The Criminal Justice Enterprise

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In the late 1990’s, the Office of Justice Programs in the U.S. Department of Justice conducted a series of focus groups of justice practitioners on the general topic of information technology and the needs of the field. The overwhelming outcry of these focus groups was that the various systems previously implemented were not compatible and could not exchange information, leading to duplicate data entry as the normal behavior rather than being the exception. The cry from the field was that "our systems can't talk to each other."

Early efforts to apply computer technology to support operational processes generally led to what are now called “silos”, or “stovepipes”. Such systems are labeled in this way because they do not work together well in exchanging information, or because they end up being so organization-centric that there is no easy way to extract and re-use data that has been previously entered, leading to an enormous amount of redundant data entry. For some years now the antidote to such designs has been to persuade system designers to think about “enterprise” information systems, in which the information system serves all components of the enterprise and minimizes redundant data entry while protecting data integrity.

To apply this thinking to the criminal justice world, it becomes essential to clearly define what constitutes the “enterprise”. Is it the individual agency (police, prosecutor, court, corrections agency) or is there a definition of the enterprise that covers all such participants in the administration of justice? It is not simply a question of defining stakeholders. The flow of information throughout an organization or across organizational units must be defined and given meaning in the architecture of the system or there will inevitably be controversy and criticism as well as significant waste. We have come to think of the exchanges of information between organizational units as services to be shared and therefore we conceive of a service oriented architecture that provides a framework for their interaction.

The first national call to consider the criminal justice system as the enterprise in linking the various component disciplines intelligently came from the Task Force Report of the President’s crime commission in 1967. It was argued in this report that the various components of the justice system were linked by their common focus on the offender, and by the fact that the processes underlying law enforcement and the administration of justice were a series of connected steps of the administration of justice. To any reasonable practitioner, the use of the word “system” implies a much stronger relationship than actually exists, and in no way can the criminal justice system be construed by any engineering definition of the term to actually be a system. However, it remains true that the product of various stages of arrest, prosecution, adjudication, and supervision rely on the output of prior processes to define their workload, and it is certainly true that data collected in earlier processes can support many subsequent transactions.

So if we take the meaning of the word “enterprise” to imply a collection of processes and people organized around common purposes, then it is completely accurate to have a mental construct of the criminal justice system as an enterprise. Under this construction, decisions about the design and implementation of an enterprise information system can be based on this concept. We can then confidently address the exchanges between the criminal justice enterprise and other enterprise systems such as public health emergency management, international trade, etc., and then begin to truly identify and document what we mean by the edge of the enterprise.

If the design and development of an enterprise information system takes into full account the transactions and exchanges that are important at the edge of the enterprise, it makes us indifferent about the exact boundaries we create for the enterprise.  this is particularly true if there are common standards of language and form that persist across the boundaries (edges) of the enterprise so that, for example, social workers and mental health professionals can share information with justice personnel to collaborate on reducing recidivism.