Case Study: Lotus Domino

By providing essential information on offenders, the Public Protection Register - a Lotus Domino based software application -...

By providing essential information on offenders, the Public Protection Register - a Lotus Domino based software application - ensures maximum utilisation of time and resources

In order to streamline their management of offender supervision, five London Probation Services - Inner London, Middlesex, South East London, North East London and South West London - have started using a Lotus Domino-based software application to monitor the evaluation process of high risk offenders.

Known as the Public Protection Register, PPR is the result of close collaboration between i2N, a Lotus business partner specialising in workflow and commerce solutions, and a senior probation officer. The application runs on the National Probation Service Information Systems Strategy infrastructure, provided to the service by the Home Office and Bull Information Systems Ltd. The system incorporates a feature facilitating the removal of lower risk individuals from intensive supervision, allowing probation officers to concentrate on the most harmful offenders.

Principles behind the PPR

The Register was designed around three principles:

Consistency: all registered offenders must be reviewed regularly to determine changes in their level of risk

Accountability: all decisions pertaining to adding or removing someone from the register must be "signed" by a probation officer and reviewed by their immediate superior. Evaluations must also be "signed" by a superior to ensure they are read and understood by "more than one pair of eyes".

Follow-through: the Register uses Lotus Domino "workflow" capabilities to track the progress of all offenders assessed as being a high risk. Workflow ensures that as each phase of the assessment cycle is completed, the next phase begins at the most appropriate time.

Peter Harraway, chief information systems officer for the Inner London Probation Service says, "The Register helps us in two ways. First, it ensures that we all know who the high risk offenders are, and the nature of that risk. Secondly, it requires us to consider who else needs to be involved to manage the risk. Not every high risk offender will remain so forever and the review process aims to ensure that the level of risk is regularly re-assessed and cases removed if the risk lessens.

"In fact, this is an overall goal of Probation Services. In the past, offenders were reviewed and evaluated as part of a paper process that had become inconsistent and time-consuming. Using Lotus Domino's workflow capability, PPR ensures that reviews take place regularly. This gives us a smoother process to determine whether the level of risk in a case is increasing or reducing, and to take appropriate action in managing the case.

"In the end, risk assessment is a decision involving professional judgement. A computerised process will never replace face to face contact and reviews with offenders, or be more than an aid in the process we follow for evaluation, but Domino has proved a very significant tool in that process," he adds.

That said, Harraway explains that during PPR's first year of use in Inner London, 600 offenders were registered with 200 being removed. "Because we've been able to identify and review assessments, we've been able to refine the process and remove some cases where we believe risk has been reduced. Through a more selective approach we are able to target resources on those offenders where risk is greatest and on managing those individuals, rather than spread ourselves too thinly".

London-wide monitoring

"The Greater London services form the largest Probation Service in Europe, with thousands of offenders to manage," explains Harraway. "At present the Middlesex, Inner London and South West London probation services use the Register to track their case work, with the North East London and South East London probation services coming on stream by summer 1999. Several other probation services outside London are also in the process of rolling it out."

"In addition, subject to appropriate security, we are hoping the Register and Domino will also be adopted by local police services, the new multi-agency Youth Offending Teams, Social Services Departments and other Agencies who come into contact with us and with dangerous offenders, and who have a statutory responsibility to communicate that information in a secure manner.

"We would then be able to make available to them key information about all our Registered Offenders who can move freely about the Greater London area, and indeed, the whole of the country. Since managing risk effectively demands a joint approach from probation, police, local authorities and other agencies, the exchange of information is critical, and has been recognised in powers under the 1998 Crime & Disorder Act.

The changing organisation

"For Probation Services, the benefit of Lotus Domino and the Register has been in ensuring a consistent process with very clear accountability. While we have overall standards and processes, each case is dealt with individually - avoiding one potential pitfall of computerising a service like Probation.

"Domino has very quickly transformed a large, bureaucratic organisation - we don't waste time with paper processes anymore. And because information is in one place, it's much easier for us to respond to the risk audit that The Home Office requires of Probation each year," he says.

"We were particularly surprised at the speed with which we were able to roll it out to our 50 Offices, and 1000 staff; from idea to completion took less than nine months, yet we were able to fund it from within existing budgets.

"The Register has also been a boon for internal learning. In our previous, less open climate, each probation officer tended to keep their case notes very much to themselves and their immediate superiors. However, using Lotus Domino security, we have been able to broaden access to these Case Notes between probation officers without compromising their overall security.

"This is having a transforming effect on our organisation: We can now learn from each other's handling of cases. This is giving us a better-trained organisation as a whole, and improving each officer's ability to evaluate offender risk."

Concludes Harraway, "Finally, high risk offenders are now more closely monitored, and cases appropriately reviewed by managers who can track what's happening. We have improved communication, knowledge, accountability and consistency, and that is key to enhancing our capabilities in managing risk effectively and safely."

Geoff Marshall

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