January 28, 2005
Radio-frequency identification has caught the attention of the world's biggest retailers for tracking goods as they move through supply chains. But the DeKalb County Juvenile Court in Georgia believes RFID can be put to use on a smaller scale, to keep tabs on the 12,000 manila file folders on more than 9,000 children processed through the court system each year.
It's estimated that DeKalb County Juvenile Court clerks spend, on average, 10 hours per week looking for lost files needed for judges, clerks, and other court personnel. With RFID, the goal is to eliminate misplaced files to ensure that judges have the data they need to make quicker decisions.
"We have about 2,200 cases of neglect investigated every year and between 1,100 and 1,200 kids in foster care at any given time," Judge Robin Nash says. "My assistant spends about two hours daily trying to track down files on the three floors of the courthouse, and we believe the RFID system will become a huge labor savings."
The court system found out last week that it will receive $50,000 from the Georgia court's $5.7 million annual budget to install an RFID system from 3M Co., says Dale Phillips, the director of court services for the DeKalb County Juvenile Court. The 3M RFID Tracking System would save at least $30,000 a year in productivity gains, Phillips says.
Although tags for the deployment will cost about 80 cents each, a return on the investment could be realized in less than two years, Phillips says. Other courthouse divisions are investigating RFID, and the county's information systems department also is considering deploying the technology throughout DeKalb, he says.
The DeKalb County Juvenile Court RFID system will use labels with passive semiconductors from Texas Instruments Inc. that transmit on the 13.56-MHz frequency. Readers, handheld devices, and necessary software will come from 3M. The system comes with software that connects to a Microsoft SQL Server database to track the movement of files.
The package will link into the county's court case-management software, ACS Contexte, from ACS Inc. There's also an RFID File Locator that will let users search via their PCs for files based on specific criteria such as file number. A Pad Monitor that connects with the RFID readers would be installed on computers either to check in or check out files. System Manager software will let administrators import data from the records-management software, program the tags, and import and export information to the portable handheld device.
The court system has scheduled a site assessment this week to determine the reader configuration. 3M will visit the DeKalb County Juvenile Court to examine how files move through the judicial system and the record-management software already in place, how files are created and stored, and what criteria is used to identify the folders. 3M also will review who has access to files once they're created and how many times and for how long files are checked out. Testing will be done to determine the optimal reader and tag locations.
At the court, judges have PCs on their court benches and carry Research In Motion Ltd.'s BlackBerry handhelds equipped with E-mail. Phillips says he's exploring ways to overhaul the IT infrastructure and make all processes paperless, including an electronic filing system that would create automatic dockets.
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