American Probation and Parole Association Releases Issue Paper on Leveraging the Power of Smartphone Applications to Enhance Community Supervision

APPA Paper on Leveraging the Power of Smartphones to Enhance Community Supervision

The American Probation and Parole Association (APPA) technology committee has released a comprehensive issue paper, “Leveraging the Power of Smartphone Applications to Enhance Community Supervision,” that addresses the use of smartphone applications installed on a client’s personal device, or a device provided to the client, to be used in support of the community supervision process. The following provides a summary of key points.

Approximately 69% of the correctional population is under some form of community supervision, yet only 12% of corrections spending is directed to probation/parole services. Cellular phone technology may be used to directly influence behavioral change through real-time communication with an individual’s supervising officer. Cell phones can be a cost-effective option to expand supervision capabilities and provide officers a fast, convenient way to communicate with clients:

  • 95% of individuals aged 18-29 own a smartphone (81% of all US adults)1
  • Smartphones enable individuals to stay accountable and easily connect with supervising officers:
    • In-app messaging
    • Internet resource access
    • Video conferencing through camera
    • Bluetooth breathalyzer capability
    • Location monitoring or remote check-ins

The two primary options for supervising agencies is to purchase and provide smartphones to clients (corporate-owned) or to require individuals to use their own personal smartphones, Bring Your Own Device (BYOD). Regardless of which option agencies select, the following considerations should be determined prior to deployment:

  • Corporate-owned devices are more secure however BYOD programs are cheaper for the supervising agencies because individuals cover the total device cost
  • Continuous Tracking (continuous GPS) versus Periodic Location Sampling (random GPS check-ins) both offer different benefits and impact to officer workload
  • Agencies must determine which smartphone data will be collected and used to avoid officer information overload
  • Another key factor is whether the app integrates with an existing agency or service-provider case management system or whether officers must perform additional administrative work (i.e. dual system data entry)

The following breakdown shows the primary differences between using a corporate-owned device versus BYOD:

Client Location and Identity Confirmation

Location monitoring may be a useful tool in monitoring an individual’s compliance. Periodical Location Sampling confirms client location through random biometric check-ins. A biometric identifier such as a fingerprint, voice or faceprint, is used or an officer may require a secure credential or password during location check-ins. Low-risk individuals who do not require “on-demand” monitoring may benefit from this feature. Continuous Tracking gathers location data continuously using GPS, which typically requires a secure, body-worn device and/or a Bluetooth tether, creating a two-piece monitoring device when paired with a smartphone. This solution may be better for moderate- to high-risk individuals who have demonstrated non-compliance or an unwillingness to carry a smartphone.

Smartphone Supervision Functionality

The following smartphone and application features are currently available:

Remote Reporting and Supervision

  • Individual remotely submits employment status, living arrangements, or other desired updates or reports; supervising officer determines frequency (scheduled, random, immediately prompted)
  • Officers conduct a live interview or home walk-through using the device camera, inspecting the contents of drawers, cabinets, refrigerators, etc.

Calendar Event Management

  • Remind clients of court appearances or therapeutic appointments (may reduce failure to appears rates by up to 30%)
  • Calendar events can be linked to location-based services to provide an officer alert if the client failed to appear as scheduled

Positive Reinforcement Tool

  • Smartphones are less conspicuous than stigmatized supervision tools (e.g. ankle monitors)
  • Deliver positive reinforcement through instant officer communication via text messaging, or automated programmed responses to desired behavior

Connecting Clients with Resources

  • Phones have internet access allowing clients to visit employment websites, find information regarding healthcare or addiction treatment, and other positive providers
  • Some apps aggregate existing resources that are most useful to the client (conditions of supervision, cognitive behavioral or life-skills training materials)

Additional Functionality

  • Link the smartphone to a Bluetooth enabled breathalyzer
  • Link the smartphone with third-party drug testing services so the client receives notifications
  • Pay court fees, fines, or other treatment costs

Legal and Ethical Issues

Using smartphone applications to gather individual location data may be considered a form of electronic monitoring in some jurisdictions, so agencies must determine if the court or Parole Board permission is required prior to deploying the program. Ethical concerns may be raised regarding whether a supervising agency should be able to activate the device camera or audio functionality at will. Agencies should determine whether they may mandate the client’s use and functionality of the smartphone and prohibit their use of a secondary personal device. Lastly, agencies should create clear policies regarding when the phone would become subject to search and seizure.

Read the full issue paper.

1 Pew Research Center, Global Attitudes & Trends, “Smartphone Ownership is Growing Rapidly Around the World, But Not Always Equally”, February 4, 2019.

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