Archive for April, 2012

Educating your constituents

Friday, April 27th, 2012

Today’s post is again penned by Dennis Doffing, our National Sales Manager, Service Providers. As a reminder, he has shared his knowledge most recently about working with reporters when enrollee-related incidents happen in your agency. He’s also provided guidance on using the robust reporting capability in VeriTracks to document and support your agency’s evidence-based practices. As always, I appreciate his willingness to share his knowledge with my readers.

In this post for Utterback"s Utterings I want to discuss the importance of improving the awareness of your Electronic Monitoring program to your constituents through education. Constituents, as defined here, are everyone with a vested interest in your EM program. This can include funding sources, referral sources, public support agencies, client support groups and other key public officials. By title they are legislators, commissioners, judges, prosecuting/defense attorneys, public defenders, Sheriffs, jail administrators, victim advocates and many others. So many different people and groups are stakeholders in local programming, such as offender supervision, it makes sense to keep them up to speed on just what you are doing.

Why educate; what’s the benefit
A planned education session is very helpful to show your constituents the technology, hardware, software, program rules, policies and other aspects of your operation in an objective setting. Today all agencies have increasing responsibilities many times in conjunction with significant reductions in budget allocations or stagnant budgets, which becomes a reduction over time. All of which can create an urgent feeling to take the least complicated resolution to individual cases or broad classifications of cases.

The situation can over-simplify the handling of individual cases or offenders by backing the diverse group of constituents in your program into their individual roles and not necessarily looking at the larger picture. For example, defense attorneys will advocate the use of GPS as an alternative to jail while maintaining public safety and offender accountability. Alternatively the prosecution will advocate for the use of jail or other more stringent sanctions. This is the job of these constituents as part of the criminal justice system"s checks and balances. And what is the outcome of this situation? The loss of determining if a sanction or program is applicable to the situation because the whole picture and the goals of the program aren t visible or understood this results in each party fulfilling a specific role.

Who to educate and how
In the past, I successfully submitted a two-hour education curriculum to a state bar association"s Continuing Legal Education group as well as a state"s Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) group. Attendees from both groups earned Continuing Education Units from their respective professional organization. The curriculum for both was the same and used nearly identical materials.

I put together a panel of people to speak on various aspects of the EM program, including the manufacturer"s rep, the local program coordinator and, even a judge who was an early supporter of this alternative. Equipment was scattered on the tables for attorneys, police officers and jail staff to handle and study. Packets of information included basic promotional materials, program rules, offender contracts and referral information. A computer and projector allowed us to show reports, alerts and tracking data on demo clients so everyone could view how the system worked and what information was provided to the agency with the EM program. Participation in the forum was active with lots of questions. It was a good forum for all the stakeholders to hear the same answers together as well as start discussions on who may be most appropriate to refer to the agency"s EM program. The common ground covered in the educational forum helped with future discussions among the various stakeholders and created better understanding of the program and its goals and objectives.

Continue the dialogue
Another way to provide ongoing updates and information is through a newsletter or blog (such as this one!). If your department has a newsletter, blog or social media presence, see if you can become a regular contributor by providing updates on new technology, law changes, ongoing statistics, etc. Telling readers/followers how many jail days were saved or juvenile detention stays avoided in the last month/quarter is powerful information. What percentage of clients successfully completed the program last quarter? And of those not successful, why not?

Finally, keep track of the constituents showing interest in your efforts to provide ongoing objective data and information. If an event happens in or near your jurisdiction, you can quickly contact this smaller group of interested constituents to provide whatever background or position your agency may have and help diffuse a problematic situation or further a positive one.