Guest Post: You Be the Judge – Part II

Ed. note: This post is the second in a series that began with Judge Schlegel’s contribution to the ABA Center for Innovation’s blog. You can read that post here.

Can an additional $750 a year be used to reimagine the criminal justice system, improve the practice of law, and positively impact lives? You be the Judge.

As we all know, recidivism rates in this country are unacceptably high. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, 67.8% of released prisoners in 2005 from 30 states were arrested for a new crime within 3 years, and 76.6% were arrested within 5 years. So how do we reimagine the criminal justice system and positively impact lives with less than $750? One simple word: technology. If we use existing, inexpensive technologies and repurpose those technologies, we may be able to increase public safety, reduce recidivism rates, and become more efficient with the limited resources available.

Consider this brief summary of what you could accomplish this year with an additional $750 and time, of course.

For $236 a year, you could build a website that provides important information to the public, criminal lawyers, and felony probationers. If you visit the 24th Judicial District Court’s Smart Supervision website today, you will find a description of our two Smart Supervision criminal justice programs (Reentry Court and Swift & Certain Probation), obtain all of the necessary forms for these programs, obtain information about careers and legal aid, and have access to a calendar. And if you were a Smart Probationer, you could access all of the contact and program information you would need to succeed, right from the home screen of your phone on the Smart Probationer page, which is designed to look like an app. By tapping into available local resources, the Court is also able to provide additional links to helpful community partners. Smart probationers can access a map of available service providers, schedule group classes, and reach out to a live, trained, community specialist, no matter the hour or day, by simply clicking on a “chat with us” button (an upcoming feature that will only cost the Court $120 per year). You could also integrate an e-mail list as a way to collect working addresses for each probationer. This automated e-mail list is another simple, cost-effective way for the Court to communicate with probationers.

In addition to providing critical information to participants in your program(s), you could you use the same website to build a legal aid page that contains information about the outstanding legal needs of certain inmates. Our legal aid page allows pro bono lawyers to conveniently select any outstanding issues they are willing to address on behalf of an inmate before release. Collateral consequences are a real problem for those under community supervision, and this legal aid page could help facilitate the reduction of those barriers to success.

We have learned over the years that one way to reduce recidivism rates is to train ex-offenders and help them get a job so that they can earn a livable wage when they reenter society. Your $236 website could be used to pair potential employers with inmates while they are still incarcerated so that they could be economically prepared well before their release. Through our Reentry Court program at Angola Prison, we train inmates in 1 of 14 trades and post their resumes approximately 6 months before release. That way employers who are willing to offer jobs to individuals with criminal records can interview and hire pre-release. Potential employers are able to view candidates’ resumes and photos online before deciding to request an interview or additional information. If employers decide to move forward, they simply need to press the “learn more” button to send the case manager a message. We can even set up a video interview at the employer’s convenience while the offender is still incarcerated.

For an additional $209 a year, you could create an online calendar for criminal dockets and stagger the appearance times, which will help case flow. You could also set up multiple automatic reminders via text and e-mail before hearing dates to cut down on the number of arrest warrants issued for failures to appear.

This same calendaring technology could be used for civil dockets as well, because access to justice is not just a criminal issue. This simple, inexpensive technology not only makes the courts more accessible to everyone, efficient and cost effective, it also improves the lives of busy lawyers. By posting the civil docket calendar online, lawyers are able to select a mutually convenient hearing date without spending time calling the Court. And after scheduling a hearing, they receive a link that can be used to add the hearing date automatically to their calendars. The system also sends out reminders and a link that lawyers can click on at the appointed time if they prefer to attend pretrial conferences by video. Integrating this video conferencing platform only costs an additional $150 a year.

As an added bonus for the criminal justice system, this same $150 platform could provide you with an encrypted communications platform. Our Smart Supervision Team, which includes the Judge, Prosecutor, Defense Attorney, Probation Officer(s), Social Workers(s), Counselor(s), Minute Clerk(s), and other law enforcement, use this platform to communicate with one another in real time. As a result, we can all be more responsive to the needs of the individual probationers, hopefully before it is too late.

And there you have it: simple but revolutionary changes to the justice system with a $750 price tag. Can you imagine what we might be able to accomplish with $1500 a year? You be the Judge!

The Hon. Scott U. Schlegel serves as District Court Judge, Division “D” 24th Judicial District Court in Gretna, LA.

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