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Crime Victim Notification Gets Personal

The Indiana Department of Corrections is using a new software package to customize notifications for victims of crime.

In 2009, when Indiana Department of Correction (IDOC) officials started thinking about how to remain technologically relevant and deliver practical benefits to constituents, they had a primary goal in mind: to serve more while spending less.

“We decided to personalize the victim notification process,” said Brent Myers, the department’s director of registration and victim services. “We wanted to give options to those registering for notifications. We didn’t want a one-size-fits-all model. Maybe you want notification via email, text or phone call. We want to empower you to make choices for yourself. We wanted to improve the information flow.”

Indiana’s Statewide Automated Victim Information and Notification system shares custody information about offenders with crime victims and citizens. To improve communication to registrants and between criminal justice partners, the IDOC turned to Microsoft’s Dynamics CRM. Whereas victim notifications were previously delivered exclusively via robocalls (automated phone calls), the new system allows the IDOC to personalize notifications, giving registrants control over how and when they are notified.

Victims of crimes and their family members may register themselves against an offender. When there is some type of change — prison transfer, release or escape — the registrant receives a notification.

“Instead of receiving a phone call for every notification that a person is interested in, they can get a phone call for some notifications, text messaging for others,” Myers explained. “Although we do have robocalls available, we’ve chosen to make personalized calls by staff members in the agency.”

With the previous system, if a crime victim received a robocall in the middle of the night, there was no opportunity for them to learn pertinent details. With Microsoft’s Dynamics CRM, the IDOC can define which types of notifications are urgent and therefore necessitate a personal phone call.

There are three different types of notifications, and there are about 35 triggers that fall within each of those categories. Registrants can define how they would like to be notified for every trigger within each category. An emergency notification includes situations in which an inmate escapes from prison. Examples of a routine notification would be information about an offender being transferred from one location to another or a warning about an upcoming 60-day release date.

“We’ve been able to offer personalized calls for situations where we think they are most needed,” Myers said, adding that the new system has also reduced operating costs significantly. “We’ve reduced it to 25 percent of what it originally was.”

Part of the credit for the seamless system switch goes to IDOC employees’ familiarity with operating a Microsoft system. Myers said that training needs were minimal, and staff members became comfortable operating the system very quickly.

Employees are able to differentiate between types of notifications, create hierarchies and move notifications within categories in a couple of minutes. The system’s ease-of-use allows the department to easily adapt to environmental changes.

“If the legislature says we have to provide a new type of notification,” Myers said, “we can amend our system to be able to adapt to those changes in a much more quick fashion than in the past.”

The system is also valuable for other users within the IDOC, as well as IDOC's external public safety partners. Prosecutors, court staff, defense attorneys, Child Protective Services employees and child custody representatives use the notification system in carrying out their responsibilities.

Additionally, Microsoft’s Dynamics CRM is used to provide confidential information to law enforcement officers as part of an alert notification service. The system is also programmed to notify individuals who live by a Corrections facility in the event that an inmate escapes. The notification not only helps protect those who live nearby, but also encourages communication from constituents who may have information to contribute to law enforcement.

The department is currently looking at how to leverage alert notification services for automatic updates on Twitter and Facebook.

“There’s been a lot of connectivity that’s been added to the system,” Myers said, “We want to leverage current technology.”

Photo from Shutterstock

Noelle Knell has been the editor of Government Technology magazine for e.Republic since 2015. She has more than two decades of writing and editing experience, covering public projects, transportation, business and technology. A California native, she has worked in both state and local government, and is a graduate of the University of California, Davis, with majors in political science and American history. She can be reached via email and on Twitter.