In many county jails, deputy sheriffs are tasked with fielding incoming calls from the public with questions about a particular inmate.

That was the case at the jail in Stanislaus County, Calif. Before last year, a deputy sheriff spent countless hours responding to callers asking many of the same kinds of questions: Who is in custody? What are the detainee’s charges? What is the bond amount?

Stanislaus County Sheriff Adam Christianson said the calls overwhelmed the deputy sheriff to the point that he couldn’t do much else other than answer calls, manually searching the jail’s computer database for inmate case information.

“I thought, how inefficient this is that I’ve got a full-time deputy sheriff that’s doing nothing but answering the phone,” Christianson said.

At the time, roughly 80 percent of calls to the county jail’s control center were questions about inmates. To reduce that call flow, the county jail looked to an automated information services (AIS) system with voice recognition capability. The new system was implemented last December.

Now, when callers dial into the jail’s phone system, they are prompted to answer a question about the nature of their call. Callers seeking inmate or case information are redirected using voice over Internet protocol (VoIP) technology in the cloud to an AIS platform, hosted by Telerus.

Once redirected, callers simply speak the name of the inmate and the automated system pulls up case information using a continuous data feed from the facility’s jail management system, imported into the AIS. Callers then select the information they are seeking about the inmate. Christianson said that in a county jail environment, voice recognition technology provides more streamlined service than dialing in inmate names using a touch-tone process.

Nearly eight months into using the new system, the Stanislaus County jail has reduced incoming call load to the facility's control center by 80 percent, freeing up staff time for deputies to do other work. The Stanislaus County Sheriff’s Department also provides a website called Who’s in Jail? to help individuals access case information on inmates.

“Effectively offloading tasks like these has enabled deputies to better concentrate on their primary duties without the incessant ringing of the phone,” said Sgt. Chad Blake, in a statement.  “The workplace efficiency gains have been significant.”

Sarah Rich, Staff Writer Sarah Rich  |  Staff Writer

In 2008, Sarah Rich graduated from California State University, Chico, where she majored in news-editorial journalism and minored in sociology. Since 2010, Sarah has written for Government Technology magazine and covers a spectrum of public-sector IT topics, including cloud computing, transparency, broadband, and other innovative projects and trends. She currently lives in Sacramento, Calif.