Justice Integration Briefing

Justice system integration efforts require planning, cooperation and skilled implementation.

by / March 31, 1998
Justice and law enforcement agencies realize the benefits of integrating disparate information systems in order to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of services. Forward-looking governments no longer feel that other members of the justice family have entirely different data needs; they view the justice system as a partnership among agencies.

Most integrated jurisdictions in the United States address the criminal aspects of justice (e.g., booking and jail management systems; felony, traffic and misdemeanor courts) and therefore often use the name Criminal Justice Information System, or CJIS. According to some estimates, there are scores of CJIS systems in existence. However, a few visionaries have integrated both the criminal and the civil (e.g., summons service tracking; family, probate and mental health courts) and refer to their system as an Integrated Justice Information System, or IJIS. Unlike CJIS systems, there are only a handful of existing or planned IJIS in the country.

In an effort to better understand the "best practices" of current and planned integrated systems, a case study of jurisdictions with existing or planned integrated justice information systems was developed. One of the findings of the study was that each jurisdiction with an IJIS claims to be the only one to have truly integrated the civil side of justice with the criminal. However, a few have succeeded: Harris County, Texas, has successfully integrated both criminal and civil systems; Palm Beach County, Fla., and Ventura County, Calif., are currently in the implementation stages of such systems and are scheduled to be fully integrated in the next few years. (The table on page 31 lists the 15 cities, counties and states surveyed.)


Every jurisdiction cited the need to improve efficiency as the driving force behind integration. Summarized below are the key goals and objectives identified by the agencies:

* Decrease or eliminate redundant data entry.

* Save on system-wide labor costs by reusing data. Integrated systems eliminate the need for data entry operators in multiple agencies to process the same information.

* Allow justice agency personnel to focus on public safety by minimizing data collection efforts. Integrated systems eliminate the need to call to get an arrestee's status, search for a hard copy file or wait with a perpetrator during booking. The Baltimore Arrest Booking System saves an estimated one hour per booking and can obtain positive fingerprint identification in less than one hour.

* Speed availability of information by entering data once at the source. Not only are labor costs reduced, but data becomes available more quickly.

* Decrease the likelihood of costly mistakes due to typographical errors. Prior to integration, one jurisdiction released jailed defendants awaiting trial because of an incorrect status entry in their records. This example, though not widespread, was also not unique. Integrated systems minimize such problems.

* Increase data uniformity and reliability. Data compatibilities were mentioned as a benefit of integration. A defendant's brown eyes used to be coded "BR", "BN" or "BRN" by three different justice agencies in the same jurisdiction. The planning phases of the integrated system eliminated these inconsistencies.

* Decrease paper generation and flow.

* Electronic files allow more than one person or agency to view a file at a time. Prior to integration, if a judge had a paper case file, no one else could access that information.

* Decrease likelihood of errors due to loss of files, judicial orders and other paperwork. Before integration, there were numerous cases of misplaced documents upsetting the workings of the justice system, whether they were "lost" prisoners or missing pleadings.

* Save money and time by electronically transferring paperwork. Dade County courts reduced calendaring time from three days to four hours and one unit's associated staffing from 40 to 28 people.

* Increase accountability of justice agencies and defendants. More reliable data allows decision-makers and judges to make better choices. Judges and other decision makers need to be able to count on the veracity and completeness of information to ensure proper judgments. An integrated system increases the reliability of information by minimizing the number of times data is entered.

* In-court Automated Fingerprint Identification Systems (AFIS) eliminate "not-me" situations. Court time is often wasted by cases in which the wrong defendant is brought before a judge. North Carolina plans on using AFIS in court to allow magistrates to make an accurate and positive identification of individuals appearing before them.

* Improved tracking of individuals through the entire criminal justice system. Prior to integration, a prisoner was "lost" in the jail of one recently-integrated jurisdiction. No one knew he was still locked up due to lost paperwork. Integrated systems minimize the possibility of such situations occurring.

* Better management through ad hoc reporting and queries. Before integrating, several jurisdictions needed to wait for up to a week for productivity and status reports to be run by the jurisdiction's information management division. Now, reporting capabilities are at the fingertips of key personnel.

* Improve the relationship between the judiciary and law enforcement.

* Allow arresting officers to track a case by establishing a tangible link between law enforcement action and judicial response. Several jurisdictions noted that before integration, some law enforcement personnel felt that, after arresting a suspect, they were left out of the justice process. Integrated systems alleviated this situation by allowing arresting officers to stay more involved in their cases. In one jurisdiction, the case disposition is automatically copied electronically to the arresting officer.

* Demonstrate to the public that justice agencies can work together toward a common goal. In several cases, the public's perception of interagency bickering was mentioned as a motivating factor behind integrating justice systems, since implementing such systems requires collaboration among participating agencies.

* Increase accountability. One jurisdiction reported the integrated system allows for better case tracking by recording which actions were taken by which agencies, increasing accountability and overall productivity among agencies.

* Increase public safety.

* Provide rapid and universal access to warrants. Integrated systems eliminate situations in which a law enforcement agency erroneously releases a detainee with an outstanding warrant because the warrant was not immediately accessible.


For most agencies contacted, the benefits of integrated systems far outweighed the weaknesses. However, weaknesses that were mentioned included:

* Data verification problems.

* Incorrect information. Data entered incorrectly at the source will permeate the entire system.

* Changing erroneous data can prove difficult. Since data is not necessarily "owned" by the agency identifying the inaccuracy, corrections must be communicated to the agency owning the data rather than fixing it immediately.

* Lack of system flexibility.

* System processes must be designed correctly during planning. Making changes later could prove to be difficult. For example, a change in the booking process in Baltimore requires booking officers to program information on the back of a bar-code reader, causing them to take their eyes off the arrestee.

* Changing programs and applications in integrated systems is more difficult because programming code is imbedded in many different computer systems. Changing one element affects many others.

* Systems must be universally utilized to be successfully integrated. Though there was systemwide buy-in during the planning phase, in some jurisdictions actual system usage varied among agencies. Integrated systems are by their very nature dependent upon the use of all involved agencies to work efficiently. In situations where an agency unilaterally chose not to utilize the system, the participating agencies were left with incomplete data. Obtaining the necessary information manually ran counter to the reason for implementing an integrated system.

* Dependency on the system. By creating a dependency on technology, justice agencies could find themselves without backup materials when the integrated system goes offline.

Who's Using What?

Number of Users (Expected)
Year Active

Baltimore, Md.


Dade County, Fla.


Douglas County, Neb.

Harris County, Texas

Marin County, Calif.

Middlesex County, Mass.

New York, N.Y.

North Carolina

Orange County, Calif.

Palm Beach County, Fla.

San Joaquin County, Calif.

Ventura County, Calif.

Washington, D.C.


In most cases, integrated systems were funded entirely by the host jurisdiction. One-time and on-going costs were largely financed from the governing entity's general fund. In some instances, alternate sources of revenues were identified, including:

* Federal block grants.

* Edward R. Byrne Memorial State and Local Law Enforcement Assistance Grant.

* Bureau of Justice Assistance of the U.S. Department of Justice.

* Law Enforcement Assistance Administration.

* Many jurisdictions' grants are passed through state agencies to lessen system management's reporting requirements.

* Some local and municipal agencies receive both one-time and ongoing funds from their state legislature.

* A few systems charge a user fee to participating agencies based on transaction volume, data storage space, time of use, and charges for special programming.

* Several counties in California combined resources and jointly developed an integrated system. Kern, San Joaquin and Marin counties provided the start-up funding with the development of the applications split among them. When each county finished a module, the resulting applications were shared with the other two. The counties consider their system "a bargain, because we only paid one-third of what we would have spent."

* In Manhattan, the Midtown Community Court's integrated system was funded by a public/private consortium of not-for-profit agencies and city, state and federal grants, with on-going costs funded by the city's general fund.


System architectures vary across justice systems from centralized to distributed. The majority of jurisdictions surveyed are centralized; both system data and applications are housed on the same computer system. Supporters of centralized data and applications cite the ease of integration and system management. Others reported the technology of the time limited their architecture options solely to centralization. Advocates of a distributed architecture believe their approach minimizes turf battles by allowing each agency to retain ownership of its own information and hardware, and because distribution is often better suited to the geographic layout of the jurisdiction.


Jurisdictions were asked to identify the ingredients necessary to successfully implement and run an integrated justice system. These critical success factors include:

* Strong top-level leadership.

* Only top-level executives can make substantive agreements and commit resources. Many felt that an elected official makes the best project advocate. Elected officials often have the clout and wherewithal to bring a system to fruition, yet interviewees could not name one justice-related elected official who has lost an election over a failed integrated justice system.

* Top-level support must be long term. Interviewees agreed that executive advocacy must not wane as top-level managers deal with other projects.

* Good trainers and employees who are open to change.

* Technological change can scare employees who have less experience with automation. Training programs must be flexible enough to reach the entire spectrum of users. The integrated system moved one jurisdiction from "no-tech" to "high-tech." Most users had little prior experience with integrated systems and were amenable to training. Less experienced staff and those reluctant to learn the new system were given one-on-one attention.

* End-user involvement.

* San Joaquin County used "implementation analysts," who watched end-users do their jobs, integrated these observations into the system design and later trained the same end-users.

* Quick demonstration of system benefits.

* It is important to provide for a balanced mix of both near-term, low-cost, "easy-wins" and high-impact deliverables, which may involve longer delivery times, higher costs and greater risks.

* Identify and guarantee funding sources before proceeding.

* Ideally, funding sources should be identified. At a minimum, a funding strategy must be developed.

Many jurisdictions in the United States have seen the advantages of integrating disparate justice systems. Integrated justice systems make sense as well as save cents; they help participating agencies run more efficiently, decrease paper flow, improve the accountability of and relationships among participating justice agencies, increase public safety and save taxpayers money.

Martin S. Lind is an associate consultant with The Warner Group -- a Woodland Hills, Calif.-based management consulting firm that provides services to the public sector. He has extensive experience with criminal justice agencies nationwide. Mr. Lind can be reached at 818/710-8855.

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