County Jails Unlock the Secret to Fewer Calls

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Sheriff's deputies in central California's Stanislaus County handle prisoner intake and releases, monitor more than 40 security cameras, and let visitors, employees, and vendors in and out of the secured doors at the county jails. They also answer the phones.

Up until December 2012, Sheriff Adam Christianson found it impossible to hold even the briefest of conversations with his deputies working the control center at the facilities. "[They] were constantly answering the phones. It was nonstop," he recalls.

Christianson says the calls so overwhelmed deputies that they couldn't do much besides answer calls and manually search the jails' computer database for inmate case information.

This was a source of frustration for the sheriff, who is responsible for four jails, with a daily population of about 1,300 inmates. "It was concerning to see how distracted [deputies] were by the relentless ringing of the phone," Christianson says. It was also "very inefficient" to pay a highly trained deputy sheriff just to answer phones, he points out.

So the sheriff was naturally interested when Sgt. Chad Blake proposed a cost-effective solution that would lessen the number of calls the deputies had to answer. That solution was the Telerus Automated Information Service (AIS), an interactive voice response system specifically designed for correctional facilities.

Telerus, a Denver-based company acquired earlier this year by Securus Technologies, serves dozens of facilities, from ones with populations of about 50 inmates to those housing about 5,000, in 35 states across the country.

With the Telerus AIS, speech recognition–driven menus provide answers to the typical questions friends and family have when someone is arrested: Where is he? What are the charges? How much is bail? Where do I pay it? How do I pay it? When can I visit? When is his court date? Where is the courthouse? When will he be released?

Now when callers dial into the jails' phone system, they are prompted to state the nature of their calls. Callers seeking inmate or case information are redirected using voice over Internet protocol (VoIP) technology to the AIS platform.

Once redirected, all callers need to do is simply speak the name of the inmate and the automated system pulls up the relevant case information using a continuous data feed from the county's jail management system. The feed is updated automatically every 10 to 15 minutes. Callers then select the information they are seeking about the inmate.

Christianson says the voice recognition technology is critical, providing a much more streamlined service than requiring callers to key in via touchtone a booking ID, inmate number, Social Security number, or date of birth.

The AIS system is also providing faster service. All calls are consistently answered within three rings, a significant change from before the Telerus deployment, when long waits led to bad feelings on both ends of the line. Jail staffers were frustrated because they were unable to complete critical tasks, and callers were frustrated by being put on hold for so long, he says.

Another significant change was the ability of the AIS system to handle calls in Spanish. Previously, Spanish-speaking callers would ask if the deputy spoke Spanish. Since most deputies are not bilingual, they were unable to help. But with AIS, 

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