Georgia is moving quickly toward the end of an era as parole offices are being closed at a pace that will see most of them completely shuttered within the next calendar year. A handful already are closed, about another dozen will close within weeks and the remainder will close as the state moves away from real estate toward reliance on parole officer-friendly remote technology.
“The day of the parolee reporting to a parole office is long gone,” said Michael Nail, executive director of the state board of Pardons and Paroles. Virtual offices – two-man parole teams in vehicles – will replace real estate. “Our officers will be in the community where parolees reside and work and it’s no longer parolees coming to where the parole officer works,” Nail said. Teams are equipped with Android devices that connect to a Google.Gov platform.
The Pardons and Paroles board expects to save $1 million when contracts expire on leased office space statewide. From a previous high of 48 parole offices, the state currently has about 40 still open. Nail said 13 will close in December and nearly all others within 12-to-18 months. Those that remain open in state buildings will often share space with state probation employees.
The decision to move away from real estate and toward two-man mobile parole teams is equal parts the reality of the state budget and evidence of success that Pardons and Paroles has witnessed since it began a voice recognition parolee call-in reporting experiment. A call-in pilot program that began 18 months ago with 1,300 parolees has expanded to almost 3,400.
Pardons and Paroles is its own agency, not part of the Department of Corrections, and it has a current fiscal year budget of just under $52.7 million. Like nearly all state agencies it has been asked to propose 3 percent in cuts, or about $1.6 million, for the fiscal year that starts in July. Closing under-utilized offices and moving personnel into the field is part of absorbing that cut.
Georgia has about 23,000 former penitentiary inmates on parole. Almost one-third who have been successful under regular parole supervision are considered low-risk to re-offend or pose a public safety risk. Starting in summer 2011 the state began to assign low-risk parolees to a voice recognition system in which the parolee is required to report by phone. Software developed by Atlanta-based Anytrax can identify individual parolees and the service is available in multiple languages.
Nail said the model has succeeded on several levels. First, just 1.7 percent of parolees who were assigned to voice recognition reporting have re-entered the system for technical violations or a new criminal charge. Second, the number of cases assigned to parole officers has declined from about 75 to about 40 with increased face-to-face emphasis on higher-risk parolees. Third, the agency determined it does not need to maintain leases on costly real estate.
“This is what we were able to do to meet the mandated reductions,” Nail said. “If we had not gone down that road the only thing you can cut or reduce is staff and personnel.” The state parolee population is up about 10 percent over ten years but the number of case workers has declined about 10 percent over the past five years. No case worker expansion is anticipated.
Pardons and Paroles has also begun an enhanced house arrest monitoring pilot project in which cell phones combined with voice recognition technology are used to track the location of parolees. Cell phone technology enables parole officers to identify a parolee’s exact location. Think of this as a GPS type technology without GPS costs. Anytrax charges $7 per month per parolee enrolled in its services; that cost is charged to parolees and is not paid by state dollars.
None of these changes is directly tied to criminal justice reform measures that were adopted by the 2012 Legislature and which are currently being implemented statewide. However, voice recognition tracking and creative uses of cell phone technology are examples of innovation developed in the private sector that can be successfully applied in the public sector.
“Sometimes philosophically in government and the public safety arena we get in the mindset that we are the only ones who can effectively do our business,” Nail said. “This has shown us we can be more effective when we reach out and find others who can assist us doing our job.”
Nail added, “This is what community supervision ought to be all about.”
(Mike Klein is Editor at the Georgia Public Policy Foundation)
This article was republished by Right on Crime at the Texas Public Policy Foundation.
Georgia will test a new model that could result in more effective supervision of high-risk parolees because less time would be required for low-risk parolees. In July the state will begin a three-month telephone reporting pilot project and the initiative could be expanded statewide.
“The parolee population is increasing,” said Jay Lacienski, director of field operations at the state Board of Pardons and Parole. “When you have an ever increasing (parolee) population and a stable parole officer population, you better figure out how to handle that.”
Georgia’s pilot project will move 1,300 low-risk parolees into a voice recognition system developed by a Georgia-based outside contractor. Face-to-face visits with a parole officer will be replaced by telephone reporting. About one-third of the state’s 22,500 parolees are considered low-risk.
The state parolee population is up 10% or 2,200 over ten years. But largely due to budget-related attrition, the number of parole officers is down 10% (313 to 286) over five years and caseloads have risen 20% (66 to 78) during the same period. “What we aim to do is to remove about 30% of the work on the low risk side and put it onto the high risk side,” Lacienski said.
Training sessions begin this week for parole staff from seven locations statewide: Albany, Augusta, Carrollton, DeKalb, Monroe, Savannah and Waycross. “We want to see how it works in locations in every region of the state,” Lacienski said. “They have enough offenders in those cities or districts to make a difference in the workload.”
This three-month experiment is not directly connected to the state’s new Special Council on Criminal Justice Reform initiative but it represents an emphasis on different approaches that could be evident when the Council reports to Governor Nathan Deal in November. Among the Council’s primary tasks is to consider alternatives to incarceration for non–violent offenders.
Voice recognition is similar to fingerprint science. Each person has unique fingerprints and each person has a unique voice signature. Voice recognition was developed after World War II to assist military intelligence. Law enforcement began to integrate voice recognition in the late 1960s. U.S. intelligence used voice recognition to track and monitor Osama bin Laden.
Georgia will test the voice recognition system developed by Atlanta-based AnyTrax which was formerly known as roboCUFF. The 10-year-old company has managed automated curfew and parole telephone reporting for law enforcement clients in 45 states, including Cobb and Hall counties here in Georgia, but this will be the company’s first opportunity with the state.
“We’re a software company. Our focus is helping probation and parole agencies save time and effort,” said AnyTrax president Eric Tumperi. “We replace work (that is) mostly menial and administrative low-value tasks with automation so they can devote their time to higher value tasks.” The company currently monitors about 60,000 parolees per year in several states.
Here’s how it will work. Candidates for voice recognition reporting will already have at least six months back in the community. They must have a job, a stable residence, and no arrests or positive drug screens during their parole period. Low risk parolees who are accepted into the program will call an AnyTrax number to record voice samples.
Then they will contact AnyTrax monthly or as required by state Pardons and Parole. They will answer customized questions such as, are you still living in the same place; are you still working in the same place; have you had any contact with the law? Parolees will pay to participate, $7 per month, which they may see as a better option than face-to-face reporting once per month.
“There will be no (parole officer) checking on the job, no checking on the house,” said Lacienski of state Pardons and Parole. “We will trust them to call in.” If they don’t, AnyTrax will send an automated reminder. If they still do not respond, the company will notify Pardons and Parole.
Virginia’s Department of Corrections was the first AnyTrax voice recognition parole client. “We actually have increased our contact with the offenders,” said Virginia Corrections deputy administrator Richard Crossen. Virginia’s four-year-old program tracks about 6,500 persons.
Crossen said the impact is less about budget considerations and more about workforce reallocation; “Low risk offenders are seen less frequently but their information changes and we were looking for a way to enhance reporting information.” Crossen said Virginia Corrections would like to expand the use of voice recognition technology. “We are very satisfied.”
Georgia spends $1 billion per year on adult corrections, including prisons and parole. It has the nation’s ninth largest total population with 9.68 million residents but the fourth largest inmate population. One-in-13 adult Georgians is under corrections system jurisdiction, the worst rate in the nation. The state has 60,000 adults incarcerated in state facilities and 160,000 on probation or parole.
“Recidivism is high, low risk (parolees) are being treated the same as high risk offenders and (parole) officers are being asked to do too much,” said Tumperi of AnyTrax. “Agencies are truly looking at ways to transform their workloads, which is an exciting thing to see, government agencies being proactive, progressive (and) strategic.”
(Mike Klein is Editor at the Georgia Public Policy Foundation)
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