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Ohio County to Test App that Monitors Probationers

Summit County, Ohio, will launch a new smartphone probation app this week, with 1,000 of the 4,000 people currently on probation using an app that monitors their whereabouts with GIS technology.

by Stephanie Warsmith, Akron Beacon Journal / June 2, 2020
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(TNS) — Step 1: A man on probation in Summit County, Ohio, receives a message saying he needs to check in.

Step 2: He takes a video on his smart phone and submits it.

Step 3: A company confirms his identity and location — based on GPS coordinates.

Checking in for probation in Summit County will soon be this easy.

The county will launch a new smart phone probation app this week, with 1,000 of the 4,000 people currently on probation using the app.

"Why not?" Amy Corrigall Jones, the administrative judge in Summit County Common Pleas Court, asked of trying the app. "If it fails, it fails. If we don't try, we'll never know."

The court will be the first in Ohio to pilot the Outreach Smartphone Monitoring (OSM) app, which has been used in 50 courts in 35 states. The Colorado-based company has also recently been in talks with Cuyahoga County about trying the app.

Summit County's testing of the app comes at a time when the county already has been requiring people on probation to check in remotely — either by phone or videoconference — because of the pandemic. The pilot program also is happening as the county is encouraging agencies to look for technological options to improve efficiency and save money.

"This is part of — in my mind — a package of technology and work-flow changes we will be looking at," said Brian Nelsen, chief of staff for Summit County Executive Ilene Shapiro.

Summit County Council was expected to approve a budget adjustment Monday that will allow the court to spend up to $146,000 to try the app for a year.

The county is projecting big funding losses because of the pandemic and is looking for expenses that can be covered with federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act (CARES) funding.

Nelsen said the court app may be among those. He said the app has the potential for saving a lot of money because it could provide a cheaper alternative for monitoring defendants than incarceration.

"The situation we're in has created an opportunity for a lot of creative thinking and opened eyes to implementing changes that we probably would not have thought of or been willing to do," Nelsen said. "We will emerge out of this in many areas of the county with better operations at a reduced cost. I'm pleased by the great ideas. This app is one of those."

App idea

The idea for the app came up during a recent discussion about SCORR, a new probation program that is underway in Summit County.

Jones and her staff were meeting with researchers from New York University assisting with SCORR (Summit County Offender Recidivism Reduction) when Jones asked if they could adopt a probation app.

"Let's do it!" she challenged them.

Jones enlisted the help of Chris Stahr, the tech-savvy community development director of Valor Court, her specialized docket for veterans.

Stahr began looking at the top probation apps on the market. He tested one that took so much memory on his smart phone that he had to delete his music. He decided OSM was the best option.

"This one is easy and quick to download," he said.

During a recent virtual presentation in Jones' courtroom, Colorado-based Mike Kingery, the app's developer, explained how it works.

Kingery said people on probation download the app, take a picture of themselves and submit it. This picture is used by OSM staff to confirm the correct person is checking in when a video is submitted.

The check-ins can be random, prompted by a request or scheduled for a certain time. The app keeps track of how well a person is complying with the terms of their probation, like a report card. Based on their actions, the probationers receive sanctions and rewards.

"They're aware of how they're doing," Kingery said.

The app can provide reminders for court appearances, treatment meetings, job interviews or other key events and contact information for community agencies. It can also can ask questions, such as whether a person has had new contact with police and, based on the response, ask for more information.

Kingery said the app is fast and easy to use. Even if a person is required to check in six times a day, he said, this is so quick and easy that it won't significantly disrupt other activities.

Tyrel Lasley, Kingery's partner with OSM, said the app has a 95 percent compliance rate of those who've used it. The company soon will begin a study to gauge the recidivism rate of participants.

The app has other features that Summit County doesn't plan to use initially, including a breathalyzer and more intense GPS monitoring.

App plans

The probation department will draw most of the app users from those who are considered a moderate risk of violating probation.

Jones said many of the people on probation are younger and are familiar with the latest technology, such as a smart phone app. She said the app will provide a way to communicate with them on a platform they're familiar with and give them instant feedback.

"We're trying to motivate individuals to be successful," she said.

The court has asked the county about the possibility of providing smart phones for people on probation who don't have them.

The app could provide significant cost savings, especially when it is used in place of incarceration. The cost of the app per person is 40 cents a day, while the cost to house someone at the jail is $126 a day and at an Oriana House facility is $75 a day.

At the end of the year, the court plans to review how the app worked out and decide whether it should be renewed at the same level or expanded to include everyone on probation.

Kerri Defibaugh, director of Adult Probation, said probation officers can easily tailor the app for each person. She thinks the appointment reminders will decrease violations and help keep people out of jail.

"This technology will enhance the felony supervision we offer," she said.

©2020 the Akron Beacon Journal (Akron, Ohio). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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