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Offender check-in relieves officers.


Thank you for calling the D-Risk automated probation check-in system. If you're calling from a touch-tone phone, please press the zero button now ..."

This cheerless computerized greeting spells relief for Charleston, W.Va., and other law-enforcement jurisdictions with overcrowded prisons and overworked probation departments.

An interactive offender-monitoring service developed by Digital Corrections Corp. of Riviera Beach, Fla., makes some low- and medium-risk offenders under probation

Minor Offenders

Probation officers in Charleston have been using D-Risk for over a year. It helps supervise minor offenders in cases like welfare fraud, substantially reducing Kanawha County's prison population.

Used with a two-year-old house arrest program, the voluntary D-Risk program has cut some officers' case loads by as much as 15%.

The house arrest program lets non-violent offenders serve time in their own homes and keep their jobs, provided they observe strict limitations and curfews.

More than 100 offenders have participated in the D-Risk program. Only 12 have had to be removed for violations.

Chief Probation Officer Jack Myatt says he's "amazed" more people don't try to lie to the system.

"There's something about talking to a machine," Myatt observes. "People have a feeling that it can tell whether they're lying or not."

The system's "clients" must call into the computer via a 1-900 phone number. The charges for those calls are added to their monthly phone bills.

Asking Questions

The computer asks questions to verify caller ID numbers and passwords. Once into the system, the caller answers questions including "have you changed your address?" "have you changed employers?" and "have you been rearrested?"

Their answers are recorded by touchtone keys or verbally.

D-risk is especially handy for out-of-state probation cases, Myatt reports. It lets people under supervision enter changes of address easily. Many probation cases are released to temporary addresses with relatives or in motels, Myatt explains. They often move soon after finding jobs. If out-of-town law officers can't keep track of such address changes they may refuse to supervise cases.

"The computer program itself knows when they're supposed to call," says Myatt. It also lets probation officers leave detailed messages for callers.

Charleston hasn't yet taken advantage of the system's ability to generate calls out to offenders. This is useful in verifying they're at home when they're supposed to be.

Since D-risk cost Charleston nothing to implement, Myatt says, no competitive bid process was required. (The city already owned the Digital Corrections D-Tain system used in its house arrest program.)

In some cases Digital Corrections may actually return a portion of D-Risk revenues to subscribing law enforcement agencies, says Digital Corrections President Scott Roberts.

How It Works

A high-volume automatic call distributor (ACD) records offender responses, along with the time, date, and origin of each call, for review by probation officers.

The ACD then feeds calls into a voice computer, which interfaces an advanced PC. The PC interfaces a file server, like an IBM AS400, over a Novell network.

" To do a credible law-enforcement application," Roberts states, "you need a PC with 100 to 300 megabyte hard-disk storage and a very fast processor." A standard 286 or 386 PC, he adds, lacks the speed and processing power needed.

Complex software and microprocessing allow users to change questions without notice, said Roberts.

The system supports a P01 grade of service, Roberts says. Available on a selective basis throughout the U.S., the service was expected to support a 50,000 call volume by press time.

Some big cities are lining up to use the technology, reports Roberts. But other large departments appear to have mixed feelings.

Delayed installation

Officials in Cook County, Ill., postponed installation until they see how a similar project in New York City fares. Cook County (Chicago) has the largest single probation department in the country.

The jurisdiction still plans to go ahead with its project, but progress has been slow. Customizing the system to Cook County's application required a little debugging. If an offender missed a scheduled call-in, for example, the probation department had to determine how many hours to allow before issuing an exception report.

"The technology is so novel," Myatt says, "the people are just finding out how it can help them." A jurisdiction in the Detroit area is testing D-Risk to compile monthly reports on probation cases.

Dick Irrer, new program manager with Michigan's Department of Corrections, plans to have offenders call in to answer a series of recorded questions. This will allow probation supervisors to set up in-office visits only when reports indicate they're needed.

Though results aren't complete, Irrer likes the product's quick returns and positive publicity value.

Michigan already uses an ankle-strap electronic monitoring system made by BI Inc. for higher-risk inmates in halfway houses.

D-Risk has caused something of a stir in the law enforcement community. So far, though, few jurisdictions seem willing to risk implementation glitches when public safety is at stake.
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Title Annotation:Digital Corrections Corp. D-Risk automated probation system
Author:Jesitus, John
Publication:Communications News
Date:Jan 1, 1990
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