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Connected Justice: Opportunities to Integrate Systems and Services

In this Q&A, Daniel Stewart, Cisco Senior Advisor for state and local governments, describes how governments can leverage technology to integrate systems of justice and create safer communities.

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Technologies used during the pandemic offer opportunities for criminal justice to integrate systems and services.

From virtual court hearings to smartphone-powered parole, the pandemic has accelerated shifts in criminal justice systems. In this Q&A, Daniel Stewart, Cisco Senior Advisor for state and local governments, describes how governments can leverage technology to integrate systems of justice and create safer communities.

How has the pandemic accelerated the use of technology in the justice system?
The line of business leaders—the judges, secretaries and commissioners, superintendents and jail administrators, and probation and parole department officers—were suddenly thrust into this change. We will come out of this in stages, but the hybrid world is going to be the new reality. Defense attorneys who were adamant they would never have videoconferencing for a courtroom proceeding or a hearing are finding they can get better representation time with their clients.

What have parole boards and other organizations learned about the benefits of mobile technology?
At the start of the pandemic, there were 4.7 million people in probation, parole and other alternatives to incarceration in the United States. Their primary goal is to reduce recidivism. If I’m a low-to medium-risk individual on probation, should I have to leave my job and travel across town to see a probation officer? If I can do it via video, I can become a more productive member of society. We must give people tools that allow them to improve their situation.

In what ways are connected technologies reshaping how correctional facilities operate and remain resilient in times of crisis?
The delivery of constitutionally mandated services to inmate populations, like healthcare, all had to change. Cisco created the first and only standards-based visitation system in the industry. Now agencies can provide oversight for all their remote providers—for example, the Brooklyn Public Library offers classes on how to use a checkbook for individuals at Rikers Island. Education on the kinds of things we take for granted every day can be delivered through these types of services. We’re going to see healthier people come out of those gates and recidivism numbers go down.

How do you see this idea of connected justice spanning the entire justice system?
It’s about community safety first and foremost. Then we have to think about the populations involved, many of whom are just those we haven’t addressed well within our communities. This includes individuals who are homeless and veterans with PTSD, among others. I’m a former homeless veteran—I was living under a bridge, and I became the mayor of the same city I was homeless in. I’m one of the lucky ones. It’s estimated that 50 to 60 percent of the homeless population has a smart device. Case managers should be able to do outreach on that device—it’s all about having the right applications.

What are next steps for those in the justice system who want to move in this direction?
Now that we know there is a way to deliver these services, it’s a matter of choosing the methodology in which we do it. Departments of justice are very sensitive about security—you can’t have people hopping into remote court hearings. A lot of the solutions on the market were created in response to the pandemic, so the life instance is very short. But if they’re already proven, you know you’ve got a product you can use. It’s about making sound decisions and choices based on your roadmap. Keep your eyes open and make choices that are solid and secure.
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