County tracks youthful offenders

County tracks youthful offenders

Automation catches cases of those who fall through the cracks

By Donna Young

GCN Staff

A mother turned to Missouri's Callaway County juvenile justice system for help. She was hospitalized and had no one to care for her 14-year-old son. The county placed the child in foster care'a safe place for the boy to stay while his mother recuperated.

But the state failed to protect the foster family'a home with several young children. The teen was wanted in another county for allegedly sexually molesting children, a fact not reported to Callaway's juvenile justice officers.

An automated statewide case management system could have prevented the placement of the accused offender in a home with young children, said Lisa Smith, 13th Judicial Circuit juvenile officer.

'We never would have placed the juvenile in foster care had we known about the accusations, but our clients generally are experts at finding ways to ditch us,' Smith said.

Gary Waint, Juvenile and Adult Court Programs Division director, said without systems that share court and criminal justice information, juvenile offices are handicapped by not knowing a youth's complete history in the courts.

Missouri is adopting a statewide integrated justice system that will link all the state's courts with one another, as well as with other state agencies. The system will provide court information online to law enforcement, prosecutors, defense lawyers, judges, court administrators, correctional facilities, probation and parole bodies and associated agencies. Eventually, the system will allow electronic filing of court documents.

The state is using Banner Case Management System from Systems and Computer Technology Corp. of Malvern, Pa. The software runs on Pentium PCs with 128M of RAM under Microsoft Windows NT 4.0 linked to 450-MHz Pentium II Compaq ProLiant servers with 576M of RAM.

As part of the project, every juvenile officer in all 45 judicial circuits now uses Lotus Notes 5.0 to share information.

Technology grants

The state received a $6 million grant specifically for the Lotus Notes network from the federal Justice Department's Community Oriented Policing Services Division.

'There are technology grants available from several federal agencies such as the Commerce Department or the Justice Department's Juvenile Accountability Incentive Block Grant Program,' Waint said.

Missouri's 13th Judicial Circuit Juvenile Division and the Fulton School District are working with the State Courts Administrator Office and the Elementary and Secondary Education Department on a pilot project to track youngsters in the justice system using Lotus Notes.

Participants exchange information about the children and teens via e-mail among schools, juvenile offices and family courts, a process that is easier and faster than using postal mail, telephone or faxed messages.

Waint said the e-mail system is also secure. It prevents student office assistants and other unauthorized individuals from viewing confidential information.

The system includes a file attachment capability for Microsoft Word and Excel documents, and a built-in address book that indexes everyone connected to the network. Return receipts tell the sender when a message has been opened, thereby confirming that the agency or school official has been contacted.

Fulton schools and Callaway juvenile justice officers use the network to exchange juvenile court and protective custody information, as well as the names of students who have received detention, tardiness and truancy notices. Schools also send incident reports online to the juvenile justice office.

Stephanie Horstmeier, deputy juvenile officer, said before the e-mail network was implemented, she wasted a lot of time playing phone tag with school officials.

'It has made our communication much more efficient because we can send an e-mail to a guidance counselor and get an answer back almost immediately,' she said.

Horstmeier said the network has helped her office keep track of youths in the juvenile justice system.

'We had a student that moved from Boone County to Callaway County without telling her juvenile officer,' she said. 'A guidance counselor made an inquiry about the student and within 10 minutes we were able to let the counselor know the student had a scheduled court appearance the next day. If we would have relied on passing messages by phone or mail, the student might have missed her court appearance and then she would have been in worse trouble.'

Jim Roggero, courts information technology division director, said security is paramount for Missouri's juvenile justice project.

'We designed our systems in such a way that we have multiple security levels,' he said. 'Our Lotus Notes network has built-in security so messages can be encrypted.'

Missouri uses Cisco Secure PIX 5.12 Series 520 from Cisco Systems Inc. of San Jose, Calif., for its firewalls.

Complex security

Tennessee's Davidson County officials discovered they had to use more care with juvenile court integrated systems than with adult court systems.

'We had to develop the system in two phases because many of the privacy design rules that work for our adult court system do not work for our juvenile court system,' said Lee Robinson, Justice Information Systems project leader.

The county, which includes Nashville, has hired Unisys Corp. to help develop a juvenile case management system scheduled to launch by mid-2001.

The county uses PowerBuilder 5.0 from Sybase Inc. of Emeryville, Calif., to develop its application. The app accesses an Oracle7 Release 7.3 database and runs on a 550-MHz Pentium III Hewlett-Packard NetServer LT 6000 with 4G of RAM.

Rules for access to juvenile information vary from state to state and can affect an integrated justice system's design.

For instance, a new South Carolina law authorizes its Juvenile Justice Department to notify a principal when a child is charged with a violent crime, weapons charge or distribution of illegal drugs. South Carolina Rep. Chuck Allen (D-Anderson), primary sponsor of the legislation, said the state considered the privacy rights of juveniles when writing the bill.

'We want to make sure any communication from the juvenile office to school officials is exclusively for authorized individuals and not widely disseminated,' he said.

Missouri's Safe Schools Act, however, is more ambiguous. The law says information about juveniles can be shared on a need-to-know basis without clearly spelling out who needs to know and how much information should be shared.

Robert Cohen, child advocate and professor of psychiatry at Virginia Commonwealth University, said it's important to keep the right balance between providing information and protecting the rights of students so that there is no misuse of online information.

'Everyone has to be clear on what their purpose is when they are sharing information online,' Cohen said. 'It's a three-point triangle of making sure children get the right services, while at the same time protecting the community, but also considering the juvenile's right to control how much information is being shared and where the information is going.'

Cohen said he is concerned about juvenile office information being put into school records, as well as teachers discriminating against students based on partial information routed through e-mail.

'I don't think it is an invasion of a student's privacy if we send an e-mail to the juvenile office asking about a student,' said Mark Enderle, Fulton District superintendent. 'I am more concerned about the safety of our schools than what information is being sent by e-mail.'


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