Digital Justice Scotland 2016: delivering 21st century justice

This year’s Holyrood Digital Justice Scotland 2016 conference held on 7 December, once again brought together some great speakers who laid out their vision and shared some of the challenges they continue to face in delivering against the objectives of the 2014 Digital Strategy for Justice in Scotland.

As one of the co-sponsors we had the opportunity to present our approach to service design and discuss with the delegates its potential in delivering improved outcomes within the justice sector. Before embarking on the interactive session, we introduced the audience to the positive impact that service design can have on an end-to-end customer experience by firstly taking them through a simple example they would all be familiar with – buying a burger.

Then we presented a high level offender journey from being convicted to release back to the community and asked the audience to highlight the gaps and risks to the business and offender in the end to end journey. Our method was very visual, we kept the user journeys simple to plant the idea of service disruption by design and we challenged the participants to focus on how offenders are interacting with services and what outcomes are needed at each stage of the journey.

Mark Macrae presents at Digital Justice Scotland 2016
Mark Macrae presents at Digital Justice Scotland 2016

The session highlighted a number of areas where digital technology could be used to improve ways of working, for example:

  • Offender self-service access to services such as money management, organising visits, buying essentials, scheduling education and work activities etc.
  • Reducing repetitive administrative tasks for Prison Officers and freeing them for more value adding face to face services for the vulnerable
  • There was also a strong theme of improving information flows, both on arrival at prison and exit back into the community.

Common Themes

Several strong common themes kept reoccurring through the day:

  • Progress on delivering the vision of the Digital Strategy for Justice has been slow since its publication in 2014. The Rt Hon Leonna Dorrian said “we need 21st century attitudes” and that “it’s not about tinkering” when considering the much needed policy and cultural changes required to transform justice processes.
  • Austerity is having a significant impact on the ability to deliver digital transformation but I believe a positive aspect of this is that it is forcing a closer look at what can be re-used within an organisation with integrated services helping to leverage current investment.
  • Empowerment is an important driver in the delivery of services for staff and victims / witnesses / offenders within justice processes. In the last session of the day Susan Gallagher (Acting Chief Exec at Victim Support Scotland) demonstrated how far they’ve come in digitally transforming the charity to be truly focused on user (victim) needs. Interesting that a charity can move so quickly compared to government organisations…

Sopra Steria’s service design approach puts the user at the heart of the process. It challenges you to examine the pain points, map out the business needs and customer expectations and identify the required outcomes. It enables you to understand what is needed to change ways of working.

If you’d like more information on our approach to service integration or service design please get in touch – leave a reply below, or contact me by email.

Empowering prisoners through technology – let them eat fruit

At a recent Digital Leaders Salon in London, Professor Cynthia McDougall from York University presented her research into a pilot project where a small number of prisons have introduced self-service kiosks.

The kiosks allow a prisoner to take responsibility for activities that would normally be undertaken by prison staff. These include checking the balance of their private cash, choosing and ordering meals, and booking social visits, gym and education sessions.

Cynthia and her team measured the impact of the kiosks on a number of factors, including: ease of use by the prisoners; their reaction of this added responsibility; how this influenced their interactions with prison staff; and the amount of staff time released for other (higher value) activities.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, as the public sector is increasingly asked to maintain good performance at a lower cost, attendees from the National Offender Management Service (NOMS)  were keen to understand the potential cashable savings. Technology suppliers, however, focused on the opportunities available to sell technology products and services into HM Prison Service.

But for me, as somebody whose working life has straddled both sectors, the more unexpected and intriguing finding of the study was that the purchase of fruit from the canteen increased by over 50% following the introduction of the kiosks. Rather than depending on a paper form, prisoners now had access to pictures of the options available, and could use their personal savings or wages to exercise a more informed choice.

This makes the process more akin to the online grocery shopping experience that is increasingly popular outside prisons. Many of us stick to the same old grocery shopping list every week. For those who need help with reading and writing, it is all too easy to tick the same item on the prison canteen list rather than risk choosing something they do not like or did not want.

The kiosks open up a world of possibilities and choices. Healthier lifestyles can help improve people’s sense of well-being and self-worth. Prisoners are no different.  People have to want to improve and, like everyone else, need encouragement to start and persevere.

Looking beyond the administrative efficiency of the prison and canteen, I was heartened to hear that, when given some personal control via the kiosk, many prisoners chose fruit. The imaginative use of technology, and new ways of empowering prisoners to make informed choices, can support prisoners to get fit and prepare for healthier lives when they go back into the community.

Discover more about Sopra Steria’s experience working in the Justice sector.

Sopra Steria is proud to support Digital Leaders, helping to organise and host digital salons for both Digital Leaders Scotland and Digital Leaders Northern Ireland.

Digital Justice in the near future

What might the justice system look like in 2020?

Here’s a fictional example of the digital technology that could be used to manage cases…

“The police are called to a shoplifting case in a local supermarket. In the process of trying to leave the premises with stolen goods the accused allegedly assaults a security guard before being held awaiting the police. He has no ID on him and is reluctant to give his name. The police officer uses an app on his smart radio which carries out a facial recognition check to attempt to confirm his identity. The smart radio receives an instant response from the central justice hub with a photo match and informs the police officer of the accused’s full name and address and that he has an outstanding fine payment from a previous offence. Before the police leave the shop they review and upload some CCTV evidence to the central justice hub and attach it to the electronic police report they’ve created on the spot. The police report is sent directly to the Crown Office case marking queue for them to decide how to proceed. After escorting the accused to the local police station their work on this case is complete. As they arrive at the police station a notification has already been received from the Crown office that the accused can be released on conditional bail. After being informed of the bail conditions and electronically signing his acceptance the accused is free to leave.

Fast forward to a Skype meeting between the accused, sitting in a private booth in his local library, and his defence lawyer, sitting in his office. The defence lawyer has direct access to the CCTV footage which clearly shows his client stealing from the shop but only partially shows the alleged assault. They decide they’re ready to proceed to a trial.

Fast forward to the day of the trial. The presiding judge arrives at court and checks his case management work queue. He has three cases to hear in the morning but attends to other business as the live attendance dashboard informs him that none of the cases have all their attendees in the court building yet.

The defence lawyer has already checked in electronically at the court and is concerned that his client is not present. One of his client’s bail conditions was to allow his phone location to be tracked and when his defence lawyer checks this via the central justice hub he sees that his client is two streets away from the court house. Two minutes later he receives a notification on his smart phone that his client has arrived and has been checked in automatically based on his proximity to the court house reception. As everyone is now present, the judge receives a notification in his work queue to indicate that one of his three cases is now ready to proceed. He updates the case record to notify the accused, his defence lawyer, Crown prosecution representative and the single witness that the case will commence in 5 minutes.

As the trial actors enter the court room the judge briefly reviews the case file summary on his screen. The accused has, prior to the trial date, accepted that he is guilty of shop lifting but denies assaulting the security guard and the judge sees that this is the only relevant point to be debated.

A short while later the judge decides that the accused is not guilty of assault and issues a fine for the shop lifting offence and orders the offender to agree a payment plan to pay his previous and new fine before leaving the court house. The court is cleared as the judge notices on his work queue that all participants in another of the two remaining morning cases are now in attendance and are ready to be called. This time he issues a 15-minute notification to allow him to complete and close his first case file.

As our offender has a mobile phone he agrees a 12-month instalment payment plan to be paid via his mobile phone bill. He also accepts that his location will remain trackable until the final payment is made. He has the choice to pay the balance or more than the monthly payment at any time via the courts mobile website. As soon as the fine balance is clear his location will no longer be trackable.”

So what are the benefits?

Easy access to data that enables and supports the process

  • identity assurance – we quickly know exactly who we are dealing with
  • early access to case data – e.g. CCTV evidence may result in earlier pleas and fewer cases going to court
  • previous convictions – a more holistic view of the offender

Offender tracking

  • tracking can be used to monitor current, and predict future trends
  • soft sanctions that may help reduce re-offending

More efficient court scheduling

  • less time wasted waiting for cases to proceed as they are called in the order of availability meaning all case actors have an incentive to turn up on time (this is already happening in Malaysia)
  • more control placed in the hands of the presiding judge

Greater visibility and control of collecting fine payments

  • new payment channels reduce volume of desk or phone payments with more accurate, automatic reconciliation
  • additional payment channels for those who may not have a bank account

But there are challenges…

  • greater data sharing trust needed between justice organisations
  • creation of shared infrastructure to host centralised resources
  • potential changes to legislation e.g. to allow location data to be gathered and stored

Do the benefits outweigh the challenges? I think so, but what do you think? Leave a reply below, or contact me by email.