April 30, 1995 By James Evans
A person on probation may check in at any kiosk, or can be checked in through the portable unit by the probation officer. At the kiosk, a biometric sample is taken (via scanner) and compared to the one collected during enrollment. Once identification is established, the probationer may check in. The officer can leave written messages for the client, who can respond. When the session is done, a receipt is generated for the probationer's records. The kiosk operates every day, serving a maximum of 180 people in a 24-hour period. The average time probationers are taking to check in is between two and three minutes.
Arrowhead Regional Corrections, which has had about 70 of its 600 probationers using the Infotec system since February 1994, utilizes it in three ways. The principal focus is to maintain contact with clients who pose little or no risk to the public, and who require very little personal supervision. Secondly, it's used in conjunction with normal face-to-face reporting, where a client will come to the department once a month, but will show up in a kiosk once a week for the rest of the month. Lastly, probation violators are given an opportunity to report to a kiosk daily instead of going to jail, which pleases the offender, relieves crowded jail facilities and saves the county about $50 a day per person.
EVALUATING THE PROGRAM
An evaluation of the program by the Sociology Department at the University of Minnesota in Duluth gave it high marks for nearly every aspect of the operation, especially for the efficiency of its computerized record keeping and for giving officers more time to deal with their more serious offenders.
"This is in its infancy, so it's still too early to tell what kind of problems it might create, but we're already seeing it as a valuable tool," said Roy. "We don't see that it will ever replace probation officers. There's still a lot of subjective evaluation to be done, so we need humans in the process. The machine won't tell you what your eyes and nose will tell you. But we expect this tool to do a faster and better job. It's an efficiency enhancer."
San Bernardino County has been using only one kiosk for several months as part of a test program, but already Oberhelman wants to keep and expand it, though he too adds that it will never replace officers. "We're only having our lowest risk probationers check in with it, but you can see the value," he said. "It frees up staff and resources to deal with the more risky population. My biggest fear is that the department won't implement it on a permanent basis. The problem is that the county has significant budget restraints, so it's hard to sell new technology."
Yet, all the optimism and praise isn't meant to deny any doubts or apprehensions. "One of my biggest concerns is that a lot of probationers feel alienated from society, and commit crimes because they feel the laws are not their laws," said Roy. "So the inhumanity of this type of technology, [to the probationer] means they aren't deserving of human contact. So I believe it has to be used in addition to human contact, and not as a replacement for human contact."
Roy also said he recommends that any department that wants the system should plan on training support personnel who are familiar
You may use or reference this story with attribution and a link to