Integrated Justice Is Needed Nationwide to Improve Outcomes and Prevent Senseless Tragedies
Posted on April 1, 2022 by Bob Kaelin
On July 23, 2007, a home invasion occurred in Cheshire, Connecticut. During the invasion, the family that owned the home suffered numerous horrors — the husband was severely injured when beaten with a baseball bat, while his wife and two daughters were murdered; the wife and one daughter were sexually assaulted. The perpetrators then burned down the house to destroy the evidence.
This senseless, horrific tragedy very well could have been, and arguably should have been, prevented. But it wasn’t – solely because an integrated justice information-sharing environment didn’t exist in Connecticut at that time.
Integrated justice simply means the ability to share data seamlessly and bidirectionally across the entire public safety/justice/corrections ecosystem. Entities include 911 centers, law enforcement agencies, prosecutor and public defender offices, court systems, correctional systems, and parole and probation agencies. Each needs access to vital information to make the best-informed decisions possible. But that information often isn’t available for a variety of reasons — more on that in a bit — and when it isn’t, the results can be disastrous.
The Cheshire home invasion stands as a classic example of this. The two perpetrators were parolees — despite having had long and violent criminal careers. One of them had been arrested nearly 30 times while the other had committed numerous violent crimes. If a system of integrated justice had existed, it is virtually certain that the parole board would have had access to their criminal history records and would have denied their parole requests.
But this information never was received by the parole board, which released one of the perpetrators in 2006, and the other in 2007, just three months before the home invasion. As a result of this incident both now are serving life sentences without the possibility of parole; they originally had been sentenced to death, but these sentences were commuted by the Connecticut General Assembly, which had abolished the death penalty in 2015.
Let’s examine some of the most common obstacles that prevent integrated justice from taking root
- Focus: The notion of integrated justice first was expressed at least two decades ago, but more pressing events — from the 9/11 terrorist attacks to military conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan to the recent COVID-19 pandemic — have kept the concept stuck on the back burner.
- Funding: Further, the global financial crisis of 2007-2008 set the public sector back almost a decade in terms of its technology replacement cycle.
- Stovepipes: Most organizations, and the communications networks and systems they operate, are standalone entities, aka “stovepipes,” which makes data-sharing between them virtually impossible. Further, when such organizations move to replace aging infrastructure, they typically do so solely with their specific needs in mind. This is the proverbial “can’t see the forest for the trees” scenario.
- Governance: Governance in the public sector that would enable organizations to seamlessly share data is missing. Policies and procedures need to be established to ensure that data can get to where it’s needed — for instance, to a parole board that is considering whether to grant early release to two inmates — and to ensure that the data only can be accessed by those authorized to do so. One of the biggest obstacles to developing data-sharing interfaces involves getting the involved entities to agree to share the information in the first place.
How integrated justice can provide both public safety and equity
One of the most valuable tools in an integrated justice system is the ability to conduct an enterprise-wide records search. Integrated justice searches, whereby an organization can query and retrieve data from multiple sources via a single application or tool. These sources could include the following:
- A 911 center’s computer-aided dispatch system
- A police department’s records management system
- A sheriff’s office jail management system
- A prosecutor office’s case management system
- A court system’s case management system
- A parole/supervision office’s case management system
Any integrated justice model and governance developed for this purpose should include an indexing feature. This means establishing a global repository of indices that align with the data generated and stored by each entity in the ecosystem.
Let’s say that a judge wants to know everything about the criminal history for “John Doe.” A federated search would identify all indices pertaining to this person that exist across the ecosystem; only those indices for which the searcher has privileges would be identified. Opening those indices would reveal all documents related to John Doe, e.g., 911 call recordings, incident details captured by the CAD system, arrest records, previous convictions, and more. This intelligence will enable the judge to make better-informed decisions regarding whether to grant bail, how much bail to set, and sentencing.
Avoiding that tragic call to action
A common obstacle that should be considered is that a tragedy often has to occur before public sector organizations take action to address shortcomings.
The Cheshire home invasion offers another example of tragedy sparking significant change. In 2007, in response to this incident, Connecticut launched a comprehensive assessment of its criminal justice processes. That assessment led to legislation, passed in March 2008, that toughened its penal code — among the changes was that home invasions became a new class of crime punishable by prison sentences up to 25 years — and provided funding to expand criminal justice information sharing across the state. Today, an integrated justice environment exists in Connecticut, with a key feature being indexed searches. In fact, this feature is the favorite aspect cited by Criminal Justice Information System (CJIS) users.
The first step toward establishing such an environment is for justice ecosystem organizations within a jurisdiction to take a step back and see the bigger picture, i.e., how interconnection/integration with other allied entities will enable integrated justice, which in turn will advance not only their individual missions but also that of the entire ecosystem. The second step is to proactively pursue integrated justice — don’t wait for a tragedy to occur first.
MCP can provide ample support in this regard, from building the roadmap for success, to developing data governance, to guiding implementation of standards-based solutions that are flexible and extendable, to helping organizations see beyond their stovepipe, to promoting the vision. Please reach out.