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Texting trumps phone tag for offender outreach

Case workers helping parolees and probationers manage the terms of their release are challenged not only by managing the number of cases they handle, but with finding effective ways to communicate with their clients.

Code for America’s latest tool lets case managers directly engage with their clients through text messages sent from their computers or mobile devices. It launched ClientComm with the Utah's Salt Lake County Criminal Justice Services in 2016 to address the problem of individuals cycling in and out of jail because they missed court appearances or court-ordered treatment.

Before ClientComm, case managers had trouble tracking clients who'd moved, changed their phone number or become homeless. Documenting every outreach attempt also meant case workers often spent more time entering data about missed calls than working with clients.

Code for America built a web-based Twilio app that let case managers send and receive texts to clients' phones from their browser, limiting the time spent on phone tag and data entry. The app also meant case workers were much more likely to reach clients.

The Code for America group also built sentiment analysis into the app, using the IBM Watson Message Sentiment add-on offered through the Twilio Marketplace, to score messages as to their positivity or negativity. Knowing how clients seem to have felt when they last communicated helps case workers frame their message and see how those feelings have changed over time.

ClientComm text messages are sent to clients via a single departmentwide telephone number.  Conversations between clients and managers are kept together in individual files, and they can be printed or exported into various case management systems. Case managers can also schedule texts in advance. 

Early results in Salt Lake City showed that failure-to-appear rates decreased, and the tool helped case managers save time as well.

Clientcomm has saved case managers on average over five hours per week, increased communication from monthly to twice weekly and increased the success of pretrial clients from 50 percent to 82 percent over a five-month period, according to an IBM Watson blog.

Code for America is expanding ClientComm testing to Multnomah County Probation Department in Portland, Ore., and the Division of Pretrial Detention and Services in Baltimore, Md.

ClientComm is part of Code for America’s work with law enforcement agencies on safety and justice issues.  Clear My Record is another Code for America tool, launched in response to California’s successful Proposition 47, which allows people with past low-level convictions to dismiss or reclassify their convictions to a lesser charge if time has been served and they are working to improve their lives. The app lets people to fill out basic information on their computer or phone, streamlining the intake process for legal clinics.

About the Author

Sara Friedman is a reporter/producer for GCN, covering cloud, cybersecurity and a wide range of other public-sector IT topics.

Before joining GCN, Friedman was a reporter for Gambling Compliance, where she covered state issues related to casinos, lotteries and fantasy sports. She has also written for Communications Daily and Washington Internet Daily on state telecom and cloud computing. Friedman is a graduate of Ithaca College, where she studied journalism, politics and international communications.

Friedman can be contacted at sfriedman@gcn.com or follow her on Twitter @SaraEFriedman.

Click here for previous articles by Friedman.


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