an extraordinary document, “Fostering Innovation in Community and Institutional Corrections”. Ladies and Gentlemen, this is D.C. Public Safety. We appreciate your comments. We even appreciate your criticisms and we want everybody to have themselves a very pleasant day.


Video Visitation in Corrections

DC Public Safety Radio

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Leonard: From the Nation’s capital this is DC Public Safety. I’m your host, Leonard Sipes. Ladies and Gentlemen the topic for today, ‘Video visiting in corrections’.It’s an extraordinarily important topic. We have two experts by our microphones from the National Institute of Corrections, Maureen Beull. She joined the National Institute of Correction in 2001 as one of the correctional programme specialist and leads the NCI Justice Involved Women Initiative, assisting jails, prisons, and community correction in the development and implementation of evidence based gender informed policy. By our microphones from Brooklyn, Brooklyn is represented in the house today by Allison Holliham .She is a licensed mental health counselor and holds a masters degree in Urban policy analysis as a programme manager for New York initiative for children and incarcerated parents at the Osborne Association. She advocates for policies and practices that support children of incarcerated parents. She has a background in this issue of video visitation.

I am going to read from a report, a rather comprehensive report done by the national institute of correction and we going to talk about that report today. Research confirms that incarcerated individuals, corrections families, and communities all benefit when incarcerated individuals can communicate and receive visits, from family and supportive community members. Video visitation is an additional form of communication that can build and strengthen social support system for those incarcerated.To Allison and to Maureen welcome back to DC public safety.

MAUREEN: Thank you Leonard.

ALLISON: Thank you.

Leonard: Allison, I going to start off with you after that long introduction. What is video visitation?

ALLISON: Video visits very simply put, is very similar to Skype, it helps families remain connected to their incarcerated loved ones. It first was seen in the correctional setting in the 1990s and with technological advances it really resulted in a lot more user-friendly and affordable equipment. As a result its really expanded at a rapid pace in a correction setting, in fact recently there was a prison policy report that stated that the video visiting is being in over 500 facility across the Nation and we expect that it’s going to continue to expand .

Leonard: Maureen what is the interest in corrections in terms of video visiting?

MAUREEN: Pretty simply our role is working with our constituency, which is the jails, prisons and community corrections across the country. To improve outcomes and to reduce recidivism  and some intermediate outcomes and certainly for those folks that are incarcerated maintaining contact with family, family broadly defined, community members, community services it’s really fundamental for people to get back on their feet.

Leonard: The bottom line question goes to either one of you. The bottom line is more contact people have with their families and significant others, important people in the community ,at least important to them. The more contact they have while in prison or in jail, the better off they are going to do upon release? Can I say that?

MAUREEN: I think you can say that, and I think one of the things we trying to achieve is well,for folks to … So we can really separate them from the criminals justice system and have them become part of the community.

Leonard: Part of the community means a lot of contact?… When I was in correction one of the thing that really amazed me is that whenever we had an opportunity, in the State of Merlin in the correctional system for people coming in visiting, complains went down in fractions, went down … It was a  very peaceful prison people would do anything on the face of the earth not to interfere with that in-person contact. Does video visitation have the same impact?

ALLISON: You know Leonard, that a really good question because we don’t know, its such a new practice. There’s has been very limited research on whether or not video visiting or a combination with in-person visits would actually lead to or build upon a positive outcome.

Leonard: The name of document is called ‘Video Visiting in Correction, benefits, limitations, and implementations considerations’ from the National institute of Corrections. An extraordinary document, I mean anywhere from questionnaires to implementational policies to anything that you ever wanted about video visitation is in this document. I will put the link on the show notes in terms of the document. We have according to the document, 13 States that are doing video visitations? Is that correct?

ALLISON: Oh yes, I anticipate that at this point it’s probably more than that, because this document, the research was done approximately year and a half ago at this point so its surely more.

Leonard: Now 2.7 million people are in prisons and jails on any given day? That’s a huge number 2.7 lets think about that for a second. 2.7 million people in prisons and jails in any given day?

MAUREEN: That’s true.

Leonard: We have  just as one example according  to the report 14,000 children in foster care as a result of incarceration. That’s 14,000 people totally without any contact with their mom or with their dad at all. That is just one example of the potential of video visitations?

MAUREEN: Yes and  I want to add to that, that on any given day their are 2.7 million children alone that have an incarcerated parent and when you add those that have are under some type of community supervision, it goes up to 10 million. This is a huge issue not only for an incarcerated individual and budgets but for children and for the next generation of children who are being cut off from their parents.

Leonard: But you did mention a study in a reported self, talking about reduction in recidivism based upon on the amount of contact that they had with in prison. Correct?

MAUREEN: Oh yes, absolutely. There was a recent study done by the Minnesota department of correction. It looked at 16,000 incarcerated individuals and looked at how visiting impacted their success and recidivism rates. They found that even one visit alone reduced recidivism  rates. It really underscored and added to what we know about visiting, that it is important for incarcerated individuals to receive visits throughout the incarceration and not just right prior to reentry. To be able to support their success.

Leonard: Now with running institutions correctional facilities, and the 14 years that I was with Merlin Department of public safety in correctional services, we had three correctional systems. Those visits, contact with the outside world meant peaceful institutions. We not just talking about video visitation, we not talking about necessarily doing the right thing, we also talking about reducing cost, we also talking about improving security, we also talking about the possibility of reentry, we also talking about the possibility, even if this is not the focus of this report, Video based instruction. This is meaningful to many people for many reasons and that why I wanted to expand conceptually what it is we talking about.

MAUREEN: I think one of the things for NIC to have jumped into grading this document with Osborne Association, was that one of the things we are aware of is that we know how important in-persons visits are .We also know that there are some challenges for families to be able to travel to facilities, for getting there and finding out that a visit has been cancelled. I think that video visiting has come on the forefront but I think the thing that we really want folks to be aware of that are thinking of either adopting video visiting or enhancing what they have is to really know: what it offers, What it entails, what they are getting into, what the cost are, what the benefits are? Its not a panacea but I think that these guide really provides a lot of thoughtful questions and opportunities to really take a look at this. Does this fit for your system?

Leonard: It sure does, I mean the document is amazingly comprehensive; right down to the questionnaire down to the surveys, right down to the implementation policy. Its not just a discussion document on video visitation, if you want to consider doing this, if you want to do this, its all encapsulated within one document.

MAUREEN: Nicely said, thank you

Leonard: Do you like that?

MAUREEN: I do, thank you,

ALLISON: Thank you.

Leonard: Alright W.W.W …

ALLISON: And Leonard …

Leonard: Go ahead. let me get the website as long as I have intrigued people. is the website for the National Institute of Correction and you can find the document there it will be in our show note. Allison go ahead.

ALLISON: I wanted to add certainly there are a lot of benefits of using video visiting to kind of bridge the gap for families that are so far away that they cannot travel to the facility or maybe they are elderly and they can’t get to the facility. So they are a lot  benefits, but there is also challenges for families. Some families do not have the money to have their own computer, they don’t have the technological savvy to be able to navigate signing up for an account. You know, I am just thinking about my grandmother who has trouble navigating how to turn the computer on, let alone using it to schedule time. There is the challenge with some video visits when they are home based there is  a cost  attached to that. So any money or savings that may have been incurred from not travelling to the facility maybe outweighed by the expensive cost and all the service fee that are attached to the home based video visiting. There is a lot of considerations that need to be looked at before moving forward.

Leonard: Well that’s the sole point because I have seen newspaper articles from throughout the country and here within Washington DC. That video visitation was put on by a private company that charged fees that people thought were to high. The person cannot afford to make the 300 mile trip between gas and tolls and spending the nights and taking all the family it’s a 200-300 dollar proposition but still video visitation maybe, 1/10 of that but it still something that they cannot afford. Isn’t that part of this discussion?

ALLISON: Yeah absolutely, to also consider that most of the places where video visiting is being implemented currently are at the county jail. When you looking at those families they are not travelling nearly as far as those that are gonna go visit a loved one in a prison in the State.

Leonard: Good point.

ALLISON: So their travel cost are significantly lower and in some cases the challenge is that the jails are actually requiring people to come to the jail. Visits at the facility in almost every case there is no charge for that. There is only a few jails that are still charging but still the family is going through the burden of getting to the facility. They get there and then they don’t actually see their loved one and that really matters for family and it matters a lot for children.

Leonard: Because we do want in-person wherever possible. In the District of Columbia if you commit a violation and your sent to prison even if though it’s a DC code violation where a federal agency. Those offenders are sent to federal prison they could be all through out the country if there is not video visitation then they are not going to get visits at all. So this issue,… I understand Allison your point about it it could be the local jail, but also at the same time that person could be 1000-3000 miles away.

MAUREEN: I think that’s one of the considerations in putting the guide together so that there’s so many different permutations. You may have folks that are more immediate to the facility, you may have the example you just gave Leonard but I think that a site that is thinking about adapting this really need to weigh those considerations. I think one of the things that is in the guide very interesting even talking to the folks that will be using a system  like this whether or not video visiting actually is gonna be something that they use I think one of the other things that we are well aware of that is in the guide is  there is a number of different of video visitings and I think Allison alluded to that earlier.

Leonard: Well Allison go ahead give me those types one more time cause I don’t remember.

ALLISON: Sure, there three basic models the one that was really kind of best practiced and can address a lot of challenges is the higher breed model. So you have in-person visiting and video visiting. It gives families the opportunities to choose what is best for them. Then there is the three actual different ways to use the equipment: You can have the facility based, which is where the video at the facility at some outside area so the family don’t have to go through the security and there set up in rows and [inaudible 00:13:30] and the family goes there and visit. They are usually free visits or at the very least one or two free visits per week and then additional visits they will need to pay for.

Then you have the model where the corrections will partner with a community based organisation, and there is a lot of advantages to that partnership because you then having families come to the community based organisation video visits from there. If you partnering with the organisation that provides services to the incarcerated while they are on the inside and upon their return and support to the families, then you are really able to get the families in early and do that continuum of holistic services and start working with that organisation to support the incarcerated individual reentry process.

Leonard: But the bottom line…


Leonard: Good … Am sorry go ahead

ALLISON: And the final model would be the home based, that is where people can video visit from their home based computers and in some cases their cell phones, or tablets, and those are most exclusively paid for a fee.

Leonard: But I mean that would be the holy grail? Would it not? the idea of having  that level of contact. Because you have to have a security provision, am assuming in all this because abstentively the whole idea is to sit down a child and mother reuniting over the course of 5 or 600 miles through a home based system inevitably, there is gonna be somebody who is going to,… Instead of the child they substitute that child for a gang member, so there’s  gonna be a some security component to this correct?

ALLISON: Well, there is a software that can monitor the visits. You can do live monitoring which certainly labor intensive. We have had concerns about there being, people being inappropriate during visits.  for example in Oregon they have been using video visiting in their state for a length of couple of years now I believe. They found they have 0.15% incident rate so that in the grand scheme of things is so nominal that we are not really seeing that be a big concern.

Leonard: I do want to talk more about that in the experience of other states,but before we get into the second half: Maureen Buell form the National Institute of Correction. We  have Alison Hollihan and she is with the Osborne Association. Let me give out the web address for the Osborne association, have it up close to see if I can read it correctly For the National Institute of correction The document itself its called ‘Video Visiting in corrections, benefits limitations and implementation considerations. It’s a completely comprehensive document NIC should be congratulated for doing it. So where do we take the conversation from here? You just mentioned one state and it was only 1.5% incidence of security violation Allison?

ALISON: It was Oregon Department of Correction then and it was actually 0.15 %.

Leonard: 0.15,okay so that’s pretty then going good?

ALISON: Yes, and you know with the software they can flag certain words, if certain words are said, they can automatically stop the feed. There is always [inaudible 00:16:58] concern that the person who supposed to be the visitor isn’t truly the visitor but in most cases its grandmas, and moms and children that want to have this visits with their loved ones so we really need to look the larger picture before jumping to the fear that these is going to just increase communication with the wrong people.

Leonard: Let me throw out a hypothetical that is not on anybody’s question sheet. If we handle level of contact… Work s philosophical for me a little bit Allison … If we had the level of contact instead of now a mother ,father, or a brother or a significant community member, instead of the once a year trip to a prison two or three hundred miles away. If they were in touch with this individual almost everyday from say the comfort of their own home  through a computer where that information can be exchanged about: When you coming back ,what are you bringing something to wear, where you going to live and having this discussions flashed out before hand. Where are you looking for work? are you gonna go back to school? What difference would that make Allison?

ALISON: A tremendous difference ,I want to speak to the importance of children, just because that is my area of specialty. When we run a programme here at the Osborne association to come to our office they come to a child friendly setting. Its setup like a living-room, they connect with their parents, who are in an Upstate prison 10 hours away so just had to use this as an example. This children may visit maybe once a year, cause its a 10 hour trip and now that they come in for monthly, sometime s a couple of times a month visits they do tele-visits. They are able to do their home-works in the visits, they are able to show their mom their spelling words, their math problems on a chalk boards ,they have the same books here as the moms have in the facility so they can read together. And these are experiences that you can’t have on the phone. The parent can’t see the child stand in front of a measuring stick and see how they growing from visit to visit.

We find it so critical, because then the children are able to make sense of their world. They are able to have the additional support that is so valuable for them. They are able to physically see that the parent is safe and doing well. Then they are able to go and visit once twice and hopefully more to have the important in person visits. so that’s very critical for children.

Leonard: Maureen…

ALISON: You know Alison as you talking I was just thinking of an example you were telling me about. That is when a child a small child 3-4 yr old child, gets on a telephone and is just holding a telephone and really doesn’t have any kind of a face in front of that child. There is really no conversation. The beauty I think of systems who do have video visiting is that they see the person, they see the parent. I think that something we don’t think about in the current systems we have.

MAUREEN: Yeah absolutely.

Leonard: I do want to put to our listeners that my agency, the court services, and the offender supervision agency is a pioneer in-terms of video visitations. We do quarterly ,and it’s an all day affair and we have a network of prisons throughout the federal Bureau of prisons. That participate in this a community of resources day where we bring in people from all through out the community in terms of alcohol, substance abuse, housing, jobs you do name it. We do this all day seminar, and that’s recorded.  We have been involved in the issue of video and communication within correctional facilities for a long time. We also are piloting an experimental programme where we do hookup female offenders in prison with their children from the District of Columbia but that is in its earlier stages but that is what we are doing. What is the future either one of you in terms of video visitation?

MAUREEN: You know one thing that just occurs to me is, … I have been doing criminal justice work for sometime, one of the things that I think am well aware of is that, historically our focus has been just on the individual, the individual that is incarcerated. I think with the emerging research and the best practices one of the things we’ve realized is that for people to be successful, they have got to have these connections. I mean it works for us  in the free world why should it be any different for an offender that is within the criminal justice system . I think that if folks become pretty knowledgeable about how critical it is to maintain and build those healthy connection, I think that pairing in person visitation with technology such as video visitation I think the opportunities I think its unlimited.

Leonard: They are unlimited. I did a television show on family reunification, I hosted the show and one of the things that is really profound is all the kids that are left behind, they feel abandoned. We know from research that they have higher degrees of problems in terms of substance abuse, in terms of involvement with the criminal justice systems. But they are 8,9,10 years old. They didn’t ask for this? So they feel completely abandoned, completely separated, from their incarcerated parent. At least in this case not looking at security, not looking at safety, not looking at recidivism, not looking at the benefits to the criminal justice systems but in terms of looking at the benefits to the kids it would probably be enormous.

ALLISON: Absolutely, we do know from some research, and definitely from observation that we have here through our programmes that connect children with their incarcerated parents. Visiting really minimizes the trauma, while increasing the support for children. It allows children to have very important conversations about, why are you there? when are you coming home? It helps through healing and we find that the children that are able to maintain the connection with their incarcerated parents. Children who have appropriate support in the community they go on to thrive and do wonderful its only a small percentage of these children with incarcerated parents do go on to have these challenges that you mention and its a really real concern but we have an opportunity here to support this children so that they can go on to have bright and healthy futures.

Leonard: But its interesting that the conversation that nobody has. The kids caught up in all of this nobody seems to focus on them at all. They do feel completely left alone, they feel completely ignored and this would be a way of looking at that. Where do we go to for the future? For video visiting? I mean is this going to be something that you would want to expand through out the entire country? Are we going to start using tablets? Start using home computers? Are the correctional systems going to be more accepting of this? Map out the next five years either one of you?

ALLISON: Yeah I believe that it is inevitably going to be in every facility at some point. The question is it going to be implemented in a thoughtful way that balances the need for correction and families or is it going to be driven by companies out there that are trying to make money by charging for the visits and putting big service fees on the families which will be in the end counter productive right? Because we going to have families that used to be able to go for free visits at the county jail, that now are not able to visit as often because of the fees.

I think that if its done in a thoughtful way, it could increase the connections for family and I think its going to be a great benefit to the re-entry planning process. We didn’t speak much about that, but to think about being able to bring families into a case management conference with the incarcerated conference with the incarcerated individual prior to release to determine how they can be of support. Think about the transitional housing director who can come to a facility or community organisation and have an interview with someone who is incarcerated 5 hrs away from the area to where they are returning to, and the have that with the housing resource ready for them before they are released. You can have job interviews, you could have interviews with treatment providers.I mean the possibilities are endless.

Leonard: Well that is just it the possibilities are endless and we just barely scratching the surface in terms of the possibilities. Everything you have just mentioned could be, should be on the table. Now my question is and anybody listening to the program is going to be … If that degree of importance, if it’s at that level of importance we have not even discussed the medical angle, to this and where these could really cut costs through states by millions of dollars in terms of video consultations on medical issues. Then why do we have to rely upon private providers at all? Why doesn’t government simply pick this up if it’s so important to so many people for so many reasons?

ALLISON: Well thinking from the importance of in-persons vist’s just for visits. Think about the importance of a doctor or a nurse doing triage to be able to physically see and touch that person. I think that there’s definitely room for having consultations or simple follow ups but it can never replace the importance of the medical community to be able to interact with a person.

Leonard: But my question is more along the lines of the fees that are being charged the fees of private company’s’,or some people who are objecting to the fees. They say that they are too high if it is as important as we making it to be, why wouldn’t the government pick up the cost,[inaudible 00:27:06] eliminate the fees entirely? That sounds unrealistic in today’s  budget cutting era?

MAUREEN: That’s a hard question, I mean it’s hard because you know, am just looking at sort of the environment that we are living in today in terms of politics and budgets and all sorts of things. I think what we really were interested in is having both criminal justice systems and users of systems like this, just to be thoughtful of consumers and to really know what the potential and the possibilities are but really know the right questions and the right things to consider.

Leonard: And that’s exactly what the document does?

MAUREEN: That’s what we hoped for?

Leonard: (Laughs)… Very comprehensive. Alison did you want to have a quick followup we just about out of time.

ALLISON: I think that the main take away here, is that we should never look at video replacing in-person activity, no matter what it maybe from visiting to tele-medicine. We need to be thoughtful about making sure that the fees associated are not counterproductive and just reducing the ability for the incarcerated to maintain their connection with their family.

Leonard: Some people are exuberant about this possibility. They suggest that it could really fix a lot of the problem within correction so they would be even more enthusiastic than you. Maureen final comments?

MAUREEN: Well I think that’s why we called the document Benefits ,limitations and implementations considerations.

Leonard: Just to cover all bases…

MAUREEN: You got it.

Leonard: (Laughs)Ladies and gentlemen, we are doing a show today…we doing a show today on Video visitation in the correction setting. Our guest today has been Maureen Buell from the National Institute of Correction and Allison Hollihan. She is with the Osborne association. The document itself as Maureen just said ‘Video Visiting in corrections, benefits, limitations, implementations considerations, programme was produced today by [inaudible 00:29:16] and we always appreciate her production assistance in-terms of putting this together. The inner website for the Osborne Association Allison Hollihan organisation

Ladies and gentlemen this is DC Public Safety. We appreciate your comments and we even appreciate your criticism and we want everybody to have themselves a very pleasant day.


Predicting Criminal Risk and Behavior

DC Public Safety Radio

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Leonard Sipes: From the nation’s capital, this is DC Public Safety. I’m your host Leonard Sipes. Today’s program, ladies and gentlemen, Predicting Criminal Risk. We’re going to be taking a look at risk instruments. What are they? How good are they? From the Washington State Institute for Public Policy we have Zachary Hamilton, Assistant Professor Department of Criminal Justice and Criminology. Director of Washington State Institute for Criminal Justice at the Washington State University.

Joining Zachary will be Mason Burley, Senior Research Associate Washington State Institute for Public Policy. The website Gentlemen welcome to DC Public Safety.

Male: Hello. Thank you for having us.

Leonard Sipes: All right, risk assessments. This is something that seems to be is the foundation of meaningful change within the criminal justice system. We now within the court services and and offender supervision agency, my agency, we’ve been using risk instruments for about 10 years. Risk instruments are being used for sentencing, they’re being used in all things inside the criminal justice system. Give me, first of all, whether or not you think risk instruments are the foundation of meaningful change within criminal justice. Then give me a layman’s definition of what risk instruments are.

Z. Hamilton: Well I can jump in on that. I do think risk assessments are the foundation of really how we move forward in the criminal justice system. A lot of what people have complained about in years past has sort of been the inconsistency, inaccuracy, and maybe the overuse of discretion within the system. What risk assessments do is they put everyone on an even playing field, or at least they attempt to put everyone on an even playing field, so that everyone’s judged in a similar manner. In terms of what a risk assessment is, in terms of layman’s language, it’s essentially a set of items that you use. Maybe a survey or a questionnaire, or maybe they’re items that are collected from a mix of self reported questionnaires or criminal history measures that are known within an agencies records.

These items usually contain a mix of what are called static items, that look at the offenders criminal history, their age, their gender maybe. But also some dynamic items too that try to focus on the offenders needs. Trying to examine whether or not they have issues with regards to employment, substance abuse, medical health, residency, any sort of things that may directly or indirectly impact their future criminal behavior or misbehavior on supervision.

Leonard Sipes: So we’re looking at criminal history, we’re looking at the age of the offender. We’re talking about possibly the sex of the offender. There are static issues as well as dynamic issues that go into this that formulate a sense as to who this person is, and what their level of risk is, and what their level of need is in terms of social services?

Z. Hamilton: That is correct and some of what you’re describing in terms of how risk assessments and needs assessments have been extended throughout the criminal justice system is about the idea that there’s certain behaviors that we would like to predict. Recidivism is one but there’s others that you had mentioned that may exist at a different point within the system. The individual coming into the system may have a first risk or needs assessment completed at the pre-trial phase. Maybe a judge might use that to identify whether or not this person would be a risk of flight. At that point you might be trying to predict recidivism but you might also be trying to predict failure to appear.

Once the persons incarcerated you might want to predict infraction behavior. Once they’ve been released or re-entered into the community you’d want to predict recidivism behavior but maybe you’d also like to predict compliance while on supervision. There’s a multitude of outcomes in which you can examine and utilize these tools to create essentially prediction models.

Leonard Sipes: What we have is law enforcement using them, pre-trial using them, the judge using them, in terms of sentencing. Parole and probation agencies using them to figure out how closely to watch this individual. Correctional systems, prisons, could be using them in terms of the potential for good behavior within the prison system. Across the board risk instruments are becoming a bigger part of the criminal justice system.

Z. Hamilton: Yes as more individuals are gathering data and more agencies are gathering data. Tracking offenders and identifying how you can utilize that data to better supervise, more efficiently supervise, or even remove individuals from supervision to create a better system is, I think, where risk assessment is heading.

Leonard Sipes: I do want to go back to Dr. Hamilton in terms of discussion as to how effective these instruments are, but Mason Burley I’m going to go to you. This whole issue of risk assessment instruments started with the insurance industry, did it not? The insurance industry for decades, multiple decades, has been assessing the risk of individuals on their caseloads, if you will, as to whether or not they’re going to be a risk in terms of health. Whether or not they’re going to have a heart attack. Whether or not they’re going to be unemployed. Whether or not they’re going to have health problems across the board. Am I right or wrong?

M. Burley: I think actuarial instruments have been used in a lot of different arenas. Certainly outside the public policy area and I wanted to emphasize… Insurance would certainly be one of those, but the history in Washington State really goes back to quite an extensive and evolving use of risk assessment in the criminal justice area, if I can focus on that for a second. Because I think the history’s pretty important in terms of the utility we found in the state. Initially in the late 90’s the juvenile justice system decided to look at some evidence based approaches and to target who might be best served in some of those programs they developed risk assessment instruments for all the juvenile courts in the state.

That later evolved into the supervision that Dr. Hamilton mentioned with the department of corrections and then looking at who was at most risk of further crime and looking at supervision resources and how those should be targeted to high risk individuals. That risk assessment has gone through several iterations and Dr. Hamilton and his institute really refined and improved as they’ve learned from what works with best with an instrument. It’s been adopted in other areas as he mentioned throughout the state with pre-trial and judges deciding information about bail and pre-trial decisions based on historic risk.

Then finally the work we recently released that the institute looked at, the mental health population and what individuals who have been involved in the forensic mental health system and the type of risk they pose. I think that it’s becoming more recognized, the value of it in Washington State and we provide a good test case in some of these scenarios as individuals move through different phases of the criminal justice system.

Leonard Sipes: Before continuing I do want to plug the Washington State Institute for Public Policy as putting out some of the most easy to read, clear, precise, research findings. Not just within the criminal justice system but across all phases of the government. I do want to congratulate the Washington State Institute for Public Policy for it’s dedication to put out the research that the rest of us, who are not researchers can understand and the policy makers can grasp and run with. You guys have probably over a decade of experience putting out nice, clear, and concise public policy research. Again their website www.wsipp.wa for the state of washington .gov.

Did you want to continue Dr. Hamilton?

Z. Hamilton: I think Mason covered a lot of what’s been done but it’s going back several years. Even back to 1997, when the Washington State Institute of Public Policy mainly one of their key researchers, Robert Bernowsky, created one of the first juvenile risk assessments that was used throughout the state. That spawned this idea of collecting data overtime, tracking offender populations and re-adjusting those assessment models to improve prediction over time. As people change, as the population changes, as even the criminal statues change. The focus of the assessment is fine tuned over time and that’s something that was put into place early with WSIPP. I think those traditions are starting to continue on now with these new adjustments to the adult risk tools as well.

Leonard Sipes: There’s an endless list of policy questions I do want to get into in terms of Microsoft coming out with an app that’s predicting future criminal behavior. Commercial applications that law enforcement is now using. The attorney general of the United States, Attorney General Holder, former Attorney General who criticized risk instruments used in sentencing about possible bias. Every time that there is a mass shooting there is a psychologist that gets on CNN and says that there is no way we can predict future criminal behavior. All of those are issues that I want to get on to or discuss. The biggest issue that people when they come to me and talk to me is, “Leonard, how effective are these things.” That’s why I love your research.

You mentioned the fact that you did something recent talking about the criminal population within the state of Washington but also whether or not the involuntary treatment population for mental health reasons. Whether or not the risk instruments that the state of Washington was using could be used for both groups. So I’m using that as the basis for this program. While you say while no risk instrument can predict future criminal offenses with 100% accuracy. The goal is to create an assessment that has strong predictive performance. How strong is that predictive performance?

Z. Hamilton: There’s different industry standards for how we identify predictive performance and as you mentioned you probably don’t want me to go too far down the rabbit hole in terms of giving a statistics lesson. The common metric of which people base an assessment is what’s called an area under the curve statistic. There’s really ways of identifying the strength of the instrument and industry standards that set cut points within the statistic to say what’s a weak prediction, what’s a moderate prediction, what’s a strong prediction. What we’re finding with these tools is that we’ve advanced our methods as we gather more data. As we’re able to refine and focus on specific types of crimes. Not just any recidivism generally but maybe focusing on what predictors predict violent crime versus property crime or drug crime. You’re able to really hone in on that prediction and get strong models almost every single time.

Without going too much into the detail of what those industry… We tend to exceed the industry standard for what are called strong models and a lot of our models tend to give in to those upper echelons of being able to accurately identify recidivism prediction across the population at rates of over 70%.

Leonard Sipes: Well over 70% would be astounding and I think that gives individuals a fairly decent benchmark in terms of understanding risk instruments. In other words there’s no way that we can do this with 100% predictive behavior. That’s impossible, but at the 100% level that’s pretty [dag-gone 00:12:20] good and pretty predictive. I want to get into the categories used in the research. What they tried to do was to focus on four particular categories. This was the division of correction there in the state of Washington. High Violent, High Non-Violent, Moderate Risk or Low Risk. They tried to keep it simple in terms of falling into one of those four categories, correct?

Z. Hamilton: Yes. Really it’s a big advance and they’ve been doing it for a while in Washington State but it’s a distinction that Washington State has that I believe is a big advantage as compared to other risk assessment instruments. Anybody who supervises the centers will tell you it’s not just the probability of any risk, it’s the type of risk that they pose. Many risk assessment instruments will essentially say, “Are you low, moderate, or high risk? What’s your probability of risk for committing a new arrest or a new conviction.”

That’s great but somebody that has, let’s just say, a 45% likelihood of committing a drug crime, versus an individual that has a 42% likelihood of committing a violent crime. Yeah the percentages are different but you’re going to supervise those individuals differently. The severity or the public perception of a particular crime is going to be of note. So an individual that may have a slightly lower probability of committing a violent crime may be supervised at a greater rate simply because the threat to society or to public safety is a little bit stronger than that person that’s more likely to commit a drug crime.

Is that coming through okay?

Leonard Sipes: Yeah, perfectly. That’s why I wanted to start off with the issue of fundamental change within the criminal justice system. Because it seems, in terms of evidence based practices, what we’re seeing is that we should be focusing our resources on the highest risk offenders and not focusing our resources on lower risk offenders. Because we’re talking about 5 million human beings on any given day under community supervision currently. Under community supervision on any given day according to US Department of Justice Data and Parole and Probation agencies throughout the country. They can have rations of 100:1, 200:1, I’ve seen 250:1. Luckily here in Washington DC our maximum caseload is 50:1, for specialized cases it’s much lower than that. But when you have that disparity between say, in terms of community supervision prone probation agents and enormous case loads, you’ve got to figure out who’s your highest risk and provide the resources to that highest risk offender. Correct?

Z. Hamilton: That is correct and one of the distinctions within Washington State, and this has been going on ever since 2007 I believe. It might even be 2005. They had a statute that went through the legislature called the Offender Accountability Act. What it essentially said was we’re going to use a risk assessment to determine whose lowest risk and those lowest risk offenders are essentially not going to be supervised. If we can determine what their probability of recidivism and it’s within a range of being of low or very low risk then we don’t feel it’s within our due diligence to give them extensive supervision. There’s a fair amount of research out there that identifies the individuals that are of low risk of recidivism, the more you supervise them actually the more likely you are to observe behavior and they end up becoming more likely to commit crimes simply because of these observation effects.

Leonard Sipes: We end up re-incarcerating the wrong people. That’s the bottom line.

Z. Hamilton: That is the bottom line. What Washington State has done and has been doing for years is essentially saying administrative supervision or no supervision for those individuals that are of these lower tiered risks. That not only has sort of, fell in line with risk need and responsivity theory but it’s also saved the state a lot of money. Evaluations of this change in statute has essentially identified no uptake in recidivism following it’s passing. The effect has essentially been a net win for the state.

Leonard Sipes: We’re more than half way through the program. I do want to re-introduce our guest Zachary Hamilton, Assistant Professor Department of Criminal Justice and Criminology. Director of the Washington State Institute for Criminal Justice at the Washington State University.

Mason Burley is also by our microphone. Senior Research Associate Washington State  Institute of Public Policy. Once again I will continue to praise the Washington State  Institute of Public Policy for putting out extraordinarily good research. Some of the best in the United States.

Let me go into a little bit more about this individual research and then talk more about policy questions. What you did with this research was take a look at violent felony convictions, non-violent felony convictions, and any conviction over the course of a 2 year period to measure the accuracy of the risk instrument used for he state of Washington. You took all of that and basically you said that in some cases the degree of probability, one as high as 70%, and that was for the non-violent felony convictions. Was that correct?

M. Burley: Washington State has a long standing history of using risk assessment with the department of corrections and the prison population that are under supervision. So we’re able to kind of look at the risk elements that we use for that population and see if the same risk assessment is a valid tool for other populations as well. As you mentioned we looked at violent felony and non-violent felony for DOC and for the DOC population between the highest risk offenders 60 to 70 percent of those have a non-violent, repeat crime of a non-violent felony within 2 years.

Leonard Sipes: But those are the people that you designated in that category and the results we’re validated by saying that 70% of the people that we put into that category did have a non-violent conviction.

M. Burley: Yes, we looked at that category of the prison population under supervision and compared individuals in the mental health system in Washington State to see if the same kind of elements can be used to predict two year recidivism as well. Now for that population the recidivism rates we’re much lower. Two to three times lower in some circumstances. The risk assessment tool was still valid in that we could distinguish between low, moderate and high risk offenders along that continuum of risk.

Leonard Sipes: But what I’m asking is, is that the paper basically says that there was a … I’m simplifying things. An above 70% accuracy rate. What does that mean when you say it’s an above .75 accuracy rate? Which is to me, as a lame person, that basically says 75% of the time we were accurately able to predict. Am I right or wrong?

M. Burley: I misunderstood the question. Dr. Hamilton maybe you want to jump in.

Z. Hamilton: Yeah, it’s a little more nuanced than that. The way that you perceived that, what you’re determining the accuracy rate as is the area under the curve statistic. Essentially what it says, and I’m going to explain it as hopefully as simply as possible. If you have two groups and you separated your two groups of people you we’re observing into those that recidivated and those that did not. If you were to randomly select one person out of each one of those groups. Using this risk assessment you’d identify that the individual that recidivated had a higher risk over 70% of the time.

Leonard Sipes: Had a higher risk over 70% of the time.

Z. Hamilton: Correct.

Leonard Sipes: That doesn’t mean that they went out and under your criteria, or the criteria of the study, and were convicted within a two year time period, that they had that higher probability.

Z. Hamilton: No, no. What we do is we take that risk score. We create a continuous risk score from zero to wherever it ends up being at it’s highest. With that continuous risk score then you essentially dissect it into several pieces where you have a low, a moderate, a high non-violent and a high violent. In any one of those groups you can identify what’s the probability of somebody who falls into those categories recidivating.

Leonard Sipes: For the layman’s question ‘How accurate are these instruments?’ and using the example of what happened in the state of Washington. Is there a layman-esq answer to say that they would be accurate 70% of the time, 50% of the time, 60% of the time?

Z. Hamilton: Again it’s a little more nuanced than that. The instrument doesn’t come out and say, “This person is going to recidivate.” It doesn’t come out with a yes or no answer and say, “This person is going to recidivate. This other person, person B, is not going to recidivate.” What it does is the score will provide a probability of recidivism. Let’s say the score ranges from 0 to 100. Somebody that scores out at a 50 may have a 30% likely hood of recidivism. If that 30% likely hood puts them in the upper tier or high risk category than that category can then be identified as having their aggregate probability of recidivism.

It gets a little more complicated but essentially what we do is we utilize that area under the curve statistic to essentially rate that continuous risk score, to say how accurate it is and it also allows us to compare our instrument to someone else’s instrument. But to give a quick and easy answer, to say this persons going to recidivate and this person’s not. How accurate is the assessment? Risk assessments aren’t built to do that. They’re built to provide guidelines for individuals to say who is higher risk as compared to another person who might be of moderate or lower risk.

Leonard Sipes: But it’s inevitable that there are going to be false positives and false negatives. It’s going to be inevitable that there are a certain number of people who are designated as high risk are not going to come back to the criminal justice system. There is a certain inevitable … It is inevitable that a person that you would designate as low risk would come back to the criminal justice system. There has got to be a certain understanding by the public that these are not perfect predictive analysis. That there are going to be false positives and false negatives.

Z. Hamilton: That is true. I believe either in the report, or in one of the appendices of the report, we identified the probability of recidivism by falling into one of the many categories we’ve created the cut points for. So you can identify what’s the probability for recidivism for high violent, high non-violent, moderate and low.

M. Burley: I think I was answering that question rather than the overall predictive ability of the model. It think it’s important that what I learned from this, working with Dr. Hamilton as well is that the risk is on a continual scale and we we’re able to kind of look at … Even though there are false positives and false negatives. The likely hood of being able to tell which offenders are going to recidivate or which individuals are going to recidivate increases on a gradual basis as you move from low to high risk based on what you find in the assessment.

Leonard Sipes: I’m going to go back to questions I posed right before the break. We have everybody and their uncle now putting out risk instruments of one shape or another. Microsoft came out with an app. There are commercial entities that are basically saying that law enforcement agencies that we’re going to be able to tell you with higher degrees of probability who on the street is going to commit further crimes or commit violent crimes. We have a world that is now moving towards predictive risk instruments beyond criminal justice. The private sector is doing this. Do you have any concerns about this because it is inevitable that again we have false positives, we have false negatives. We’re going to be pin pointing people and talking about their probabilities for coming into the criminal justice system and we’re going to be wrong.

M. Burley: Yeah. I have lots of concerns about that. Not necessarily that it’s a private sector doing that. There’s plenty of companies that exist in the private sector that create great risk assessment instruments. My fear is individuals from the private sector potentially taking large data sources not knowing how exactly they fit within the jurisdiction that they’re evaluating and essentially spitting out a model that is accurate to a degree, but that accuracy isn’t really developed within the known quantities of that particular jurisdiction. Every single location in the United States is slightly different. You do have a certain stability in terms of certain items being predictive. Age being one of them, prior convictions being another. But individuals that are creating risk assessment instruments that don’t have knowledge of that on the ground usage, or the variations in the population, could potentially create models that are not as accurate as their claim.

Leonard Sipes: Every time there is a mass shooting. Every time there is a horrific violent crime in this country a psychologist will do an interview for CNN and say, “Even though the person had a history of mental health treatment. Even though the person had a history of schizophrenia …” I do want to point out that even though there are a higher percentage of the people that come from mental health backgrounds involved in the criminal justice system the overwhelming majority of people who have mental health backgrounds are not going to be coming into the criminal justice system but a psychologist or psychiatrist will stand up on CNN and say, “It is impossible to predict future criminal behavior. Yes he had contact with the mental health system, but to predict this level of violence is just literally impossible.”

Then media will pick up the phone and call me and say, “If these individuals can not be … If you can not predict their future criminality then is it … Psychologists are saying it’s impossible to predict future violent criminal behavior. Then the risk instruments that you talk about, what good are they?”

Do you see the level of confusion that folks in the media and the general public would have when a psychologist gets up and makes a statement like that?

Z. Hamilton: Yes. I can. The issue is that the risk assessment instruments that were discussing and that we’ve created, they’re built for a specific population. They’re built for people that have contact with the criminal justice system. If nobody’s had any contact with the criminal justice system they’ve never been assessed for risk. That’s one limitation right there. The other is that there’s individuals that typically commit these crimes a lot of times you’ll see those psychiatrists come up and say, “They have a mental illness, or an undiagnosed mental illness.” Again if there’s no data to be able to identify any of this persons prior behavior which is a lot of what risk assessments are built upon then it’s difficult to assess somebody’s risk.

Again going into the general population and identify someones risk of recidivism is usually not what risk assessments are built for. They’re built for release decisions, pre-trial decisions. Decisions on probation or parole and supervision. They’re not necessarily built for that particular purpose. To be even more blunt they’re built on an aggregate population so we’re addressing the aggregate risk or the average risk of a person within the population that we’ve had assessments for.

That individual that commits the serious offense or a mass shooting, that had never entered into one of those populations to be assessed. You’re not going to have any identification of risk for that particular individual and those events are so rare that they cant be predicted based on the average events that normally criminals and offenders commit.

Leonard Sipes: Our guests today have been Dr. Zachary Hamilton, Assistant Professor Department of Criminal Justice and Criminology. Director of the Washington State Institute for Criminal Justice at the Washington State University. Mason Burley’s been by our microphone. Senior Research Associate Washington State Institute for Public Policy.

Ladies and Gentlemen this is D.C. Public Safety, we appreciate your comments. We even appreciate your criticisms and we want everybody to have themselves a very pleasant day.


Tablets in Corrections

DC Public Safety Radio

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Leonard: From the nation’s capital, this is DC Public Safety. I’m your host Leonard Sipes. Ladies and gentlemen, today’s topic is tablets in corrections, a pretty interesting topic, I think so. Chenault Taylor, Director of Public Relationships for Edovo,, is by our microphones. Randy Kearse, a re-entry consultant at … Randy has a book and a video. The video is Beyond Prison Probation and Parole. To Chenault and to Randy, welcome to DC Public Safety.

Randy: Thank you. I’m glad to be here.

Leonard: All right. Guys, give me a sense at to … I’ll start off with you, Chenault, and give me a sense at to what Edovo does, and how you got to meet Randy and incorporate Randy’s materials into what you’re doing.

Chenault: Yeah, absolutely. Edovo is an educational technology company that operates in correctional facilities, and we use tablet technology to bring daily access programming to incarcerated users across the country. We focus on educational programming, meaning academic, vocational, and behavioral therapy programming. We connected with Randy. Actually, Randy reached out to us about bringing his theories and the work he does onto our tablets. I’ll let him speak more in depth as to what he does, but his resources and his time, both in incarceration and [inaudible 00:01:36] work he’s done since, has been enormously interesting to us. Particularly, from a social psychology perspective, it’s always more valuable when you have people who have been in their shoes, people who have been incarcerated, and people who have been successful afterwards, talking to you as an incarcerated individual. That’s how we connect with Randy, and I’ll let him tell you exactly what he does. We’re really excited about it.

Leonard: Randy, go ahead.

Randy: As you know, I’m a prison re-entry consultant, based on my personal experience of being incarcerated. I have a company Prison Re-entry Strategies, and we create media content to help incarcerated and formerly incarcerated individuals successfully transition back to society. What we do through books, and film, and interactive media, we create programs that will hopefully help people make that transition back to their communities, their families, and society as a whole. I connected with Edovo because I liked what they were doing, the innovative, bringing tablets into prisons.

Most importantly, I did the research on them, and I liked their model for focusing on the education and vocational, and all of the things that they do to prepare people. I’m sure we’re going to get into the pros and cons of tablets being in the prisons, but I created a film series called Beyond Prison Probation and Parole. It’s a series that focuses on people who have formerly been incarcerated and have transitioned back to society successfully, so it was a good fit. What they did was take what I’ve done, the film series, and created a whole curriculum around that film series, which … It’s an awesome opportunity to help people make that successful transition back to society.

Leonard: Many in corrections see tablets as the holy grail, allowing unfettered contact with family and other pro-social elements, plus use of tablets for educational and vocational purposes. I say that from the standpoint and with a recognition that I’ve been around the re-entry movement now for decades. We’ve all talked about the need for vocational training, for substance abuse training, for mental health issues, for making sure that the offender inside of a prison has constant contact with pro-social elements, his family members, his mom, his dad, other people in the community that could help him. Yet, all of that, that whole package, everything that I just described turns out to be enormously expensive, and most correctional systems don’t have the money to do it.

The sense was that if you could have a person in the country, say, from one location, say, the Department of Justice, say, it’s Randy, and Randy could be doing courses either recorded or live, and deliver that information via tablets, we could open up vocational, educational programs, substance abuse programming, to inmates, millions of inmates, if necessary, throughout the United States. That’s the hope, that’s the dream, that’s the promise. I’m going to start with you, Chenault. How far are we away from that, in terms of technology?

Chenault: Even in the few years that we’ve been operating, we’ve seen a huge shift in the mindset of the administrators in corrections. A few years ago when said we’d like to bring wired technology and tablets into facilities, some people looked at us like we were crazy, and now we’re finding a really receptive audience that’s aware of the benefits that the technology and tablets can bring for education, for programming, for a number of reasons. Like you mentioned, some statistics have only 20% of those who are incarcerated getting regular access to programming, and that’s really detrimental.

Edovo was started because we were in the Cooke County Jail and saw that people were watching Jerry Springer, and people were watching the Price is Right, and didn’t really have access to that programming. Like you mentioned, there’s many in corrections who want that to be different, but it’s a real challenge to have programming with an in-person teacher for a lot of reasons, being cost, the fact many incarcerated [users 00:06:04] are not at the same level of education and don’t have the same interests. What we see, and what I think many in corrections are seeing is the tablets are helpful because they’re scalable.

If you have someone like Randy’s program curriculum, upload it, and, as you said, millions could access it. You’re also able to meet users at their level. If they’re at the GED level, if they’re at an early literacy rate, if they’re post-secondary, content can be on there that they can access at any level. It’s also really valuable from a data perspective, and from a continuity of care perspective. What our model does and what tablets can do is give administrators in a facility the ability to see how users are learning, what’s popular. We can use that data [inaudible 00:06:58] offer more courses like that.

Our hope, and what we’re working on now, is making sure that parole and probation officers also have access to that data, and the ability to say, “Look, we see that you completed three courses on substance abuse, here are resources for you now that you’re back and out in the community,” or, “We see that you’re halfway through your GED course, you can continue that course from your time incarcerated now that you’re on the outside.” We see that potential, you see that potential, and we are finding a lot of receptive people in the corrections arena, as well.

Leonard: Now, Chenault, are these programs online or are they loaded into the tablets?

Chenault: What we do, and this is different based on the tablet providers, we have wired technology. The way we explain that is, if you think of the internet as a highway system, what we’ve done is created an internet access point that really acts as a tunnel with no on-ramps and no off-ramps. There’s no access to the broader internet, like Google or Facebook. You are only able to connect to Edovo itself. We think it’s really valuable and important that these devices are connected to the internet.

That is how you’re able to have data, that is how you’re able to track your progress, that is how you’ll be able to use your work and your certificate on the outside, and continue to [fill 00:08:23] your educational and vocational programming. It also allows us to upload new content, so the work that we’re doing with Randy, we’re able to upload videos of success stories and add to our curriculum in a way that’s meaningful and important for those who are inside. We have a connectivity, but it’s not just the broader, if that makes sense.

Leonard: It does. It is online, but only through channels that you provide, nothing else?

Chenault: Exactly, through a secure server. Obviously, in corrections, security is an issue, so we use a server through an [ABTN 00:09:01] tunnel, the same type of security that the finance sector uses, that healthcare data uses. We’ve obviously really thought about this, and this is an essential piece of making this work.

Leonard: Chenault, I do want to come back to you in terms of questions of security, because that’s what’s on the mind of every correctional administrator throughout the country. Randy Kearce, let me go over to you for a second. You and I both know, for you, from your personal experience, and me, from my experience within the criminal justice system and the research that I read. I think Chenault is being generous when she’s saying that 20% of inmates are gaining some sort of educational services. The last time I took a look at data, it was closer to 10%. Whether it’s 10% or 20%, the overwhelming majority of people sitting in a correctional facility are not getting any services at all, period. We’re saying that isn’t it better, that if they have access to Randy Kearce and the material that Randy produces, or the material that other people produce, isn’t it better for inmates to be exposed to vocational, educational, substance abuse, decision-making materials on a tablet. We would prefer a instructor, we would prefer a classroom. We’re never going to get that, so if we don’t do it via tablet, it’s not going to get done, am I right or wrong?

Randy: No, you’re absolutely right. We got to go with the times, and times is dictating that technology has to be brought into these facilities because it just makes sense financially for institutions to implement these type of technology, because you get more bang for the buck. More people will be able to use it, more people will be exposed to the materials, and it just makes sense because if you’re trying to prepare someone to come out into society and function on a level of being able to take care of themselves, you have to prepare them and give them the tools and the resources to help prepare them. The thing we have to look at is, number one, what type of programming will these tablets have? You’re going to have several or more companies come online and say, “Wow, this is a great idea. How can I make money from it?” This is the problem.

I think this is the thing that we have to ask ourselves, is what type of material will we allow inmates to be exposed to. We don’t want an inmate to sit there and be watching videos all day of music videos, or entertainment videos. There should be an allowance for some of it, but the majority of it should be focusing on them being able to properly prepare for getting out, and changing their mindset, and changing their behaviors, and things like that.

Going back to the questions of family and keeping in contact with family, you’re going to have companies that come aboard, and now that there was the decrease in how much phone companies can charge incarcerated individuals to call home, now you’re going to have companies trying to basically monopolize off of these tablets on, “How can we generate money by allowing people to use emails,” or just focusing on how they can stay in contact with their family. Those are the things that we have to watch out for. Those are the things that we have to be prepared for, so it doesn’t become a money-making machine versus an entity that can help people integrate back into society.

Leonard: The companies aren’t going to do it unless there’s profit.

Randy: Excuse me?

Leonard: The companies aren’t going to do it unless there’s a profit motive. Why do it unless there’s a profit motive? I’m just curious. I don’t want to go in there deeply, because I would love to see state government, federal government, come out and pay for these sort of things, but at the moment, they’re not going to do it unless there is a profit.

Randy: One of the things that attracted me to Edovo is that they have a more social model. They don’t focus on profit. I can’t tell you the specifics or how they operate, but it’s not profit-driven. Go ahead.

Leonard: Let me get back to the larger question. Randy, do giving information via tablets in the correctional setting … The correctional setting is loud, it’s ruckus, it’s noisy, it’s not very conducive to a learning environment. You’re sitting in your cell, and your watching programs dealing with substance abuse, or an educational program, or a vocational program, or job hunting. How effective could or would tablets be?

Randy: Very effective because that allows you to go in your cell and tune everything else out around you, that’s going on around you that’s not positive, that’s not productive. You can go in your cell, and you’ll basically have your own teacher. You have your own facilitator teaching you or showing you different programs and taking you, walking you, through these programs. They would be very effective. I guess one of the best-selling items in the commissary would be a radio. Everybody has a radio in the prison because that allows you to escape.

These tablets would definitely be a tool to keep people focused on the journey ahead, and not what’s going on negatively around them. When you factor in the privilege part, as well … Tablets are a privilege, they’re not mandatory. People are going to be on their best behavior to have access to these tablets. You’re going to cut down in a lot of areas when it comes to discipline, when it just unfocused behaviors going on around you, because everybody’s going to want to keep their standings to be able to use those tablets. Trust me on that one there.

Leonard: We’re halfway through the program. Let me re-introduce both of you for a second before we get on to the rest of the program. Chenault Taylor, Director of Public Relations for Edovo, E-D-O-V-O,, and Randy Kearce, my Facebook friend and a very nice man, re-entry consultant, He’s produced a video and a slew of materials including a book, but he didn’t want me to promote the book. He wanted me to promote the video, Beyond Prison Probation and Parole. I appreciate both of you being on the program with us today. All right, for the second half of the program, Randy, I’m just going to be a bit more of a devil’s advocate before going back to Chenault on the security question. You’re not going to be able to teach a person to lay bricks, you’re not going to be able to teach a person to be an electrician via a tablet, you’re not going to be able to teach a person how to read via a tablet. These are things that almost require classroom instruction, do they not, or am I wrong?

Randy: I have to disagree with you.

Leonard: Go ahead.

Randy: I have to disagree with you vehemently because a lot of things that I’ve learned in the last two or three years, I’ve learned on YouTube. Video is very great way to teach people because a lot of people can learn by looking and being able to follow the instructions of … Like Chenault said, literacy is a big problem in prison, and everybody’s not reading and comprehending on the same level, so what people can see, they’re more apt to want to be able to follow those instructions. Everything and anything that you want to learn is on YouTube, so this is just giving people a better or more opportunity to learn in a different kind of way. We’re living in a video society, we’re living in a technology that … We have to incorporate instructive learning via instructors that will be able to give them great courses where they can be able to learn in that way. Video’s the best and great way to help these guys prepare for getting out.

Leonard: Chenault, the security question that I alluded to before … Every correctional administrator in the country is saying, “Leonard, I get it. I think tablets would be nice. I think having online access would even be nice, but how do you do that and protect public safety at the same time? Anything that we bring in via the internet is going to be abused, and in fact, a lot of prisons don’t have any internet connection at all, simply for security reasons.” Do you want to comment on that?

Chenault: Yeah, absolutely. We’ve seen a couple people … It’s not a couple people, many facilities that, fortunately, are addressing that security issue head-on. What we’ve done in a lot of facilities is we do need to come in and bring in that connectivity to a facility. As I mentioned earlier, the way we operate, and I think that the way that … There really is the potential to have connectivity and access to wonderful resources … Is that you can only access Edovo. You have a tunnel vision of internet that can only access Edovo. There’s also the ability to access communications in certain tablets, depending on the facility, and depending on their provider.

What we’ve seen really is that this hasn’t been the issue that people were afraid it would be in the facilities that we’re operating in. What we’ve seen is that all of the content that we’re putting onto these tablets is that it’s both by us and by the administration in these facilities. They have final say on everything. We’re not giving access to Google and Facebook. What we think instead is that having access to technology is really valuable. As Randy said, and we actually spoke a couple weeks ago, he learned about the internet by reading about it from the newspaper. When he was released from the facility, he’d never used the internet, he’d never seen a tablet, he’d never used a cell phone, like an iPhone.

It’s crucial to have that technological literacy. Technology’s only going to become more important in our communities, and [you see that 00:18:59] … I’m sure every one of us every day uses technology in a massive way. This really hasn’t been the security issue that I think a lot of people expect, because we’ve done a lot of diligent work to make sure that we’re using the security mechanisms that the finance sector does, that the healthcare sector does. We’re using our own servers, as well. I understand the concern, but I would encourage anyone who’s thinking about bringing tablets into the facility go visit one of our facilities, and talk to the administrators there. This is something that we’ve figured out.

Randy: Let me add to that little piece.

Leonard: Go ahead, Randy.

Randy: In any prison environment, you’re going to have the guy that is going to try to hack the system. That’s just going to be, but what these tablet providers have to do is just stay diligent and be prepared for those who will try to connect to the internet, find some type of backdoor, whatever the case may be, and if it happens, how to learn from that, to make it even stronger and better. Listen, some of the best organizations or people get hacked. You got financial, banks get hacked. Everybody gets hacked, so what we have to do is learn from those experiences to make it better so that the masses will be able to enjoy and be able to benefit from them. That’s the reality right there.

Leonard: All right, I’m going to take both of you past your comfort levels, and it’s not what Edovo is currently doing, it’s not what Randy Kearce is currently doing, but this whole concept of using tablets as a way of communicating with mom and dad at home … Everybody that I’ve talked to at my organization today, Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency, when I was telling them about the phone call and the interview this afternoon, they simply said, “Okay, we are all for pro-social contact, but how do you keep the nefarious person off the line?” Whether it’s an email back and forth, which requires pure internet access, or whether it’s a phone call, or whether it’s a video chat, this is a way, theoretically, of constantly having pro-social contacts, even doing job interviews in the community over a tablet, but how do you do that in such a way is to make sure that public safety is not jeopardized and that the right person is on the phone, not the wrong person. I know this is taking us way beyond the boundaries of what we talked about, but Chenault, do you have any sense as to that?

Chenault: Sure. What I would say is that video visitation, and phone calls, and emails, are already occurring in facilities, not all facilities, but in many. The same security protocols and the same monitoring that occurs currently could easily be adapted to communication on tablets. As we’ve seen in the research, some of the most valuable things you can do while incarcerated to ensure successful re-entry are to have access to meaningful, high-quality programming, and to have access to communication with the outside world. We are 100% in agreement with [inaudible 00:22:18] that that’s valuable. I think using security protocols that are in existence, and adapting those to the tablet is not a huge leap. Some of these facilities are already utilizing these forms of communication, and tablets would allow greater access to that.

Leonard: Go ahead, Randy.

Randy: When I was incarcerated, we only had phone calls, but, number one, you had to get an approved phone call list, you had to get approved people. They had to be approved for you to be able to call that certain number. You didn’t just have an opportunity to pick up the phone and call numbers randomly, that’s number one. Number two, you had someone who monitored most of the calls, all of the calls, going in and out of the prison, at any given time. When someone in the administrative felt that the conversation was suspect, or wasn’t going according to the policy of the prison, and there was some type of [thread 00:23:15], or whatever the case may be, they shut it down, they shut you down. Your phone call privileges could be taken, they could be even monitored even more, scrutinized. Those type of security process can be applied to the tablets easy, and I think it would probably be easier because you got a guy sitting there watching, and he can gauge whether or not this conversation is going the way it’s supposed to, and there’s any type of problem, so I don’t see that being a problem. I don’t really see that as being a problem.

Leonard: Both of you alluded to Randy’s lack of technology-savvy when he was in prison, and Randy learned about all of this a little bit in prison, but mostly when he came out. The average inmate is not technologically-savvy. The average inmate has never picked up a tablet in their lives. The average inmate may know about Facebook, may know about the computer, but the tablet technology would be foreign to them. How comfortable are they going to be with this tablet, Randy, and how amenable are they going to be to pick up quickly on this new technology?

Randy: The first thing inmates have a lot of is time, and they’re always looking for something to occupy their time. The tablet will give them an opportunity to fill the void of time, that’s number one. That’s why it’s important to have the necessary resources and tools on the tablets, so when they’re trying to just pass time, that they’re not just passing time like they would do in a day room just watching TV, frivolously doing nothing. You have a huge opportunity to provide them with the necessary tools, and programs, and resources, that as they’re trying to kill time, that they’re learning at the same time. That’s most important right there.

Leonard: Chenault, how many correctional facilities is Edovo involved in now?

Randy: Yeah, we’re operating all across the country, and we have over … We’re launching a couple in the next month. We have around a thousand tablets in the market right now, and we’re working on increasing that number. Just to piggyback off of what Randy said, when we come into a facility, we train people, we train the correction officers, we train the administrators, we also interact with the incarcerated users to make sure that they’re comfortable. This really is something that we put a lot of time and thought into, and it’s a user-friendly interface. As Randy said, this is a two-in-one benefit. You’re both getting access to educational programming, and you’re learning how to interact positively with technology at the same time.

Leonard: Do either one of you envision the day that I spoke about at the beginning of the program, where you have a person at a central location providing GED instruction to literally tens of thousands of inmates at the same time? It’s exactly what colleges are doing now, in terms of long-distance learning and virtual learning. It’s really no different from what many colleges are doing now. Many colleges are doing it live. When I taught for the University of Maryland, and when I taught an online course, it wasn’t live, but a lot of colleges are going to the live format, which I really welcome. Any vision of doing a live format for prison inmates throughout the country?

Chenault: I think that’s a great idea. We’re already utilizing open-educational resources, like you spoke about. I definitely envision the day when we [see 00:27:01] tablets in a number of facilities that are reaching many of those who are incarcerated. Something to add there is that … You asked Randy about headphones, and if this is a good learning environment. What we see is, we come in to a facility, and officers and administrators are skeptical of the value of a tablet at times, but within three to five minutes, the facility is quiet, and there’s real engagement going on. You see decreased instances of violence, and officers and administrators really bought into this, because it’s win/win. I’m really optimistic, and I’m hopeful also that in programs that already have teachers and educational programming, that we can be a supplement to that learning, as homework, or as documentaries, or as extra [inaudible 00:27:55] or real-time videos. That’s something that we see, as well, so absolutely.

Leonard: I’ve been in and out of prisons hundreds of times, Randy, and they’re noisy, they’re raucous. It’s really a chaotic experience. The vision that I have is walking into a prison and seeing eight hundred inmates walking around with tablets and earphones, and it’s quiet, and they get a wide array of educational programming that will keep them content and satisfied throughout the course of the day. Is that your vision?

Randy: That’s my vision, and we’re heading in that direction. It might take a while to get everybody [staying 00:28:33] on-board and seeing that vision, but that’s where we’re headed. Re-entry, it’s a big issue that we have to conquer, and that’s pretty much bringing technology into the [fore 00:28:46] will help that. I just want to say that I envision a day that one day my programs and what I’m doing, and maybe even me, will be like you said, beamed into prisons all across the country, and I’m giving that course, I’m giving those instructions to audience. I think we’re a little far from that, but we’re heading that direction. It just makes sense. It just makes sense, because when it comes to financially, having the ability to do that, it’s going to be more cost-effective to use technology to give people a better opportunity than the old traditional ways. You can pay someone $30, $40 thousand dollars a year to [crosstalk 00:29:27] …

Leonard: Got to wrap-up quickly, Randy. Go ahead.

Randy: Yeah, I see us going in that direction. Technology is here to stay, and it’s making its way into the prisons. It’s just going to be more beneficial as we go forward.

Leonard: Our guests today, Chenault Taylor, Director of Public Relations for Edovo … That is Randy Kearce is also by our microphones. Once again, re-entry consultant, … Ladies and gentlemen, this is DC Public Safety. We appreciate your comments. We even appreciate your criticisms. We want everybody to have yourselves a very pleasant day.


Corrections Technology-GPS-Officer Mobility-Driving Restrictions

Corrections Technology-GPS-Officer Mobility-Driving Restrictions

DC Public Safety Radio

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Len Sipes: From the Nation’s Capital, this is DC Public Safety. I’m your host Leonard Sipes. Back at our microphone is Joe Russo, Director of Corrections, Technology, Center of Excellence at the University of Denver, which is part of the National Law Enforcement and Corrections Technology Center, www.justnet,, talking about community corrections technology. Joe, welcome back to DC Public Safety.

Joe Russo: Thank you Len, always great to be with you.

Len Sipes: Well it’s always a pleasure to be with you Joe because you’re one of the most popular programs that we have. Everybody is really interested in corrections technology, what it could be, what it really means to the rest of us. You’re on the cutting edge of it. So we have a variety of topics to talk about today. We’re talking about offender tracking and realistic expectations. We’re talking about correctional officer mobility, parole and probation agent mobility, virtual offices, the use of tablets, keeping our folks in the field and technology and driving restrictions. Those are the three topics. So why don’t you kick it off talking about GPS offender tracking, satellite tracking and realistic expectations.

Joe Russo: Absolutely. Yeah, I wanted to talk about this topic because, you know, over the last year or two there’s been a series of high profile cases across the country where offender’s tracked with GPS bracelets are committing horrific crimes. And this is very tragic and it’s set off in motion a number of investigations in California. There’s a state senator who has launched or asked the inspector general to investigate offender tracking. In New York state, a U.S. representative from New York has asked the government accountability office to investigate offender tracking, monitoring and after a heinous crime in that state. And this is all, you know, obviously appropriate scrutiny after such horrific crimes that have occurred. However, it really illustrates the importance of realistic expectations of the technology in managing those expectations with stakeholders in the public in general. When I think most of your audience understands the limitations of the technology, they’re well documented, there are inherent limitations to any technology, there are environments in which, you know, satellite tracking, GPS tracking just doesn’t work well. That’s a known. We know that these devices can be defeated, they can be cut, they can be jammed. Offenders can put aluminum foil on them and block signals or they can simply not power up their devices. So it’s, you know, fairly easy for a non-cooperative offender to get around this system. Again, these are well-known, well-documented limitations.

Len Sipes: But for the rest of us in the field, we’re fairly puzzled by the negative publicity because we understand the inherent limitations on GPS satellite tracking technology. We understand that it’s not full proof and we understand that just because the person has satellite tracking technology on doesn’t mean he can’t simply snip it off, doesn’t mean that he’ll stop committing crimes. And we’re sort of puzzled when we see the various negative stories coming out in the newspapers and TV stations because we’re saying to ourselves why doesn’t everybody else understand the limitations on this equipment. So I spoke to some reporters throughout the course of years and they said, well, you all in the community corrections fields are sort of overselling the promise of GPS. And I’m not quite sure that’s true. I mean, inherent within any technology, as you just said are limitations.

Joe Russo: That’s exactly right. I don’t know that community corrections agencies are necessarily overselling or vendors are overselling but there is a, you know, interesting kind of dynamic. Whenever an agency is looking for budgetary funds to implement a program, obviously they’re going to highlight the, you know, the positive parts of that technology and how that technology can benefit overall supervision. But as you alluded to, you know, the affects of any technology or any program are measured in the aggregate, you know, does the input, does the program or the treatment create a benefit to an aggregate population. Obviously, you know, they’re going to have individuals who are determined to continue their criminal ways. And regardless of whether it’s GPS monitoring or, you know, anger management training or any kind of high intensity supervision, it’s less of a reflection on the program as it is of the individual. So it’s, I think, you know, folks need to step back, understanding we’re dealing with a criminal element, understanding we’re dealing with, in community corrections, we’re not dealing with [PH 00:04:38.1] John Augustine’s’ Day, you know, or probationers or debtors or public drunkards.

Len Sipes: Mmm-hmm.

Joe Russo: A lot of these folks are serious offenders.

Len Sipes: Yep.

Joe Russo: And so agencies across the country are doing their best to implement technology, to implement programs to achieve positive outcomes but there will be failures.

Len Sipes: The two things that come to mind is, number one, the research from a variety of sources does indicate that GPS/satellite tracking does reduce offending, does reduce technical violations, does reduce the amount of – or the numbers or the percentage of people being returned to the correctional system. But there is a fairly strong corrective incentive in terms of GPS satellite tracking done well, correct, per research?

Joe Russo: Absolutely. There is that and even, you know, if you take the most negative view on it. You know, in those cases where offenders are determined to continue their criminal acts, GPS has been, you know, instrumental in making these offenders accountable. GPS location data is able to match the crime, you know, incident locations and the folks who ultimately are accountable for their actions. And in many cases, you know, they probably would have committed those crimes with or without tracking.

Len Sipes: Mmm-hmm.

Joe Russo: At least with tracking there’s an ability to hold these folks accountable.

Len Sipes: And we’ve been able to track down some fairly serious offenders through GPS tracking and so that is a huge plus. Number two, we train law enforcement, not just the metropolitan police department here in Washington, D.C., but we train the FBI, we train the secret service, we train a lot of law enforcement agencies in terms of the use of our GPS tracking device so they can see the offenders who they’re interested in, in real time. So there’s a lot of promise in terms of GPS satellite tracking but it is a huge drain on manpower. And I’m not quite sure people understand how difficult it is to keep – to watch all the tracking marks of an offender on a day-to-day basis and the fact that most of us in parole and probation are not 24-hours a day, 365 days a year. We’re basically Monday through Friday, 9-5. Now there are variations on that theme and there are some offenders who we do track in real time but those are problems. Take the first one. The fact that this is very – it involves a lot of intensive manpower, person power to keep track of all of the data that comes in.

Joe Russo: Absolutely and if there’s nothing else your listeners hear today is that the resource issues are paramount. Agencies need to be clear about why they’re tracking offenders, what purpose and what they hope to achieve and they need to dedicate the appropriate resources to accomplishing those goals. You know, far too many agencies compare the cost, the equipment cost of GPS to a day in jail and make cost-effective based decisions based on that. But the labor costs far exceed the equipment costs. And, you know, and that’s probably the biggest pitfall that agencies face. They don’t dedicate enough resources to maintaining programs, addressing violations, dealing with alerts and that’s where program integrity falls. And that’s where if a case goes really bad and an offender goes off and does something heinous that’s where the agency really has a difficult day explaining to the press why certain actions were not taken.

Len Sipes: Now we have here at the Court Services of Offender Supervision Agency, we use our vendor to track 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, but just because they’re tracked 365 days a year, 24 hours a day, doesn’t mean that we have personnel at the ready to respond. So that’s the case as it is in virtually every parole and probation agency in the country, correct?

Joe Russo: Oh absolutely, absolutely, even for agencies, police agencies that operate GPS programs. And you would think they theoretically are the best situated to respond to alerts and cuts. Even they can’t be everywhere at every time. So obviously probation and parole agencies, you know, have much less resources, are much less able to react in a timely manner. So, again, these are understood limitations in technology, these expectations need to be managed. I think better education needs to occur between agencies and the public and judges and the media, frankly, so that we understand what we’re dealing with.

Len Sipes: Now the Corrections Technology Center of Excellence there at the University of Denver, again, part of the National Law Enforcement Corrections Technology Center, you all came out with guidelines, rather technical guidelines, rather complete guidelines in terms of the application of GPS, correct?

Joe Russo: We’re developing a standard right now for the performance of offender tracking devices. But more recently we published a guideline for agencies to think about GPS devices and GPS information as potential evidence. We thought that too many agencies don’t see these devices in that light. So the goal was to educate them to start thinking more about how they use these devices. And how potential evidence might end up in a court room if, for example, an offender who’s tracked is accused of committing a crime.

Len Sipes: Mmm-hmm. Now, the other thing that we’re talking about is not necessarily using devices that we currently provide, which are anklets strapped around the person’s ankle. We’re talking about going to a cell phone based system.

Joe Russo: Well we see that in the industry, there are vendors now who are offering basically SmartPhones with GPS chips to offenders and they can be tethered or not tethered, you know, wirelessly, and basically tracking is occurring through the phone. So there’s no device strapped to an ankle in certain applications. And this seems like it might be a trend for the future and may lead to, you know, one day where the offender brings his own device to be supervised and can bring in their own SmartPhone and the officer can install tracking software and accomplish tracking that way. Now this is a little far out thinking but it certainly seems to be a direction.

Len Sipes: Well everybody has always said that we’re looking for the day where the tracking device is not the size of a cell phone strapped to the offender’s ankle but the size of, I don’t know, a pen. And that device will automatically take blood pressure readings, will automatically take readings as to whether or not the person is under the influence of drugs or alcohol. And so is that still pie in the sky or are we moving towards something along those lines?

Joe Russo: You know what, in different areas there are certainly components of what you described that are being developed but as you envision it or as I’m interpreting how you envision it, it may be a chip, an RF chip that’s embedded in the offender and has the ability to –

Len Sipes: Well no, not in the offender himself, but the device that they’re wearing.

Joe Russo: Oh absolutely. I mean, that’s even easier to do. So yeah, as these technologies mature and are developed, you know, then we’ll definitely see that in the future. I mean, obviously right now we have devices that can track transdermal alcohol expiration from the body, that’s one device. We have devices that can track movement. There are certainly physiological devices, you know, that Fitbit movement is opening up a whole lot of doors in terms of using machines and computers to monitor physiological activity. So certainly, you know, blood pressure, respiration rates and we can match that information to where a location is. Or if a sex offender is near a school and his heart rate is pumping, you know, that obviously tells a supervision officer something. So yes, right now it’s all theoretical but there are pieces in place and they’re growing. And one day maybe we can put it all together.

Len Sipes: Well the technical podcast I listened to this week in tech, Leo Laporte, on a weekly basis, religious basis and they talk about this stuff. Not necessarily in terms of tracking people on criminal supervision but they talk about the Fitbits, they talk about other wearable devices, they talk about taking blood pressure, they talk about monitoring pulses, they’re talking about whether or not a person is under the influence of drugs or alcohol in terms of safe driving. So that conversation is taking place not within the criminal justice system, that conversation is taking place in the tech industry in general.

Joe Russo: Oh absolutely. People are fascinated with understanding their own physiology, their sleep patterns, increasing performance. And you’re right, this is well established and growing. But you’re right, there are applications for offender management there that can be tapped into.

Len Sipes: Okay. Before we go to the break and start talking about correctional officer mobility, parole and probation, agent mobility, virtual offices, office tablets and technology regarding driving restrictions, one of the things that we wanted to talk about was analytic capabilities.

Joe Russo: Yeah, absolutely. You know, in previous calls we’ve talked about the need for analytics to better analyze, understand and act upon all the data that GPS generates. And we talked about a couple of different initiatives that were going on across the country and I wanted listeners to know that since our last conversation one of the GPS providers has actually acquired a company that specializes in sophisticated analysis and interpretation of data. This company has a long track record working with intelligence agencies and defense agencies to make sense of big data. And recently they’ve been working with community corrections agencies to explore how their techniques might work with offender tracking data. This is very encouraging at least, you know, one company has taken a big step to provide their customers with this important capability and I think the trend will be that other, you know, other vendors will follow suit and provide similar support.

Len Sipes: What sort of things are we talking about tracking?

Joe Russo: Well, for example, link analysis, where offenders, who they are near, other tracked offenders, are there patterns that develop in terms of the locations that they tend to frequent, are they associating with other offenders? You know, can we establish other patterns of behavior based on other folks who are being tracked? So can we establish a drop point or a chop shop based on the time that offenders are spending in a particular location where there are patterns of movement.

Len Sipes: Interesting.

Joe Russo: So the idea is to take all of that, you know, aggregate data that GPS provides and move from the inclusion zone, exclusion zone kind of scenario to really digging deep and establishing patterns of behavior and really supporting the officer. Letting the officer know what types of information might need to be acted on.

Len Sipes: So everything that we’re hearing in terms of big data as it applies to Google, big data as it applies to IBM, big data as it applies to Wal-Mart, that same application is coming to corrections.

Joe Russo: Very much so. Very much so.

Len Sipes: Interesting.

Joe Russo: And GPS is one of the – kind of the easiest forays into this because we do acquire so much data in that area.

Len Sipes: All right Joe, we’re halfway through the program. Let me introduce you before we’re getting on to the other topics. Ladies and gentlemen, our guest today is Joe Russo, he is the Director of the Corrections Technology Center of Excellence at the University of Denver, part of the National Law Enforcement and Corrections Technology Center, www.justnet,, www.justnet, Okay Joe, let’s go into the other topics that we are talking about. And I find this to be fascinating, so many companies now are moving away their own vehicles, moving, I’m sorry, moving away from offices and putting people out in vehicles all the time and it sounds like that’s what we’re talking about with parole and probation agent correctional officer mobility. Talking about virtual offices, talking about tablets, talking about giving that individual all the tech they need to stay in the field.

Joe Russo: Yeah, exactly, and this is something that’s been discussed, you know, for some time now. There’s been a movement against getting away from the ivory tower of probation and parole work, getting away from central office and headquarters, making the offender report downtown typically to the officer.

Len Sipes: Mmm-hmm.

Joe Russo: But in recent years, and in part prompted by economic issues, but a lot of agencies are looking at ways to get the officers in the field where the offenders are, where they live and work and where they exist. Georgia, perhaps, is the leader in this in terms of, you know, actually shutting down offices and requiring parole officers to maintain virtual offices out of their cars. And the agencies provide the officers with everything they need, SmartPhones and tablets and laptops so there’s really to come to a physical office. And in this way the early reports are that they’re seeing success because they’re able to make more contact with the offenders, more sustained contact in their environment and the outcome so far have been very positive.

Len Sipes: Well I remember years ago when I worked for the United States Senate, one of the folks there gave me a laptop computer and then a couple weeks later said, you know, is the use of the enhanced technology of a laptop computer changing the way that you work? And I’m going, well, no, I mean, just because you gave me a laptop doesn’t mean that I’m any more proficient. I mean, I report to the office every day and there is a desktop. How exactly is the laptop going to assist me beyond office hours? I mean, I understand beyond office hours, having a direct link to the computers but, you know, so sometimes I get the sense that we provide technology, laptops, tablets, cell phones, mobile fingerprint readers, again, sort of like with GPS, unrealistic expectations. So I would imagine this parole and probation agent, this correctional officer is well versed in terms of what mobile technology can do for them.

Joe Russo: Well that would be a necessary, you know, prerequisite obviously, you know, officers need to be somewhat tech savvy, be open and willing to learn perhaps new tools for them, you know, not everyone grew up with this technology certainly. So I’m sure there’s a learning curve for some officers. But certainly there needs to be openness. But it sounds like, you know, the agency made a decision from the top down that this is what they want and this is what they want to see. They don’t want to spend their resources paying rental space throughout this, they want to spend their resources where they can make the most direct and positive impact on outcomes and that’s the direction that they took. And, you know, just looking at it objectively, not having to come and go from an office increases efficiencies over and above the, you know, the cost savings for office space. Folks need to be in the field, officers need to be in the field where the action is. And that’s just common sense and I think that, you know, more and more agencies are coming to that realization and acting on it.

Len Sipes: Is mobile fingerprint readers involved in this, drug testing equipment, I mean, how far are they taking it?

Joe Russo: Well I think that that might be part and parcel. I’m not aware, but the primary objective is you take the office and you put it in the car.

Len Sipes: Okay. And that makes a tremendous amount of sense to me because why be in the office when you can be out in the field especially if you’re doing surprise visits. And I understand that a lot of the visits need to be scheduled because, you know, the mother or the father, the family member, the sponsor, volunteers can be there and work with the parole and probation agent and work with the offender, so I understand that. But the idea of a spontaneous visit to that person’s place of work or where that person lives or where that person socializes, especially in the evenings, makes an awful lot of sense to me.

Joe Russo: Well particularly with, you know, as GPS grows in terms of tracking offenders or if, you know, one day offenders are bringing their own device and we’re tracking offenders by their phones and, you know, phones are pretty ubiquitous at this point and it’s only going to grow more so. You know, perhaps we have the capability in the future to go where the offender is and not go necessarily to the house or the workplace.

Len Sipes: That would be interesting. So, in other words, GPS tracking, you know exactly where that person is and suddenly, voilà, you pop up and say hi.

Joe Russo: Well and that’s part of the larger, you know, internet of things, movement that’s going on in society is that, you know, we have all these sensors that are out there. We have all these machines that can be connected to the internet. They all can be networked and provide useful information. So, you know, if a GPS tracking device is linked to an officer’s GPS tracking or a GPS system in their car, which tells them what route to take to get to the offender’s location, if these systems link up and communicate and tell the officer, you know, don’t bother making that home visit because the offender is not home.

Len Sipes: Interesting, very, very interesting. I mean, so we’re talking about really moving community corrections well into the 21st century and really bringing a sense of the internet of things, of big data, of mobility, of tracking, of, you know, as some people have hoped for, the mobile ability to say, hey, this person is now using drugs, this person is now using alcohol. I mean, it does bring us into contact with the people on supervision to a much more powerful degree than we have in the past, which, you know, when I was in the state of Maryland any sense of intensive contact or intensive supervision was two face-to-face contacts a month. Now we’re talking about almost continuous contacts if we choose to do it and if we have the software through big data to analyze what’s going on.

Joe Russo: Yeah, absolutely and within that capability obviously comes challenges, right. We have somewhat privacy issues although those are mitigated because of the status of our offenders but you have the information overload issues and we’re already seeing that with just GPS technology and the need to manage that data. So obviously, you know, the more sensors we try to tap into, the more connection of machines we try to leverage, the natural result is we have exponentially more data to sift through and figure out what’s important and what’s actionable and what’s not.

Len Sipes: And that’s why I’m hoping whoever’s developing all of this develops the algorithms to allow us to make sense of the data because there’s no way an individual parole and probation agent, I would imagine the average caseload in this country is somewhere in the ballpark of 150 individuals per parole and probation agent, if you had half of those under these enhanced sensors, so you’re talking about, what, 75 individuals where data is coming in on a day-to-day basis. That would easily overwhelm that human being, that parole and probation agent, that correctional officer. That person could never keep up with all that data. So somehow, some way, somebody’s got to figure out a way of making sense of that data.

Joe Russo: Well exactly, there’s no question about it. And then the worst possible scenario is you’re overloaded with so much of this data and we don’t know which of this data is important and which is not, that the officer doesn’t have time to do the direct contact interventions that we know are so important.

Len Sipes: Exactly. So we have to plow through the invention of new data and we have to plow through the invention of new algorithms to make sense of all that data.

Joe Russo: Absolutely.

Len Sipes: Okay. Technology and driving restrictions, we have say in the final five minutes of the program. Once again, everybody has hoped for that piece of technology to the point where the car simply would not start for those on drinking and driving programs, that the car simply would not start. Now there are cars out there with locking devices that they do blow into the tube and if they blow over a certain level that car will not start. So that exists now, right?

Joe Russo: That exists now and that works, you know, quite well. One of the biggest ways or the most common ways for an offender to work around that type of a scenario is to simply install Interlock on a car and meet the judge’s requirement and then drive another car.

Len Sipes: Yeah, drive another car.

Joe Russo: So that – it’s pretty simple to get around. One of the Interlock providers has recently bought a patent on technology that’s been around for a while but is only now being seriously evaluated for viability. And this technology basically looks to identify driving behaviors. And so what we’re looking at are ankle bracelets that can detect the movements that are consistent with driving a car. So essentially there’s a unique physiological signature that’s associated with driving. So if you think about the foot movements that you do without thinking, your acceleration, your braking, sensors can determine your speed. And all of these things put together, you know, you mentioned algorithms just before, these algorithms are designed to identify those signals that are consistent with a driving episode and then alert officers that this is occurring.

Len Sipes: Sort of like a black box for automobiles or a black box for human beings?

Joe Russo: Well it would be for human beings because, again, with the Interlock system we don’t want to monitor the car. We want to monitor the offender. So these as envisioned, these would be ankle device, ankle bracelets that detect the movements of the foot.
Len Sipes: Oh, that’s interesting. So all of that is not necessarily biologically based, it is foot based.

Joe Russo: Yeah, it’s more mechanically based.

Len Sipes: Oh.

Joe Russo: It’s based on the physiology of what you’re doing and how you’re doing it. So if you think about it, there are very few actions or movements that you would make that are consistent with driving that are not related to driving. So you’re not necessarily pressing down, for example, on an accelerator.

Len Sipes: That is interesting. That is really interesting. So the bottom line is that, you know, right now we have breathalyzers, right now we have blood tests in terms of substance abuse, but you’re actually talking about something that actually measures the movement of the foot. I would love to be in court to establish that – to establish the legal basis of that. I would imagine that’s going to be a fight from the very beginning. But if you could introduce that it would be revolutionary.

Joe Russo: Well exactly. I mean, any new technology obviously faces those legal hurdles. And certainly that would just be one piece of evidence against an offender and our standards of evidence are much lower than a new criminal case. But if you have indication that this offender is driving when he shouldn’t be driving or he’s driving a car that’s not – that doesn’t have Interlock installed in it, then that provides an investigative lead for officers to go and find other information. So it wouldn’t necessarily be the nail in the coffin but it would be one piece of evidence.

Len Sipes: Being it’s not physiologically based, that could also apply to drugs as well.

Joe Russo: You know, the same thinking and theory. Another example that comes to mind is folks have developed handwriting analysis as a method of determining impairment. And so what they’ve looked at is, you know, the way that you sign your name physiologically is altered if you’re impaired. Now it may look exactly like your signature sober but the movements, the signals from your brain to your hand create very distinct and minute differences in the signature. So if we capture a computerized signature of an impaired person, there’s research that suggests that you can tell if someone is impaired simply by the way they’re writing their name versus how the name looks.

Len Sipes: I’ll tell you Joe, it’s always a fascinating conversation when you and I talk about corrections technology. That’s one of the reasons why this program is one of the more popular programs that we do. Ladies and gentlemen, we’ve been talking today to Joe Russo, the Director of the Corrections Technology Center of Excellence at the University of Denver, part of the National Law Enforcement and Corrections Technology Center, www.justnet,, Ladies and gentlemen, this is talking DC Public Safety. We appreciate your comments. We even appreciate your criticisms. And we want everybody to have themselves a very, very pleasant day.