IE 11 Not Supported

For optimal browsing, we recommend Chrome, Firefox or Safari browsers.

6 Common Misconceptions About Policing Technology Debunked

The last year has seen an increase in ethical questions around how law enforcement uses tech. But not all policing technology is meant to catch criminals — much of it is designed to support community re-entry.

Six police officers seen from the waist down walking away from the camera.
iStockphoto
In the wake of COVID-19, our nation has witnessed the possibilities of tech integration across industries, but understanding how we integrate simple solutions into complex problems can be more difficult to grasp. Throughout my time working in the technology industry for government agency solutions addressing America’s high recidivism rates, I’ve come across a range of questions, assumptions and myths that create more confusion and controversy than actually exists.

Following are some of the most common misconceptions about tech-enabled solutions for the American justice system — debunked and explained.

NOT ALL TECH IS PREDICTIVE POLICING 


When biometrics are discussed in reference to criminal justice, people typically equate the term with racially biased tech or “predictive policing,” which uses data to anticipate where and when a crime will be committed. This controversial smartphone technology that attempts to predict crimes based on facial recognition and other key identifiers is only one use of biometrics. The majority of products currently available aren’t focused on putting someone behind bars or predicting a potential offense. More often, they’re about implementing technology that provides soft, virtual touch points to increase support and resources within community corrections. For example, biometrics may be used to provide warning signs for individuals who enter into parts of their community where they are at higher risk for relapse, such as a liquor store or common location for buying drugs. Individuals who need further oversight, such as sex offenders, might have their location tracked to ensure they don’t enter schools, parks or other off-limit areas. In extreme cases for high-risk individuals (and with their full awareness), smartphone cameras can be accessed to ensure the safety of the community. Again, the majority of biometrics use is focused on the marriage of new technology and community-based resources.

Based on identifiable criminogenic needs, these highly sophisticated tools can predict whether an individual needs help, is struggling to adapt to life after prison, or whether or not they are in need of as much oversight as other individuals. Utilizing a smartphone app and basic SMS questions, individuals are able to validate their criminogenic needs status, allowing case workers to quickly push resources to improve an individual’s quality of life and likelihood of success. Departments aren’t using a person’s data in a punitive fashion or being profiled with data. People are now being supervised in a more efficient way that gives them freedom to integrate into society without the overwhelming responsibility of common re-entry requirements, such as in-person meetings that disrupt family life, work, social or other key life events.

A key example of this — which the pandemic helped to illuminate — is offering secure, virtual meetings to individuals who previously were required to meet in person. By replacing in-person check-ins with probation officers, people can instead have instant appointments from the comfort of their environment. Video chatting with your probation or parole officer from a private room at work drastically reduces the amount of time and stress required in comparison to commuting across town to make an appointment. Putting more freedom in the hands of individuals through easily accessible smartphone technology is key to reducing risks leading to recidivism.

WE DON’T NEED ANOTHER ANKLE MONITOR


Those who are responsible for overseeing the well-being of our most vulnerable communities are not giving people the support and tools they need to overcome drug addiction, mental illness, the needed skills to find work, or the lack of job opportunities due to their criminal record. The system is broken.

There are roughly 4.7 million people on probation and parole, and only about a quarter of a million people wear ankle monitors. The rest of the population is left without any form of oversight. These new smartphone technologies help the government expand social services and meet their mission to more effectively provide the proper resources and oversight to reduce the chances of recidivism.

For example, a case worker can automate calendar court date reminders to ensure an individual does not incur a technical violation by accidentally missing an important meeting. Or, to better understand risks that might impact a person’s overall quality of life, an agency’s assigned officer can use virtual video chats to assess if an individual has proper food, housing and a safe environment to live in. Instant smartphone tools connected with local resources such as AA/NA meetings, virtual therapy appointments, hotlines and other support systems also assist with reducing the chances of recidivism. In an age where almost everything is at your fingertips, implementing these resources in the justice system provides immediate relief for those who need it most.

AGENCIES COLLECT LESS DATA THAN SOCIAL MEDIA PLATFORMS


Surveillance is happening whether we want it to or not. Everything a person does on Instagram’s platform, for example, is tracked, and the platform begins curating content, advertisements and suggestions based on our behavior. For justice and corrections technology, the amount of data taken is significantly less than that of social media platforms — and they actually tell users they’re doing it.

Program members fully agree and comply with this as a term of their release and rehabilitation. No phone camera is watched, no microphone listened to, no geofence designed unless you have fully agreed and understand the scope and terms of release. Uses for corrections technology are explicit — not a pop-up box to click “agree” to whatever new thousand-page terms agreement your favorite social media platform wants you to sign.

JUSTICE-ORIENTED TECHNOLOGY TRACKS PROGRESS, NOT PEOPLE


Accountability is an unavoidable piece of the rehabilitation process that must be acknowledged and discussed in technology integration. If you hand a person a form with questions and answers on their whereabouts, how likely are they to be honest? Sometimes, this much-needed accountability for rehabilitated individuals translates to location tracking. But, more often than not, it aims to demonstrate progress through incremental success measures — such as whether or not the individual made it to work on time, went to their court appearance, avoided opportunities to relapse and fall into old habits, etc.

Modern-day tech solutions are about providing access to services — sometimes through tracking — so individuals know where nearby resources are. For example, when searching for ways to reduce relapse, the ability to be able to connect to an emergency service provider with an immediate need has been proven to show a dramatic decrease in relapse for those who can access it instantaneously.

It’s important to remember that probation and parole officers are typically juggling about 120 cases simultaneously — double the recommended average. The more the system can be automated to provide easily accessible stats on their clients, the better they can serve the ones identified to be at higher risk for recidivism or identify if an individual is in an unsafe environment.

The majority of justice-oriented tech on the market right now is focused on assessing the likelihood of someone successfully re-entering their community. If an officer is able to quickly view the stats for their program member’s last two weeks, they can identify trends in behavior and, from there, assess if action needs to be taken to help that individual succeed or stay safe.

THIS IS A NON-PARTISAN ISSUE


In 2020, our country experienced an influx of support for the idea of “defunding the police” and shifting funds into social services. Justice-focused technology provides solutions for both sides of the aisle.

If you want the government to interact minimally with citizens but still interact with core functions, why not use a platform that shrinks the budget while providing access and equal opportunity to those who need it most? Utilizing new technologies in law enforcement and community corrections means communities get more social services for less money. This increasing access to technologies for probation, parole and beyond provides positive and much-needed support at the user’s fingertips.

The justice system is an industry that has an enormous opportunity to modernize while buffering the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic at a time when people are looking for an apolitical, common sense approach to criminal justice reform. We can’t help where we’ve been, but we can change where we’re going.

REDUCING RECIDIVISM IS BIGGER THAN THE DOLLAR


In every market, major corporations look for opportunities to profit on high-demand and cutting-edge products. Unfortunately, the criminal justice system doesn’t fit the mold. The more successful a company is in the business in terms of helping agencies solve problems, the faster it works itself out of a job because the market shrinks.

Community corrections technology is an end-goal platform for reducing recidivism, not one that facilitates a revolving door of prison sentences and releases. Success for the agency will put the tech companies out of business. It’s the best possible win-lose.

Michael Hirschman is the founder and CEO of TRACKtech, a technology company focused on providing mobile solutions to the justice system, homelessness, addiction and more.
Special Projects
Sponsored Articles