Originally published June 20, 2011
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 corrections 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 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.”