Section II

Tech Tools Used by Justice Stakeholders

Law enforcement, courts, legal services, corrections, and probation and parole agencies are using technology in innovative ways. New projects include automated notifications, communication platforms, automated generation of legal forms, and various smartphone apps.

Law Enforcement Applications

According to the Pew Research Center, 92 percent of Americans have cell phones and 80 percent use text messaging. The ubiquity of mobile technology creates opportunities for enhanced communication between justice system stakeholders and citizens. Law enforcement agencies are taking advantage of the new tools to interact with the public through various programs and platforms.

capture_Swift911 Swift911 makes it easier for justice agencies to send notifications to users. The product sends texts, calls, faxes, or social media messages to citizens from public agencies. While it was developed for emergency situations, the platform can be used in a variety of situations and it can provide multiple language services to reach more communities.


BeSafe.CityPic23 uses trend analysis of public data to inform citizens via text messaging. In Jersey City, New Jersey, it relies on open datasets standardized through the SpotCrime Open Crime Standard. The program may identify an increase of car theft or burglary in a particular neighborhood, for example, and it then sends a text to residents informing them of the increase and reminding them to take precautions. The program relies on an algorithm that could work with any type of data, including health, human services, and public safety.


Court Applications

Courts are improving services and communications through a wide range of portals and applications. The following projects are examples of how court systems are improving their ability to interact with the public.

CourtBothelps people navigate the court system after receiving a traffic violation. Citizens interact with the SMS texting project to learn about their court obligations and to sign up for automated text messages. The program provides payment information, including a hyperlink for paying citations immediately.


capture_matterhorn Matterhorn is a web-platform for people facing low-level misdemeanors or violations. The platform allows individuals to clear up legal issues without a trip to the courthouse. The platform creates a web portal for individuals to receive plea deals, communicate with courts, and to pay fines.


capture_MohaveCourt The North County Kiosk in Arizona’s rural Mohave County Superior Court allows users to access the county’s courtrooms and to make remote court appearances (Ward 2015). Users may pay fines, get forms, and file documents using the kiosk. The court also created posters that include QR codes to allow citizens to easily retrieve information about court calendars and directions.


Correctional Applications

The Internet has made communication easier for everyone, including incarcerated people. While several companies already provide prisons with phones and video services, new efforts to use modern technology are proliferating in the field of corrections. provides a suite of services to help incarcerated people to communicate with family and friends. The service allows users to contact people outside of the prison with local phone numbers, avoiding long distance charges. Other products, including “Print,” “Photo,” and “Letters” allow individuals to send hard copy letters and photographs.


capture_betweenthebars Between the Bars is a blogging platform created and operated by the MIT Center for Civic Media. Internet connectivity is often limited or prohibited in prisons. Between the Bars allows incarcerated users to submit hand-written blog posts and scan them to the project. Volunteers transcribe and publish the posts to an online blog. As readers leave comments, the project mails the comments to prisoners.


capture_yelpprison Yelp Prison Review Faxbot encourages formerly incarcerated people to evaluate their prison experiences via Yelp. While Yelp has numerous jail and prison reviews, administrators are unlikely to see them. The project monitors prison accounts on Yelp and when a new review is posted, an automated process makes copy and faxes it to the administrator of that facility.

There are a few programs around the United States that teach software development skills to incarcerated people. Code 7370 in California’s San Quinton State Prison teaches prisoners to code in HTML, JavaScript, CSS, and Python languages. When Internet access is not allowed in prison, proprietary software simulates coding online. Code 7370 is a part of the larger Last Mile program, which started as a six-month entrepreneurship course for people about to leave prison. This includes a “pitch day” where investors come to the prison to fund ideas or find new employees. Similar programs exist for juveniles, such as Baltimore’s Code in the Schools.


Intake and Referral Applications

Numerous social and legal services may be needed when people become involved with the justice system after an arrest or citation. Paper remains the standard platform for many legal and social service providers, but some projects have started to incorporate technology in innovative ways.

Friendly is a form builder and document assembly tool created by SIMLab. Based on a user’s answers to specific questions, the platform can create a packet of relevant documents to assist individuals as they try to navigate the justice process.


Project Legal Link is a clearinghouse of legal services that helps social service providers connect clients with legal help. The site lists broad categories of legal issues like immigration, housing, and criminal justice and then provides subcategories for specific issues like warrants, tickets, infractions, and criminal records. In each category, the site provides information on the legal providers focusing on that particular issue, including contact information and hours of operation.


Expunge apps like Smart Chicago’s are logic trees, defined by a series of questions that determine whether users are eligible to expunge their criminal records. For those who qualify, the app typically provides a web-form to refer users to legal services for additional follow up. After the launch of, other versions have been developed in Maryland, Louisiana, and Washington D.C.


Community Supervision Applications

Technology has taken community supervision far beyond the ankle monitor. A number of companies created dynamic notification services and smartphone applications that modernize communications and enhance the functionality of pretrial release, probation, and parole supervision.

TestNotice is a platform that works alongside courts and substance testing agencies and companies. For a fee charged to the client, the application sends text or voice updates when the substance-testing agency requires a new sample. The goal is to improve communication between individuals clients, courts, and testing companies.


The Outreach Smartphone Monitoring (OSM) is a smartphone app that allows justice agencies to monitor individuals on community supervision in a cost-effective manner. The app is used by parole and probation services around the U.S. to provide geo-monitoring, appointment reminders, video conferencing, compliance reports, sanctions and incentives, and it includes Bluetooth-enabled breathalyzer capability. The cost, which may be shared by the agency or the offender, ranges from $1.00 to $4.00 a day.


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