Consolidated platform speeds criminal justice

Consolidated platform speeds criminal justice

The process for taking action against someone arrested for a crime in New Jersey has long been laborious. It involved two systems and tons of paper files, some of which a police officer would drive around collecting and delivering – not an efficient use of anyone’s time.

But that’s starting to change. New Jersey Courts has begun implementing Pegasystems’ Pega 7 platform to help move information electronically through the pretrial judicial process from start to finish, the company announced April 19. Essentially, Pega 7 centralizes several systems, automates processes and makes real-time decisions about a defendant’s pretrial path using a rules engine.

“Whenever there was an opportunity to … put the next event in front of somebody, we’re doing that,” said Jack McCarthy, CIO for New Jersey Courts. “It’s really sped up the process; it’s given greater transparency through law enforcement, the defense bar, our judges, our staff,” he said.  “I wanted the decision makers to have as much information as they possibly could. If something was sitting in a file folder in a room somewhere, it didn’t help the judge make the decision. If I could put that information in front of the judges and make it part of their decision, I think it was a win for everybody.”

The software uses visual models to capture business processes, rules, data models, user interfaces and integration points and then combines all that with real-time decisioning capabilities. The state is rolling out the system incrementally, with full implementation expected in January 2017.

McCarthy compared how legacy process with how it will work when the new system is fully deployed:

Historically, officers making arrests first had to enter information into the state fingerprint system. Then they would access the courts’ complaint system and re-enter the information. The fingerprint and complaint records would also have to be manually linked, which was happening only about 70 percent of the time, McCarthy said.

Next, the officer printed the complaint and sent copies to the court, prosecutor, legal teams and the defendant. A municipal court judge then decided whether to issue probable cause on the complaint, which generated yet another paper trail.

“It just became an inefficient system,” McCarthy said.

Soon, when law enforcement officers enter arrest information into the fingerprint system, it will go automatically to the State Police and to the courts. That means that when officers enter data into the complaint system, “they can click that arrest record and it pre-fills 53 data elements into the complaint for them,” McCarthy said. “We got rid of the double, redundant data entry; we got rid of any mistakes they’re making.”

What’s more, when the officer clicks a fingerprint record through the complaint system, the two documents will link automatically, a solution McCarthy hopes will translate into a 100 percent compliance rate.

When officers submit a complaint, it will go to a digital case file that they can send to the courts. Administrators will get a notification, issue probable cause and send it to a superior court for instant access by judges, public defenders and others who need it. “It sits in our electronic case jacket,” McCarthy said. “There’s no reason to print the official records for the courts because we’re storing an electronic copy.”

That storage happens locally on the courts’ legacy mainframe, he said, but users can access the system remotely.

This new workflow also assembles the information that helps judges determine whether defendants are a flight risk or likely to commit another crime if they’re let out on bail. Before the automation, someone had to perform a risk assessment by researching how many times a defendant showed up in one of the court’s systems and why -- a process that typically took 45 to 60 minutes. With automation, that happens in less than a second, thanks to the algorithms written into Pega 7, McCarthy said. “There’s a huge return in savings where that individual who’s doing those risk assessments now can be doing other type of work: interviewing defendants, providing information to the judge,” he added.

Additionally, Pega 7 can pinpoint hang-ups in the process with statistical analysis. “In the past, it was all anecdotal information. Now we can see in the system how long it takes to do various things,” McCarthy said.

The courts are currently in the pilot phase, testing and validating the software and algorithms.

“We’re like a little toddler that’s just stood up for the first time and has taken those first couple steps --  and that’s about where we are right now in this journey,” he said. “In a month or so, this kid is going to be running around the room… and eventually he’ll get out the door and take off and keep running.”

About the Author

Stephanie Kanowitz is a freelance writer based in northern Virginia.

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