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Tablet PCs On Parole

Georgia parole officers didn't take to laptops, so the state is trying tablet PCs to collect more-accurate data from the field.
Georgia's State Board of Pardons and Parolees needs to keep tabs on about 22,000 onetime criminals, making sure they stay on the straight and narrow once they're released from prison. The board wants to do daily risk ratings of parolees, and it's counting on tablet PCs to help officers collect the data needed to make that happen.

The board several years ago developed a database into which its more than 300 parole officers log information on how each parolee is adjusting to life on the outside. But a database is only as good as the information it receives. Parole officers are responsible for an average of 60 parolees at a time, and they generally take notes in the field and key data into the system back in the office. Giving them laptops didn't help much. Since many officers didn't enjoy typing on small keypads in the field, they'd still do their data entry back at the office.

So the parole board is replacing its laptops with tablet PCs, which more closely emulate the note-taking that parole officers prefer, while still digitally capturing information. By this week, the board plans to have 40 Gateway Tablet PCs in officers' hands. Within a year, it hopes to have all officers outfitted with tablets.

David Sheffield

Parole officers rejected convertible units with keyboards, director of IT Sheffield says.
The board needs up-to-date information to accomplish the next step in its risk-assessment strategy. It's creating a statistical-analysis application for use as a risk-assessment tool that it hopes will be running by year's end. The tool will weigh factors related to a parolee's progress, such as finding a job, attending classes, and staying off drugs and alcohol. "Every night, when the officer replicates the data to the server, we have a program that looks at different factors in the data," says John Prevost, the board's director of criminal justice research. "The next day, a parolee's risk may have gone up. If it reaches a certain level, that demands some action might be taken."

The success of the board's risk-assessment app depends on timely, accurate information, and laptops weren't delivering the mobile data the board had hoped for. "A number of officers weren't using them the way we intended," Prevost says. "They were supposed to untether officers to bring their data into the field."

The field data is more likely to be accurate if officers enter information as they collect it during the day. Parole officers depend on observations to be successful, so they want to get their data legibly recorded as soon as possible to avoid forgetting anything, Prevost says.

The board chose Gateway for its 12.1-inch display, 3-pound weight, and ability to function as a writing slate. "I originally leaned toward a convertible unit with a keyboard, but the officers came back saying the 10-inch screens found on most of those models were too small," says David Sheffield, the board's director of IT.

Gateway's Tablet PC, designed and manufactured by Motion Computing Inc., starts at $1,899 with Windows XP Tablet PC Edition running on a Pentium III processor, 256 Mbytes of memory, and a 40-Gbyte hard drive. A version built with a Centrino system for wireless connections starts at $2,299, but the board has no plans to implement wireless connectivity.

The board's main goal is to help ex-cons who are doing right stay out of prison and get the bad apples off the streets. It also expects the risk-management program to help it stay within its budget. Keeping even 1% of the state's parolees, or 220 ex-cons, from returning to prison unnecessarily saves Georgia taxpayers about $6 million over the span of time those parolees would have been in prison.