Community Corrections Technology-National Law Enforcement and Corrections Technology Center

Welcome to “DC Public Safety” – Radio and television shows, blog and transcripts on crime, criminal offenders and the criminal justice system.

The portal site for “DC Public Safety” is http://media.csosa.gov.

Radio Program available at http://media.csosa.gov/podcast/audio/2014/05/community-corrections-technology-national-law-enforcement-corrections-technology-center/

[Audio Begins]

Len Sipes:  From the nation’s capital this is DC Public Safety. I’m your host Leonard Sipes, back at our microphones, Joe Russo. The program today is focusing on community corrections technology. Always a joy to have Joe back at our microphones. Joe is with the University of Denver and he currently serves as the Director of Corrections Technology Center of Excellence, a program within the National Law Enforcement and Corrections Technology Center. Joe, welcome back to DC Public Safety.

Joe Russo:  Hi, Len, always a pleasure to be with you.

Len Sipes:  Always a pleasure to have you. You are by far I think one of our most popular shows that we’ve had in the past. So, ladies and gentlemen, we’re going to be talking about a variety of issues today, satellite tracking, we’re going to be talking about drug and alcohol testing, leveraging video conferencing, which I find really exciting, officer safety developments, and social media, the development of an issue paper with the American Probation and Parole Association. Joe, let’s start off with satellite tracking. What’s happening there?

Joe Russo:  Well, I just want to make your audience aware that NIJ, National Institute of Justice funded a project to develop standards for offender tracking systems is ongoing and approaching completion. This standard is the first of its kind and was designed by practitioners, practitioner informed process, to establish performance standards, robustness standards, safety and circumvention detection standards around these systems. These systems have been in existence for quite some time and there is no industry standard for these devices. And so NIJ thought it was important based on practitioner input and created a project to develop these standards and these are nearing completion in the new future. And the next step is we’ll be evaluating some of the test methods that we’ve developed to make sure that they’re efficient and effective and the most appropriate way to go about evaluating these tools and making sure that they’re up to par for public safety use.

Len Sipes:  And we at the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency, my agency, here in Washington DC, we’ve been instrumental in developing those standards, correct?

Joe Russo:  Yes. In fact Carlton Butler, who I believe recently retired from your agency was one of the members of our special technical committee and he was very instrumental in that process. Carlton was one of a number of community corrections professionals from across the country who came together regularly to discuss their needs around offender tracking technology, where the technology was lacking and what standards should be in place to protect the public.

Len Sipes:  Now, the interesting thing is that, let me throw out a couple observations and tell me if I’m correct or incorrect, satellite tracking, GPS satellite tracking is exploding within this country in terms of supervising people on supervision, right?

Joe Russo:  It’s growing rapidly. I hesitate to agree that it’s exploding. I think depending on who you talk to, certainly the vendors wouldn’t say it’s exploding, or their bottom lines would be exploding as well, but it is growing, it’s definitely growing. One of the key issues in this area and one that associations or government should take a look at is really getting a good sense for the market, how many offenders are on tracking. It’s very difficult to get that number. If you talk to experts from across the country the best that they can give you are just estimates based on previous surveys and formal surveys. So that’s something that I think that the field needs. But overall when you compare it to the number of people who’re on community supervision, it’s a very small percentage. So, again, there’re many ways to answer that question, whether it’s growing, but it could be fully utilized for sure.

Len Sipes:  But I’m thinking of two major research reports, one out of Florida and one out of California that indicated dramatically lower rates of recidivism, dramatically lower rates of technical violations, and reduced rates of arrest while under supervision. So satellite tracking research, GPS research seems to be promising.

Joe Russo:  Absolutely. As you say, both the Florida studies and the California studies show reductions in recidivism. I think that like any technology or like any program, things evolve and things are dynamic. And these two studies should not be considered the be-all and end-all. I think we still, there’s still a lot of room for us as an industry, as a field, to grow academically, to understand better how GPS can best be applied to achieve the outcomes that we desire. For example, I don’t believe either study took a look at how GPS performed with or without treatment services and we might learn that GPS providing lifestyle structure combined with treatment services where needed produces an even greater effect. So, yeah, the initial research has been very promising and I think that further research is needed and it can only probably be better applied in the future.

Len Sipes:  But a standard, as I understand it from most of the research done on community corrections, is that if there is a social services component, and I know that’s vague enough to drive a bus through, but if there’s treatment involved along with the supervision package, it’s been the treatment component of it that has been particularly successful in the past. So that’s a good point. Satellite tracking combined with treatment, depending upon the quality of the treatment and the intensity of the treatment, could have us real implications for keeping people out of further activity and keeping them out of the prison system.

Joe Russo:  Absolutely. And it touches on issues, for example, in terms of dosage, what’s the appropriate dosage of satellite tracking, do people need to be on satellite for extended lengths of time, is there a point of diminishing returns. The more research we have, the more we understand the dynamics, the better we can apply that technology and get better outcomes at a better cost.

Len Sipes:  Now, the interesting thing is that I’ve read a draft copy of your report in terms of the development of the technology standard, it was pretty doggone comprehensive. It was large; it was very detailed, very technical. So this is the first time that GPS and satellite tracking has been examined by the Corrections Technology Center of Excellence under the National Law Enforcement and Correction Technology Center’s system. I mean this is the first time it really has been systematically examined in terms of how people use satellite tracking, GPS tracking, and possibly what are the best uses of satellite and GPS tracking.

Joe Russo:  Yes. And we deal quite a bit on the issue in what we call the Selection and Application Guide, which is designed to help agencies interpret the technical standard and use the information in their programs across the country. So the technical standard would speak more towards performance metrics of how the technology should work in the Selection and Application Guide, as you allude to, address more of the potential applications, how is the technology used to address or to achieve the outcomes that are desired.

Len Sipes:  Is that available yet –?

Joe Russo:  Drafts are –

Len Sipes:  To the public?

Joe Russo:  Yeah. Drafts are available. But all of the documents that were produced, the standard Selection and Application Guide, were recently put out for public comment in January of this year and they’re all available.

Len Sipes:  All right, so they’re still available for public comment.

Joe Russo:  The public comment period has concluded.

Len Sipes:  Okay.

Joe Russo:  But those drafts I believe are still on the web somewhere.

Len Sipes:  And how do they get them?

Joe Russo:  I would go to the NIJ website.

Len Sipes:  Okay. The National Institute –

Joe Russo:  National Institute of Justice.

Len Sipes:  National Institute of Justice Website. And we’ll have the link in our show notes regarding that. Okay. The efforts to promote information sharing, one, this is I think unique, because now for the first time we’ve had literally hundreds of organizations around the Unites States and beyond, from what I understand, talking to each other in terms of how they use satellite tracking, what the pitfalls are, what the difficulties are, what the remedies are. And I think that’s probably one of the biggest things that came out of your effort, the fact that now people are talking to each other.

Joe Russo:  Yeah. The best way to learn is from your colleagues and from your colleague’s experiences and whatever network can kind of occur on that level is just tremendous. There’s no sense reinventing the wheel. There’s much we can learn from our colleagues, as you mentioned, across the country, across the world. The National Institute of Justice has funded some specific projects to further information sharing of the data. That’s pretty interesting. They funded the development of information exchange packet documentation, which will allow for technically data from different systems to be integrated and shared so that it could be utilized more effectively.

Len Sipes:  Really?

Joe Russo:  Yeah. Yeah. And this, again, came from recommendations from our practitioner groups. And they recommended that this be developed to address two major issues, one is public safety, and the other is resource allocation. The public safety element comes into play and was illustrated very well on the recent case in Orange County, where you had two homeless sex offenders recently arrested for the murder of a prostitute, and they found out that they had committed four murders over the course of time. Now, both offenders were tracked via GPS, they were supervised by different agencies, one by the Federal US Probation, the other by California Parole.

Len Sipes:  Oh, I remember that case.

Joe Russo:  Yeah. And they were monitored by vendor equipment. But obviously living in the same area, they were both homeless, both kind of tented up together, and they had been associating for some time prior. Now, technically there’s no reason we can’t share that information, but this information currently resides in individual jurisdiction’s databases, individuals and their databases. And so part of the effort in developing this [PH 00:10:19] IETD, this information sharing mechanism, is to allow or facilitate better sharing of information. Again, it’s not the answer, but if we have a better way to share information then we can more readily make some of these connections and someone can say why are these two offenders associating for so long regardless –

Len Sipes:  Interesting.

Joe Russo:  Of who’s supervising them –

Len Sipes:  Now, also –

Joe Russo:  And regardless of what vendor.

Len Sipes:  This point of working on an automated analysis. If you talk to parole and probation people throughout the country they will tell you that GPS is really a tremendous amount of difficult work in terms of sifting through all of that data and analyzing all of that data. What does it mean? So working on an automated analysis system, what is that?

Joe Russo:  Well, basically as you say, the point is well taken. GPS is a tremendous tool, but it provides an overload of information for most agencies, too much information. And so there are techniques, there are tools that have been developed to help officers figure out what’s important and what’s not. One is the National Institute of Justice funded effort through the University of Oklahoma to develop a toolkit to help officers identify patterns of movement within their offender population that are of interest.

A lot of agencies across the country are required to review location points of their offenders on a daily basis. I mean literally point by point by point. Part of the goal of this study from Oklahoma was to develop a toolkit that would allow an officer to approve a pattern of behavior, so a daily record of location points, and then store that approval, and so the next time or the next day, if the offender has the same general pattern there’s no need to review those points. However, if there’s a divergence in that pattern then the officer is alerted to that divergence and they can look further into what divergence occurred, when did it occur, where did the offender go, and usually that is a starting point for gathering more information.

Len Sipes:  Really interesting, really interesting. The potential for protective analysis, that all falls into that in terms of what you just said.

Joe Russo:  It’s part and partial. I think that for some time agencies have been looking into thinking about big data and data mining to help them make better decisions over the years. And I believe your agency has used GIS systems to better understand how the issue of place has the relevance and a context in offender’s lives and where they work, where they live, are there services that are in those areas, can they get to services, is there public transportation for example. Use of predictive analysis has not yet reached the point of dynamic input. So we have all this wealth of information about GPS, we have a lot of offenders on GPS; we have a lot of location points not only in one jurisdiction, but across the nation; a lot offenders. So is there a way to mine all of the data to make some determinations, to create some hypotheses about is there a pattern of movement that correlates to success through revision, is there a pattern of movement or behavior that correlates to failure, are there dynamics factors that might tell you that a person is headed for failure or success.

Len Sipes:  Well, I think considering the amount of GPS being used currently and people interested in it and people looking at it, I think all of these are pretty interesting developments and really fascinating. Before we get to the break let’s start with advances in drug and alcohol testing. Fingerprint analysis?

Joe Russo:  Yeah. This is an interesting approach. It was developed by a company in the UK, and basically what they’re using is a portable way of measuring the secretions from fingerprints, so fingerprint oils, sweat that gets released through your fingerprint. They’ve developed technology that’s able to analyze those secretions for drug use. So it could provide a very noninvasive, easily used, low cost alternative to your analysis.

Len Sipes:  Huh, through fingerprints?

Joe Russo:  Through fingerprints. Yeah.

Len Sipes:  That’s really interesting. Remote mobile breath analysis?

Joe Russo:  Yeah. This an area that’s gained a lot of traction in recent years. There’re number of different products that have just been introduced to the market. And the idea was to kind of provide a less intrusive, less costly alternative to the secure transdermal monitoring bracelets that are existing now that are on offender’s legs. These are basically handheld units that an offender was prompted to breathe into and it takes an alcohol sample remotely. The technology confirms the identification of the offender either through photograph or facial recognition or breath print, depending on the technology, and it can note the offender’s location point via built-in GPS chips.

Len Sipes:  Now –

Joe Russo:  So –

Len Sipes:  Is this mobile breath analysis simply for alcohol or both drugs and alcohol?

Joe Russo:  Currently it’s just for alcohol.

Len Sipes:  Okay.

Joe Russo:  But –

Len Sipes:  And considering the alcohol problem that we have in terms of people under supervision that’s a fairly considerable advancement.

Joe Russo:  Oh, absolutely. Alcohol’s a major contributor to crime as you know. So it’s a very important tool.

Len Sipes:  Facial thermo-patterns, tell me about that, and we’ll go to the break.

Joe Russo:  Yeah. This is kind of interesting, as we go through our research in finding emerging technologies, this one crossed our desk. Basically it’s a development in alcohol testing that came from researchers in Greece. They’ve looked into thermal imaging as a way to determine whether a person is inebriated or not. So basically they’ve taken heat maps of people’s faces, people who’re sober and people who’re inebriated, and they’re able to tell through different algorithms what the characteristics of an inebriated person are. For example, they’ve determined that a person who is drunk, their nose tends to be much warmer than their forehead, and they can tell this through the thermal imaging.

Len Sipes:  Well, I can think of about a thousand bars that probably could use that equipment. Joe, let me quickly reintroduce you. Ladies and gentlemen, we were talking today Joe Russo. The show is on community corrections technology. Joe is with the University of Denver, he’s currently the Director of Corrections Technology Center of Excellence, a program within the National Law Enforcement and Corrections Technology Center System. Joe, go ahead and continue. And like I said, I can think of not a thousand, but probably 100 thousand bars that need facial thermo-patterns technology in that bar to tell whether or not they’re drunk or not.

Joe Russo:  Exactly. Yeah. I mean it’s a pretty innovative approach, and obviously if you can make a determination about intoxication from a distance, perhaps that provides greater advantages. And there’s no telling as this technology develops whether this can be deployed at a short distance or a longer distance to determine inebriation patterns among crowds. For example, after a sporting event it might help law enforcement agencies kind of focus potentially problematic groups. So really it has a lot of potential.

Len Sipes:  How would you employ it?

Joe Russo:  I didn’t see anything in the material that talked about how this was structured. I assume it’s a thermal imaging camera, but with a telescopic type lens maybe this could really work from a wide distance. Certainly in a community corrections application it would just be a camera in front of a person, you can get a reading very quickly. So, yeah, we’ll be keeping an eye on that technology.

Len Sipes:  Now, the Holy Grail here is, I would imagine, remote – because what we’re talking about in many ways is not only dealing with technology that tells either through the fingerprints or facial thermo-patterns, but remote devices, specifically on GPS and satellite tracking devices, that could tell whether or not a person is using alcohol or is inebriated. Does any of this apply to substance abuse yet as to whether or not people under supervision whether or not you can instantly tell they’re using drugs remotely?

Joe Russo:  Yeah. There have been some companies who have delved into that area. I don’t think that they’re mature as yet. But as you mentioned, that is the Holy Grail, that’s sort of the next horizon. We’ve kind of conquered that for alcohol use and substance use is kind of the next level. And really, beyond that, I know that the practitioner groups that we talk to are going beyond illegal drugs, but they’re interested in monitoring prescription drug use, both for abuse, using too much, or not using enough, because particularly with mental health clients if they’re not on their medication –

Len Sipes:  Oh, that’s a great point.

Joe Russo:  That causes a whole myriad of problems that could easily be avoided. So one of the kind of the futuristic thinking approaches that we’ve been looking at is how do we develop tools that remotely monitor prescription drug use, again, levels to make sure that they’re taking the appropriate amount and we can avoid unfortunate situations later.

Len Sipes:  In the same sort of conundrum that we currently have today in terms of synthetic drugs, where the combinations change from time to time, I mean it would be nice to have remote devices or new devices to deal with that issue as well. Because we could be testing for cocaine, we could be testing for marijuana, we could be testing for opiates, but testing for synthetic drugs, again, when the drugs constantly change, having some sort of new devices coming in and especially mobile devices, that would be an extraordinarily interesting development.

Joe Russo:  Yeah, exactly. I mean the industry, drug testing industry, is coming with tests as quickly as they can. Obviously new tests are very research development intensive so the costs of these tests tend to be very high. But when the target keeps moving, I don’t know the answer to that. How do you develop tests fast enough to detect these ever changing compounds?

Len Sipes:  All right, I find this interesting. Leveraging video teleconferencing, people under supervision reporting in via teleconference and also the treatment and service delivery via teleconference, talk to me about that.

Joe Russo:  Yeah. We’ve seen this more and more in rural or remote settings. Agencies are exploring ways to more efficiently and effectively connect with their clients. There’re many parts of the country where clients live miles and miles away from probation offices, and this obviously becomes a very resource-intensive proposition for officers to spend hours of time traveling to see one client. Compounding that, if they live in remote areas, there’re typically no services available for them to capitalize on. So agencies across the country are looking at video teleconferencing services to try and bridge this gap. There’s one agency in rural Kansas that serves a six county area, and rather than driving miles and miles every day, they’re trying to use Skype to connect with their clients and do reporting in that way.

Len Sipes:  So we’re talking about, in terms of video, we’re talking about using their Smartphones, using their tablets?

Joe Russo:  Yeah. Tablets, home computers, as long as they have internet connectivity then they can connect with their probation officer via Skype or another service.

Len Sipes:  And the same questions that that probation or parole agent would ask the person directly when they see them could be asked in terms of the provision of treatment and service delivery. I mean in terms of our own mental health caseload one of the principle questions we ask is, “Are you taking your medications? Show me your medications. Are you taking them every day? Are you taking them as prescribed?” So I would imagine that would enter into it.

Joe Russo:  Yeah. You can go through very much the same protocol that you would in an in person interview. I would imagine the only thing that might be lacking is that direct in person kind of look for effect and then things that just would not translate very well via video. But for the most part the interview protocol would remain the same.

Len Sipes:  So, but the treatment part of it, are we talking about providing treatment services via teleconference?

Joe Russo:  Well, we’ve learned that Nebraska Judicial Services is using in exactly. Again, they have a very remote rural section of their state, and rather than having offenders, again, drive miles to a central location to get services, they’ve set up video conferencing systems in the county sheriff’s departments, and offenders can just go to their local sheriff department and there’s a video set for them to take –

Len Sipes:  Ah.

Joe Russo:  [OVERLAY] classes, parenting, cognitive skill therapy, and –

Len Sipes:  Oh, that’s exciting.

Joe Russo:  Yeah. Yeah. So it’s interactive and it’s a very innovative approach to a difficult problem.

Len Sipes:  And I had a recent discussion this weekend with somebody who is, and I shouldn’t identify the group at this stage of the game because they’re just developing it, but they’re talking about remote classes for correctional institutions, so all of this is really exciting. The last two issues in terms of the program, officer safety developments and a social media issue paper that was developed with the American Probation and Parole Association. Tell me about those.

Joe Russo:  Yes. Officer safety, we’ve come across two interesting items. One is the use of GPS technology for lone workers. These are workers who are out in remote settings by themselves and where safety could become an issue. These systems are deployed in industry across the spectrum. Minnesota Department of Corrections has recently explored using this for their parole agents who work out in the field by themselves. These are typically GPS tracking devices as you would think of them on an offender, but the officer carries them, they have a man-down function, a [PH 00:24:25] duress alert, where the officer can communicate back with a central monitoring station, and the officer is tracked and located throughout their travels out there in the wild. Communications are achieved either through cellular, the network, if that’s not available the technology can communicate via satellite communication so that the officer is never truly alone out there.

Len Sipes:  But that’s fascinating because it could apply to urban environments as well.

Joe Russo:  Any environment, exactly, particularly where officers are working by themselves it’s a critical concern.

Len Sipes:  And I really like the fact that it has a man-down concept to it so if a person goes into a prone position there is an immediate alert sent to a central monitoring station.

Joe Russo:  Exactly. The other neat officer safety tool that we came across, and this might be a little futuristic, but we’ve heard a presentation from researchers at MIT who developed clothing that can be used as a personal protective device. Basically they embed electronics into a jacket or outer garment that conducts electricity and energy. So the wearer is insulated, but if they activate their jacket, for example, and an aggressor touches them, they receive a shock.

Len Sipes:  Amazing.

Joe Russo:  And the idea is to provide the officer enough space and time –

Len Sipes:  Right.

Joe Russo:  To get out of a hand to hand combat type situation. So, again, for people working in the field alone, officers who don’t carry firearms, this might be an interesting to consider in the future.

Len Sipes:  Final issue – and we only have a couple minutes left – social media. Again, you’re working on in a paper with the American Probation and Parole Association about social media use. I see dozens of examples almost daily of people not just under supervision, but criminals or people of interest, going out and sitting in front of a, doing a YouTube video sitting in front of a stash of drugs and guns and talking about their exploits. So this is becoming rather common.

Joe Russo:  There’s no doubt. Social media is well established as a part of our lives in this day and age, whether we like it or not, particularly with the younger generation. So many of our offenders have this virtual presence. They maintain presence on social media. And to some extent it’s irresponsible for community corrections agencies not to explore and look at how offenders are using social media because it is such an ingrained part of life. So this issue paper that we’re developing is designed to help agencies understand what social media is, why it’s important, what offenders are doing online, again, why it’s important to monitor that activity, and some issues that they need to consider as they develop a policy about how their officers should use social media.

There are some pitfalls about social media privacy issues, how to authenticate information that they may obtain via Facebook pages, for example, of their offenders, whether to do covert investigations, for example, where the officer might pretend to be someone else, establish a false identity. All of these are issues that agencies need to consider strongly, compare them to their missions and their goals, and really develop policies so that when officers do engage in this activity it’s in direct alignment with the agency’s mission.

Len Sipes:  We were talking before the program about being able to geocode, or all photos, if you GPS enabled on your phone or tablet, evidently the photos are geocoded. So we can figure not only what he was doing, because he’s making a YouTube video, and I mean there’re all sorts of other examples, but YouTube certainly does come to mind, but also figuring out exactly where he is.

Joe Russo:  Exactly. Yeah. That’s a little known feature, and if you use a digital camera with location systems enabled you could very well be giving up your location, which of course works very well in the favor of probation and parole officers who’re trying to determine if their offender is outside of jurisdiction.

Len Sipes:  In the final 30 seconds or so. The bottom line behind all of the technology that we talked about today, Joe, is to ensure compliant behavior; is to keep people out of the prison system; is to prompt their good behavior, reduce technical violations; reduce rearrest, and reduce return to prison. So this has a fiscal note to it that could be very favorable to state and local agencies and it has research behind it that in essence says that people when they’re monitored in these ways are far more compliant and they are just doing much better on parole and probation supervision, correct or incorrect?

Joe Russo:  Exactly. It’s all about outcomes. Technology is a tool and we have to be careful not to overuse it and over-supervise low-risk offenders. Ideally, we’re using the appropriate level of technology to supervise offenders and dedicate more officer’s valuable time on those high-risk cases that demand that interpersonal connection.

Len Sipes:  And I’m really glad you brought that up, because the real focus of most of this would be the high-risk offender.

Joe Russo:  Exactly, exactly. It’s very easy to fall into a trap of applying technology across the board, but we have to really be more intelligent about how to use our limited resources.

Len Sipes:  Well, Joe, as always, I really do appreciate you coming onto the show today. And ladies and gentlemen, we did show with Joe Russo on community corrections technology. I always find it fascinating. We did discuss satellite tracking and alcohol and drug testing and teleconferencing and social media and lots of other things. Joe is with the University of Denver and currently serves as the Director of Corrections Technology Center of Excellence, a program within the National Law Enforcement and Corrections Technology Center System. Ladies and gentlemen, this is DC Public Safety. We appreciate your comments, we even your criticisms, and please have yourselves a very pleasant day.

[Audio Ends]

Share