David Hagy, Deputy Assistant Attorney General
Principal Director of the National Institute of Justice
Tenth National Court Technology Conference
October 3, 2007
Thank you, Mary (Mary McQueen, President of NCSC).
It’s a pleasure to be here to talk about what we at the Office of Justice Programs are doing, and should be doing, with our partners in the judiciary.
Our work with judges and court administrators is a key element of our mission at OJP, but it doesn’t always get the same amount of air time as our work with law enforcement, prosecutors, and other groups.
We’d like to change that, and this conference is a good place to start.
I know that the focus of this conference is on the application of technology in the courtroom setting, but in looking at the agenda, I see an even broader theme – namely, improving courtroom operations. And while OJP, through its various bureaus and offices, certainly is looking at ways to adapt technology to court functions, I’d like to discuss those efforts in context of that more general theme of enhancing judicial administration.
Partnership with NCSC
I’d like to begin by acknowledging the excellent partnership we’ve had with the National Center for State Courts.
OJP has enjoyed a very productive relationship with NCSC, addressing everything from court statistics to court security to information sharing.
We continue to work with them to keep on top of the issues facing court administrators and other judicial personnel.
One of our key collaborations is on the Court Statistics Project, which is a project administered by our Bureau of Justice Statistics that collects and analyzes caseload data on the nation’s state trial and appellate courts.
It also looks at how courts actually function, giving us a good glimpse of administration and staffing issues.
Later this month, we expect to release the next big product of that initiative, a report on state court organization and trends in judicial data collection from 1987 to 2004.
That report will look at court management and staffing to address growing caseloads, as well as issues such as the development of unified court systems.
Along those lines, we support efforts to apply technology to court-related statistical research.
For instance, our State Court Processing Statistics Project collects case processing information on defendants charged with felonies in the nation’s 75 most populous counties. We’ve encouraged our data collection agent, the Pre-Trial Justice Institute, to use an Internet-based survey program as a platform to allow for real time feedback.
Criminal History Records
Of course, one part of courtroom management is the ability of courts to participate in the effective sharing of criminal justice information.
Our National Criminal History Improvement Program, or N-CHIP, as we call it, is run by our Bureau of Justice Statistics, and its purpose is to make sure that accurate criminal history records are available to various components of the criminal justice system, including the nation’s courts.
As of 2003, state criminal history repositories held more than 71 million criminal history records, and about 94 percent of those records were automated.
These records contain detailed information about persons having contact with the justice system.
It was through the N-CHIP program that automated criminal history files became available to court professionals.
This has allowed them to make important decisions regarding pretrial release, career criminal charging, and determinate sentencing.
Many N-CHIP awards have involved direct funding for courts or court-related activities.
For example, here in Florida, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement has undertaken a project with the Florida Association of Court Clerks to research and obtain missing disposition data. The goal of that project is to provide judges, clerks of court, and state attorneys electronic access to sentencing and commitment data.
And just to the north of us, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation is working with the courts to develop a new case management system that will allow electronic transmission of disposition data from the courts to the central criminal history repository.
These are just a couple of court-centered activities made possible by N-CHIP.
We’re also working with NCSC and the FBI’s Criminal Justice Information Services Division to develop a Web-based training module to improve the quality of information associated with domestic violence protection orders that are forwarded from states to the National Crime Information Center.
This is all part of a broader effort to improve the quality of our nation’s criminal history records.
Of course, the quality of criminal justice information is only half of the equation. The other half is the ability to share that information.
We know that courts are hubs of criminal justice information. Clearly, the participation of courts in information sharing efforts is critical to public safety and national security.
The Office of Justice Programs manages the Department’s Global Information Sharing Initiative, or Global, as we call it.
The purpose of Global is to promote promising policies, practices, and technologies for the secure sharing of criminal justice information.
A key element of that effort is the Global Justice XML Data Model, which helps to facilitate the exchange of information between justice system agencies.
A follow-on to that, the National Information Exchange Model, takes that a step further by expanding this capability to all public agencies.
The National Center for State Courts has been intimately involved in our efforts to standardize data exchange, and its work with the nation’s court systems has helped to improve our capacity to share information across the criminal justice and public safety spectrum.
The next step is to provide the architecture to allow that exchange.
NCSC has developed a Justice Reference Architecture that provides guidance on improving interoperability and suggests technical specifications for information sharing.
NCSC is now working with our Bureau of Justice Assistance to design a strategy to help court managers and justice leaders follow that guidance.
Also part of that project is the creation of a pilot registry that will serve as a repository for standardized information, as well as the establishment of a framework of standardized performance measures.
We’re in the early stages of those efforts, but I’m hopeful that they will bring us closer to the day when key criminal justice information is available and searchable by all players in the criminal justice system.
Continuity of Operations/Pandemic
Another concern of ours at the Office of Justice Programs has to do with the continuity of courtroom operations.
I know that those of you from the Gulf Coast area have a special place in your heart for this issue. You saw first-hand the havoc that a disaster like Katrina can wreak on the functions of the justice system.
Environmental considerations aside, there’s not much we can do to prevent another Katrina.
Moreover, recent events have shown that we’re faced with the threat of a global medical catastrophe that would test the limits of governmental capabilities.
We estimate that, should a pandemic occur, some 40 percent of the workforce will be unable or unwilling to report to work.
The White House Implementation Plan for its Pandemic Influenza Strategy incorporates the safety lessons we learned after Hurricane Katrina.
Our Bureau of Justice Assistance has undertaken a project to help prepare justice system officials in the event of a pandemic.
In April, we published a set of guidelines for courts on emergency preparedness planning. The guidelines address coordination with public health agencies, legal questions related to isolation and quarantine, considerations of privacy and civil liberties, case consolidation, and other issues.
NCSC was central to that effort, and they continue to work with us on this issue. Currently, we’re working to develop on-line training curricula on using the guidelines and helping court administrators put an emergency plan in place.
This is part of a comprehensive effort to help all state and local criminal justice agencies prepare for a pandemic.
And I encourage you to go to the Web site we’ve created, which acts as a document reference library and portal for justice agencies. The URL is www.pandemicflu.gov.
In addition to continuity of operations and improving information systems, the Office of Justice Programs is working to enhance courtroom administration through research.
In addition to my role as Deputy Assistant Attorney General, I serve as Acting Principal Deputy Director of OJP’s National Institute of Justice, which is the Justice Department’s research, development, and evaluation component.
NIJ has a substantial portfolio of criminal court research and court-based program evaluation initiatives, and one of our goals is to determine how we can enhance service delivery in the courtroom.
NIJ has supported a number of projects that center on court operations and case management, covering everything from judicial oversight in domestic violence cases to the appeals process in capital cases.
In partnership with the National Institute of Corrections, NIJ recently convened a meeting of stakeholders to discuss our pre-trial research agenda. Important decisions regarding detention, risk and needs assessment, and sentencing are made during the pre-trial stage, so the perspective of court officials is key.
We’re also working to gain a thorough understanding of the effectiveness of problem-solving courts – drug courts, mental health courts, reentry courts, and others.
For instance, we recently released a longitudinal study of the Multnomah County Drug Court that tracked 10 years of program participation.
Our research found that re-arrests were lower among drug court participants than non-participants, and that cost-savings were substantial – to the tune of more than $12,000 per probationer when all costs are factored in.
We’re also in the midst of a five-year multi-site evaluation of adult drug courts. That study is looking at the impact of drug courts on a variety of things, including service access, compliance, and recidivism.
And of course this research goes hand in hand with efforts in other parts of OJP to support problem-solving courts.
Our court-centered research activities extend into prosecution, defense, and sentencing as well.
NIJ has invested in several projects that examine sentencing issues in particular. Court administrators, judges, and sentencing commissions regularly use information systems to make decisions about offenders. Our goal is to develop models that can be used to incorporate sentencing guidelines, and that can project community, jail, and prison populations and associated costs.
NIJ also recently awarded a grant to the National Forensic Science Technology Center that will enable crime labs to exchange forensic information with courts.
But we want to know what more we can do. We want to know where further research is needed, especially in the area of court management.
I invite you to send us your ideas. A member of my staff, Linda Truitt – although she couldn’t be here – agreed to be the reception point for your thoughts. You can send her an e-mail at Linda.Truitt@usdoj.gov.
We talked about this, and she’s ready to hear from you. Please let her know your ideas for research. We want to know that what we’re doing back in Washington is responsive to your needs.
I hope this information has been helpful, and I hope you feel good about the work we’re doing to help you improve your courtroom operations.
I want to thank our partners at NCSC for their partnership, and I want to thank all of you for your time and for all the good work that you do.