Monday, October 03, 2005

Automated Probation System Used in Dallas

A pilot program permitting allegedly low-risk offenders to check in with an automated system rather than Dallas County probation officers has been set up in Dallas.

The probation kiosk program was instituted last year with the goal of using machines, not personnel, to monitor offenders considered small threats to society — leaving more officers free to supervise high-risk probationers. The system could save labor costs while also giving the department increased funds to hire additional officers for higher-risk individuals, said Jim Mills, the probation department's interim director.

But a probation office database showed that, of the 900 offenders who have used the system so far, nearly half were on probation for driving while intoxicated, and 20 had been convicted of drunken driving at least three times, making them felons. The Dallas Morning-News reported Sunday that about half of the offenders using the kiosk also were on probation for other felonies, including drug dealing, burglary, engaging in organized crime and robbery.
The officers' union said in a statement that it worried about the system's use, despite the potential benefits.
"The department's risk assessment instrument is statistically unreliable and woefully inadequate in determining which offenders are appropriate for kiosk," the statement said.
Judge Don Adams, the newest member of Dallas County's 15-member felony court judiciary, said he was skeptical of the system's methods and asked probation officers not to allow any offenders he sentenced to use the kiosk.
"I didn't think it was good from a public safety perspective," Adams said.
A consultant hired to evaluate the probation department recommended that probationers such as repeat DWI offenders be ineligible for the kiosk system. Sex offenders, arsonists and individuals convicted of any aggravated offense are already ineligible.
But despite his own suggestion, Dr. Tony Fabelo said he doubted the county had the capacity to efficiently categorize offenders.
"They have no quality control," Fabelo said.
But Mills said that, despite the early stage of the program and the lack of solid statistics, he hoped to purchase additional machines and enroll more probationers to save time for more grave cases. While the system eliminates human contact, he noted that there is no guarantee offenders will not repeat their crimes even when they are meeting with a probation officer.
Similar automated systems are in use in California and Indiana.

Click here for the full story as reported in the Austin American Statesman