Why We Need Criminal Justice 2.0
All sorts of technologies are making life and work easier and more transparent. Criminal justice agencies and organizations have an opportunity to make broad use of interactive tools on the web to ensure public safety and educate the public about issues and programs.
Some time ago, I came across this astounding video demonstrating the Sixth Sense, an amazing new tech tool being pioneered at the MIT Media Lab. (Watch the video after the jump).
I was blown away. This video made me realize that there were people creating cutting-edge technologies that I had never even conceived possible. Since I write a blog for the Upper Manhattan Reentry Task Force, I immediately began wondering how this technology might be useful for people in the process of return from prison to community.
Glenn E. Martin, who is Vice President of Development and Public Affairs at The Fortune Society in New York City, had some really good ideas.
“To cut down on face-to-face supervision visits, this would be a great way for parolees and probationers to communicate to their supervising officer their location at any given time using, GPS coordinates and tracking, time-stamped pictures, video recorded certification from work supervisor, and other electronic recordings as proof of supervision compliance.
It might also be a good way for jobseekers with criminal records to store recordings of their rap sheets, certificates of program completion, certificates of relief from disability and good conduct, reference letters/videos, etc., so that on job interviews, they have accurate information readily available for interviewers/decision makers.”
By now, most corrections departments, parole agencies, and police divisions have some kind of presence on the internet. Most of them look like that of the Mississippi Department of Corrections, with lots of information about the agency and the typical inmate lookup function. The New York Police Department has gone a step beyond this. The agency that pioneered the CompStat system posting weekly crime statistics for public viewing, now has a YouTube channel.
There’s an argument to be made for going beyond a web presence that simply shares information. The trend in our public use of technology is the exchange of information, which requires the interaction and collaboration of web 2.0.
In the past few months, we’ve posted a number of articles on Rethinking Reentry about how various technologies could be applied to issues of reentry (and criminal justice more generally) in a way that might allow for greater interaction between public agencies and citizens. We wrote about creating blogs, fundraising using the internet, website tracking from Google analytics, the British National Probation Service multimedia, new reentry wiki pages and iPhone applications.
If there are a few arguments to make for why criminal justice agencies should make broader use of Web 2.0, they are the following:
1. These new technologies are not hard to use. In the past, justice agencies would require a staff of specially-skilled IT people to put something up live. While they likely need those people to maintain their bulky websites, Web 2.0 technologies have largely evolved to the point that even technophobes can easily create and maintain a web presence.
2. These technologies are often free or very low cost. Because they are easy to create, there is no need to pay a whole staff of IT people with special expertise (program coordinators or other general staff members can maintain the technology). In addition to the personnel costs saved, there is no significant necessary investment in hardware or software.
3. It’s good for public safety, because these technologies provide new channels of information between the greater public and law enforcement entities. Not only can residents share crime alerts with parole officers, but citizens can also upload their ideas on community safety projects. These kinds of interactions can help build trust and collaboration between community residents and the agencies that police them.
4. These technologies can help criminal justice entities shape and transmit a message and educate the public about relevant criminal justice issues. They also draw media attention and are a helpful tool for spreading the work of an agency to radio, television, and print media.
We may not see parole officers or reentrants walking around with a Sixth Sense device around their necks anytime soon, but there is no reason why we shouldn’t be thinking more progressively about how to use technology in service of justice and public safety.