Getting Tech Savvy in the Cell Block

Craig Stevenson, Supervisor, Diagnostic Unit, Court Services Program

January 2015

When an arrestee is brought to the DC Superior Court cellblock, PSA completes a screening that includes 200+ items. Until recently, this was done manually with pen and paper and then the information was key-entered into the Agency’s automated management information system. Although nearly 40 years ago, PSA was the first pretrial services agency to institute an automated case management system, it’s only recently that technology has allowed the completion of interviews in the cellblock to become automated as well. This technology has enabled PSA to streamline the interview process and improve data accuracy significantly.

In 2012, PSA contracted the development of an electronic application to be used on iPads with the capability to capture real-time data and prepopulate information already available in our system. During the 6-month piloting of the application, several program bugs were identified and resolved. One of the lingering issues is Wi-Fi connectivity since the cellblock is located in the basement level of the Courthouse where access is limited.

Prior to the tablet technology, it typically would take 7 to 10 minutes to complete the interview questionnaire form and another 7 to 10 minutes to key-enter the information into PRISM. With the tablet, completing the questionnaire takes about the same amount of time, but the step of key-entering the information into PRISM is eliminated – thereby cutting overall interview time in half. This time savings is critical, particularly on high lockup days when time is of the essence and arraignment court is expecting 80% case completion at 1:00pm. Utilizing the tablet also guarantees more complete information since the interviewer cannot proceed without making an entry for each item. Information entered on the tablet is more accurate. Rather than needing to be transferred from a hardcopy form into PRISM, the information is uploaded immediately and accessible to all users.

Though a contractor was used to develop the application, PSA’s IT staff was trained to program changes and manage any bugs. Now that the interview process has been streamlined, the next step for PSA’s IT developers is to revise the application instrument so that it matches our risk assessment instrument.

Full implementation of this technology will require an increase of Wi-Fi access points to have greater bandwidth and coverage and training of all staff in using the tablets for interviews.

Once implementation is complete for the diagnostic interview process, PSA plans to expand use of tablets to other aspects of working with defendants that could benefit from streamlining – such as recording release orders in court, checking in defendants for drug testing and other appointments, and conducting mental health assessments.