How New Jersey Courts Created an Automated Risk Assessment System for Judges


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Criminal justice reform is in full swing in the Garden State.

WASHINGTON — State agencies modernizing their business process management systems increasingly find themselves foraying into constituent engagement, and New Jersey Courts is no exception.

NJC Acting Administrative Director Judge Glenn Grant and Chief Information Officer Jack McCarthy have spent the last four years using Pegasystems’ BPM platform to bring about municipal criminal justice reform, beginning with ticketing.

Now they’re re-envisioning parole management, with pretrial release and speedy trial legislation set to take effect on Jan. 1, 2017 and Chief Justice Stuart Rabner having asked for an automated risk assessment system for judges in criminal cases.

“We knew we had the ability to do it, and we wanted to keep our jobs,” said McCarthy at Pegasystems’ Government Empowered forum in the nation's capital on Tuesday. “There’s very little we can’t do in this day and age with the exponential growth of processing power and algorithms.”

Using criminals’ fingerprints as identifiers, a judge can quickly pull up a risk score before deciding whether to free them on bail or their own recognizance. The streamlined process allows criminals at low risk for reoffending to go back to work and their families.

McCarthy’s team may have created the solution, expected to take nine months, in five months, but that doesn’t mean the project was easy.

“It’s an amazing piece of technology, but without a strategy and vision it doesn’t do much,” said Doug Averill, Pegasystems global government business line leader, in an interview.

So IT broke the project into pieces, involved contractors when necessary and pushed anything it could off on other agencies.

The “Pega way” didn’t always mesh with the judiciary, McCarthy said, and eventually his team ran out of money. But “we’re light years from where we came from,” he added.

NJC spent the equivalent of one contractor on six bootcamps training 25 staff members in Pega, and that effort isn’t stopping.

“The real goal is to enable our staff because we know that will pay off in the long term,” McCarthy said.

Pega’s training method is to establish teams of people that codevelop together as they become enabled, building a library of code and ultimately allowing states to even transfer and collaborate on apps, Averill said.

McCarthy is comfortable training new staff and “getting a few good years out of them” before they move on.

“Sometimes it’s easier teaching the new dog the new tricks,” he said. “If you want to go somewhere else after, use me as a reference.”

As McCarthy’s team built out its solution, they made sure to get manager and programmer feedback. Now they’re pivoting to customer engagement to more directly interact with parole officers in the field and make sure they don’t have to, say, retype the 50-something data fields associated with fingerprint records.

Outside of courts, one of the fastest-growing areas for BPM modernization at the state and local level is social services, Averill said.

“A trend we’re seeing is agencies will start with one small process or program and let it expand,” he said.

Dave Nyczepir is a News Editor with Government Executive’s Route Fifty and is based in Washington D.C.

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