The U.S. Courts Federal Pre-Trial Services is the agency that has the first contact with a criminal defendant accused of a federal offense. After an offender is arrested, an officer from the agency interviews him and his family to obtain background information so the court can make an informed decision regarding bail for the offender.
“The information collected is used up and down the line in the federal court systems to that they don’t have to reinvent the wheel,” says Phil Reyna, who served as chief U.S. Pre-Trial Services Officer, U.S. Courts, Waco, Texas, for 34 years.
The process used to be time-consuming and error-prone. An officer interviewed the offender and his family while taking handwritten notes, a process that usually lasted about an hour. The officer would then go back to his office, have a clerk type up the notes he had taken during the interview, and then upload that information into the court database.
That process has been transformed with the introduction of digital pen technology from Adapx and Anoto. “It has streamlined the court system,” says Reyna. “Now, once the officer writes something down, it is instantly available to everyone. The process is quick and accurate.”
Officers follow practically the same procedure they followed before: interview the offender and his family and take handwritten notes, this time with the digital pen. Once the interview concludes, the officer wirelessly uploads the information from the digital pen into the court database.
“You can make the data behave exactly the way you want it to,” explains Reyna. “You can write business rules to see the information that you want to see, and you don’t have to go through the offender’s entire file to find it.”
What prompted the change to digital pen technology? “We were being asked to do more with less,” explains Reyna. “We wanted to streamline the workflow process from obtaining the data through uploading it.”
Reyna says that they first tried laptops, but that consumed even more time than the pen-and-paper method. “That solution had a lot of hoops to jump through before the officers could upload in the information to the database,” says Reyna.
The agency turned to the digital pen solution because there was no learning curve and no process interruption, since they were using the same process as before, just with a different pen.
Accuracy increased with this deployment, as the human-error element of the clerk typing in the notes was removed from the equation. “The error rate decreased from 4% or 5% to 0% over a one-year-study,” says Reyna.
But accuracy isn’t the only thing that improved with the digital pen implementation.
“Written reports were streamlined and officers became more efficient,” says Reyna. “Officers’ accountability increased because they felt a sense of ownership over the entire process.”
Reyna finds the digital pen to be robust and secure. “You can’t destroy it,” says Reyna. “And it passed muster on every objection we had regarding security. All of the information is encrypted on the pen. If it is dropped or lost, you can quickly disable the encrypted information.”
The popularity of the digital pen technology with the officers is easily observed from the rollout stages of this project. “Initially we were going to start with a rollout to 10% of officers and wait three months before rolling it out to the next set of users, with a complete rollout over two to three years,” explains Reyna. “But the officers didn’t want to wait; they all wanted to get on board with this deployment as soon as possible. So instead the rollout was done over nine months to a year.”
Other court systems have seen the process improvement with the digital pen rollout and are interested in similar solutions of their own. “The taxpayers’ money was definitely well spent,” concludes Reyna.