Can Technology Ease Pain of Budget Cuts?

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Indianapolis Judge Marilyn Moores spoke at a juvenile justice conference in Dallas in 2007 about how her jurisdiction solved a massive problem with referrals to court from local schools. But it wasn’t her truancy court model that had people hanging around for half an hour after the presentation. It was her laptop.

More specifically, what was on her laptop screen.

Moores had mentioned that her court uses a case management system that enables her to read and rule on motions from thousands of miles away. The program, called Quest, also allows virtually every person involved in the child welfare and juvenile justice systems – prosecutors, defense attorneys, caseworkers and probation officers, among others – to access information about their cases, create court documents and update them.

The judge had inadvertently unveiled what many of those who lingered afterward had long been seeking: a system that can unclog court calendars while providing greater access to reports and documents for anyone involved in a juvenile or family court case.

The anecdote pleases but does not surprise Bill Gottlieb, one of the architects of Quest, who two decades ago set out to find the best juvenile court management system, and then copy it. But he and partner Ron Wertz discovered that most juvenile justice systems used adult corrections software or none at all.

Twenty years later, that’s still true for most jurisdictions.

Efficiency: A sample screen of a (fictitious) case file that can be called up through Quest.

While the impact of technology isn’t always as measurable as programs or policy changes – case management software won’t directly lower recidivism rates or automatically improve case outcomes – officials laud these systems for helping them tend to routine matters faster, leaving time to focus on more complex and crucial matters. Quest has spread to Florida and Maryland; an Arizona program called JOLTS was customized for systems in Michigan and Oklahoma; and Cincinnati developed its own system.

“The judicial process runs smoothly, orders are done in real time, and reports and statistics are generated with a push of a button,” says Jamie Schumaker, court reporter for LaPorte Circuit Court in Indiana, which started implementing Quest in 2003 and has had it fully operational since 2007.

At a time when budget cuts will force many systems to do more with less, the right case management systems could become essential.

A Frustrating Hunt

Gottlieb and Wertz are not youth workers; both are techies and family men living just outside Marion County, Ind. They paired up in the late 1980s, when Gottlieb was working for PricewaterhouseCoopers (then Coopers & Lybrand) as a program manager on justice system technology projects, and Wertz co-owned a technology consulting company.

Instant Documents: Court staffers can create orders and documents instantly through templates such as this.

One of Gottlieb’s projects was JUSTIS, a system that managed information on adult prisoners in Indiana. He hired Wertz to help. Soon after finishing the adult facets of the JUSTIS project for Marion County, they started their own company, called Gottlieb & Wertz. And soon after that, Marion County hired them to use $500,000 from the JUSTIS project to install a case management system for juvenile and child welfare systems.

Gottlieb was amused that the adult system commanded so much money and attention, while the youth systems were served only because money was left over. From a data-processing standpoint, Gottlieb says, the adult projects were much easier.

For adults in prison, “Nobody cares who their parents are, what schools they go to, most of their demographic information,” Gottlieb says. “Cities will spend millions on adults and choke on $100,000” for a system to manage youth services.

At first, he and Wertz were to do little original work for the juvenile project. Their mission was to copy Arizona’s Juvenile On-Line Tracking System (JOLTS), probation management software that was developed in 1979 by Maricopa County (Phoenix) and implemented in other Arizona jurisdictions. Many officials were astonished at what that system allowed them to do.

“My first research project involved getting information down there,” says Gregg Halemba, who is now director of applied research for the National Center for Juvenile Justice (NCJJ), in Pittsburgh. “I was amazed at what I could get through JOLTS.”

When he joined NCJJ soon after that project, he says, “I was surprised there weren’t many places that had something similar.”

Gottlieb and Wertz quickly installed JOLTS in 1990, believing they could make it work for Marion County – to an extent. But on some of the functions the county wanted, Gottlieb says, JOLTS “stunk.”

Gottlieb & Wertz developed its own system that offered more services than JOLTS. After seeing some test applications, Judge James Payne, who preceded Moores on the juvenile bench and is now the director of the state Department of Child Services, told Gottlieb and Wertz to build a Marion County system from the ground up “and replace JOLTS the moment we were done,” Gottlieb says.

The Cadillac of Case Management

The two men emerged in 1992 with Quest – a data and information repository that, in its most robust usage, runs top-down from the judge’s office. Judges, clerks, probation officers, lawyers, schools and detention staffers make all the updates directly into the system that are required of them in a juvenile’s case.

Judges can typically view all of the information at any time, Gottlieb says. Other users are generally limited to the active cases they are handling. Almost any computer that has a basic Web browser and supports Java can operate it.

How does a system like Quest help? For one, everyone sees the same information. For example, a time change for a dependency hearing is sent to all the interested parties. If a youth on probation is detained overnight, his probation officer knows about it as soon as he signs on to the system in the morning. If a foster parent goes before a judge complaining about a caseworker not helping him or visiting him, the judge can immediately access, from the bench, all reports and notes filed by the caseworker, and determine what’s going on.

One problem that court staffers told Gottlieb about was that after juveniles were adjudicated, they would be sent to a probation officer to relay the conditions of their own probation. “They could just say, ‘Judge said I’m done, I’m free to go,’ ” Gottlieb says.

Now, a judge’s orders are electronically available at the desk of the probation officer before the youth gets there.

Moreover, with case information now centralized, everything is easier to analyze, says Gael Deppert, who coordinates Marion County’s participation in the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative.

“Quest is the foundation of our jurisdiction moving into making decisions based on data, rather than gut feel,” Deppert says.

For example, the county eliminated a slate of detention orders, which had been issued automatically in the past, once Deppert and others used Quest to see that most of the youth detained on such orders were lower risk and better suited to supervised release.

Another benefit is efficiency. Gottlieb recalls the first time he saw Judge Payne’s office. There were two flat surfaces. One was Payne’s desk, the other a table covered with piles and piles of manila folders, all containing documents for his review and signature. After Quest, all of those documents could be reviewed, approved or rejected on the system by the judge, whether he was sitting in his chambers or, like Moores in Dallas, drinking coffee in the lobby of a hotel’s convention hall.

What most set Quest apart from JOLTS, which performed many of the same functions, is its “order creation” capability. It uses standard templates to create orders that are issued frequently. A judge can issue an order from the bench, have it completed and printed by the clerk in the courtroom, sign the order and have it in the hands of lawyers and other parties in five minutes.

“That used to take hours,” a Marion County family court clerk says.

Access Issues

The pitfalls of Quest appear to involve primarily questions of access. Jorge Rodriguez, a deputy public defender for Marion County for more than a decade, says his office used to be able to access probation officers’ notes of meetings with their young clients. That access has been limited to the point where public defenders must request access on a case-by-case basis and be prepared to press their arguments to a judge.

“There certainly have been squabbles” over access to the system, Gottlieb says. He recalls an instance when the prosecutor’s office looked up an open case at a school, and the entire list of youths at that school with open cases appeared on the screen. The prosecutors’ office allegedly printed the screen-load of cases and sent it to school administrators. Payne was not pleased.

“He was pissed. He revoked their authority for a couple days,” Gottlieb says. Ultimately, Payne had Gottlieb change the software to limit access so that a prosecutor or public defender can see only open cases assigned to them.

A more serious breach of security occurred in Baltimore, where information on high-profile cases was taken from Quest and leaked to the media. Gottlieb and Wertz enhanced the monitoring capability for court staff there, so a judge can see immediately who views what information and when.

The Slow Spread

Quest is in full use in the 10 Indiana counties that make up about 75 percent of the state’s juvenile caseload. Gottlieb and Wertz are slowly trying to put Quest in jurisdictions around the country.

Baltimore’s juvenile justice system has used Quest for years, with the exception of its probation department. The Miami-Dade County’s Juvenile Services Department’s Quest system is slated to be in place by April 20.

Miami-Dade has received a lot of attention for juvenile justice success recently, but Wansley Walters, director of Miami’s Juvenile Services Department, says more progress has been stymied because its programs are hard to track and evaluate. The arrest and intake staffs use one software system to file information, while the department’s case managers use two different systems to file their reports and data.

Trying to get data to weigh the effectiveness of programs takes an inordinate amount of time, Walters says, and it is nearly impossible to display results and practices for jurisdictions that want to study Miami’s system reform efforts. She says that “having the ability to do aggregate collection from casework and other records, it is just going to revolutionize everything [at] warp speed.”

Why are jurisdictions like Miami-Dade, Maricopa County and Baltimore still the exception in their use of such software? NCJJ’s Halemba says he wondered about that back in the 1980s, before the dawn of e-mail and Web-based applications. It’s downright baffling to him today.

One reason might be that nobody has really marketed such products. Until recently, Gottlieb and Wertz have been content to manage their Indiana clients. JOLTS was exported in various forms to other states, including Michigan and Oklahoma. But its architects, John Barrett and Steve Stillwell, have retired, and Maricopa County no longer uses it.

The other main entity in the juvenile justice case management field is the system in Hamilton County (Cincinnati), Ohio, which was built in 2000 by Proware, a Cincinnati company. The company established a similar system in Summit County (Akron), Ohio.

Gottlieb & Wertz only recently began to branch out, perhaps at just the right time. The recession has forced budget reductions in many states, and staff cuts are possible at courts, probation departments and secure facilities. Already this year, Pennsylvania and Connecticut have indefinitely delayed their plans to hire and train a slate of much-needed juvenile probation officers.

The shrinking pool of funds places efficiency at a premium. If the cost of hiring more workers or evaluating programs is out of the question, investing in a contemporary case management system might be a smart use of money.

“Every court should have something like this,” Halemba says. “And most don’t.”

Contact: Gottlieb & Wertz (317) 471-9005,