Technology That Works: An Overview of the Supervision and Management Automated Record Tracking (SMART) Application

Article excerpt

Criminal justice practitioners know that effective information management can be the difference between a successful and an unsuccessful agency. Line staff must maintain and update complex offender records that often include information from multiple sources. As a result, the system should provide easy access and an easy-to-use interface to encourage staff to enter data in a timely manner. At the same time, managers must be able to trust the data that the system produces. The programming behind the interface must accurately reflect how cases move through the agency. In short, criminal justice information systems have to look very simple and yet act very sophisticated.

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Community corrections information systems make particularly complicated demands on system architects. Offenders change residences and jobs frequently, and come in and out of contact with family and friends. As the nation's capital entered a new era in community supervision, a new information system was built enabling electronic case management, rather than time-consuming data entry. The Supervision Management and Automated Record Tracking (SMART) system combines case management functions with an emphasis on agency performance. A hand-held version of the new system (SMART lite) will soon accompany officers into the field to allow real-time data entry and access to case records. As the federal Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency (CSOSA) Director Paul A. Quander Jr. stated. "Our information system reflects our commitment to best practices and innovation. We recognize that accurate information is critical to our ability to protect the public."

CSOSA'S CREATION

Established by Congress in 1997, CSOSA assumed probation and parole supervision of about 14,000 offenders from, respectively, the District of Columbia Superior Court and the D.C. Board of Parole. CSOSA also inherited both agencies' antiquated and poorly maintained information systems. "From the beginning, record-keeping was a tremendous challenge," said Tom Williams, CSOSA's associate director for Community Supervision Services. "We knew that the old systems were hard for the officers to use and contained lots of duplicate or incomplete records. It was a real challenge just to keep [the systems] functioning, and they were often down."

Since its inception, CSOSA has set out to transform community supervision in the District of Columbia. From two chronically underresourced and understaffed agencies, CSOSA set about building a model community corrections agency based on research-driven programming and operational best practices. With congressional support, CSOSA implemented a community supervision model based on four key operational concepts: risk and needs assessment, close supervision, treatment and support services, and community partnerships. Additional resources enabled active and monitored caseloads to be dramatically reduced, from more than 100 offenders per officer in 1997 to an average of 50 today. The agency built capacity to provide substance abuse treatment and educational programming. Supervision officers moved out of a centralized headquarters and into field locations closer to the offenders on their caseloads. CSOSA established valuable partnerships with neighborhood organizations and other criminal justice agencies such as the District's Metropolitan Police Department. "CSOSA emphasizes community and supervision equally," said Cedric Hendricks, CSOSA associate director for legislative, intergovernmental and public affairs. He added, "Our mission is to improve public safety. We know that to do that, we have to be an active presence in the community."

Agency managers never lost sight of the need to improve information management both to increase operational efficiency and to enable CSOSA to report results. Although an interim system was developed in 2000 to combine data from the two legacy systems, this was always viewed as a short-term fix. …