Speaker Verification for Community Release

Community corrections represents one of the largest markets for speaker verification and it promises to continue to be an important market for years to come. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics of the U.S. Department of Justice there were around 4.7 million offenders in probation and parole programs in 2001. The number has been growing every year. In addition, countries outside of the United States are initiating community release programs modeled on those established in the U.S. - including speaker verification. Community release has become especially popular for juvenile offenders. This interview with Judge William Dupont of Iberville Parish, La., provides an example of how the creative application of speaker verification to juvenile offenders can produce benefits for both the child and the corrections agency. Dr. Judith Markowitz: Tell me about the population of juveniles that you handle. Judge William Dupont: The juvenile jurisdiction for delinquents goes from age 10 to age 18. Right now I'm handling all the juvenile cases for the city of Plaquemine and all the cases for Iberville Parish. I was city judge and normally my jurisdiction is just in the city limits. We did such a good job of reducing detention costs that the Supreme Court had me work on cost cutting for the parish. During the first six months of last year they had 48 cases with detention costs of $68,000. Then we took over and during the next six months they had 76 cases with detention costs of only $14,000. We dropped the average cost from $1,400 per child to $193 per child. That's not as good as I do in the city. We had 306 juvenile cases in Plaquemine with detention cost of only $13,000, which is $43 per child. The Shadow Track system was one of the reasons we could cut costs. Dr. Markowitz: ShadowTrack is the speaker verification system you use? Judge Dupont: Yes. They are a local Louisiana company. Dr. Markowitz: How long have you been using the voice system? Judge Dupont: We started in August or September of 2002. Dr. Markowitz: Around how many juveniles are on the Shadow Track system? Judge Dupont: Right now, we're averaging about 12 juveniles per month on the program. Dr. Markowitz: Why were you interested in using speaker verification for juvenile offenders? Judge Dupont: I am interested in any tool we can use to avoid incarceration. The state of Louisiana is in the middle of a vast juvenile-justice change. Everybody: judges, legislators, etc. are looking for tools to help us get away from the 'lock'em up' attitude. Incarceration is not the answer. With home detention we have the option of having the child stay in the community and go to school. They can stay with their family and get the benefits of any services they may need. We can keep those things in place but at the same time keep them in a controlled atmosphere. Also, it saves costs. If I put a youth on shadow track for three months it cost $300. If I put a youth in detention for three months it costs me $9,000. You have to have some type of rehabilitation but at the same time you have to have some control over the youth when we're trying to rehabilitate. I was already using ankle bracelets for home detention but the voice system looked interesting. Cost-wise, it was cheaper than ankle bracelets and it seemed to be a lot more versatile. Dr. Markowitz: Why couldn't you just use ankle bracelets? Judge Dupont: The problem using ankle bracelets with juveniles is that, obviously, you want them to go to school. The unit that keeps track of the ankle bracelets is at home attached to the phone line. If they leave home, it shows they are gone - out of range. That's all. With voice, we use computers and the Internet to track them at home, school, wherever they're allowed to be. We tell them that from 8 a.m. until 3:30 p.m. they need to be at the school number and from 3:30 p.m. to whatever time they need to be at the home number. If they have a job at McDonald's for two hours we can put that number and time slot in the computer, too. We can actually make them call from school and caller ID will tell us whether they are where they are supposed to be. When they are supposed to be home it will make calls to them. This way, we can track them 24 hours a day. Another thing is that it's not complicated. In order to use an ankle bracelet we have to get the youth in here, put it on, and then someone would have to go to the house to install the unit. Then when we took the youth off the system we'd have to go back to the house, get the unit out, and send it to our supplier to be reprogrammed. With voice, as soon as they walk out of the courtroom they go into the next room and get enrolled. As soon as they walk out of there we can start calling them. Then, when you take them off, all you have to do is go into the system and tell it they're off. Dr. Markowitz: It sounds as if you can program it to sometimes receive calls from them and sometimes make calls to them. Judge Dupont: That's part of the flexibility. It does whatever you tell it to do. It will be waiting for a call from the school number around 8 o'clock if the youth is supposed to go to the office and call in as soon as they get to school. It will make a call if you tell it. Also, we give the youths a card with an 800 number so that if the system calls them and they miss it they can call in. They have a certain amount of time to call back before they are listed as being in violation. There are a lot of safeguards. I'll give you a for-instance. Say, they're supposed to be home from 7 o'clock at night to six in the morning. We can tell the system how many calls we want the juvenile to have during that time. They don't know when the call is going to come. They just know they are going to be called. They might get a call at, say, 3 o'clock at the morning. Say, they pick up the phone half sleepy and they don't talk the right way and it doesn't register. The machine will call back three times so they have a chance to correct it. It calls back within two minutes. On the third time, if there's no answer or something like that then it sends an immediate notice. Dr. Markowitz: What happens if they are in violation? Judge Dupont: We'll know immediately. I haven't had one yet that hasn't had some violation. Every morning, I can get a full readout of every phone call each youth has had and when the calls were made. If there was a violation I know the type of violation it was: no answer, hang up, unrecognized voice. What happens depends upon what I told the officers I want them to do. The minimum is that someone will get them the next morning and we will ask them 'Why did you hang up?' or whatever. Usually we get little violations at the beginning. It's kind of a training process. Once you train them how to use the system, you'll see 'voice print successful' over and over. With the bad ones you still see 'no answer, no answer, no answer, hang up, hang up, no answer.' Not every child is a candidate for voice. Some you have to be little stronger with. Dr. Markowitz: How long does the child usually stay on the program? Judge Dupont: Usually, it's for a three to six month period. If they've been on it for six months and are adhering to it I'll consider releasing them and see what they can do on their own. The minimum is three months, depending on the individual case and the child's compliance level. Dr. Markowitz: What kind of feedback have you gotten on the voice system? Judge Dupont: The parents tend to like it. I just had a case of a young girl who was a runaway. The parents actually asked us to put her on the system so she would know that she was going to be checked on. The police like it because if they catch a youth on the street when they're supposed to be somewhere else they can't say 'that wasn't me' and, in court, it's not my-wordagainst-yours. I have a print out document from the system that is admissible in court. It shows every time we called and that there was no answer when they were seen on the street. We can show that the system called at 3:32 a.m. and got no answer and that it called three times and still didn't get an answer. You can also click on a call and hear a recording of the response. That's nice. The probation officers love it. They have a record that is easy for them to check. It saves them from going to check on youths at 2 in the morning. The probation officer can use the Internet to check on compliance at any time, day or night. Dr. Markowitz: Has anyone tried to trick the system? Judge Dupont: At first, I was concerned about what safeguards were built into it and how they could get around them. I've had kids try to trick my drug tests but I haven't had them try to trick this. It's kinda hard to trick. Well, they do run away but we catch them pretty easily. I get more excuses: 'I didn't hear the phone ring.' Or 'I didn't talk into it right.' Or 'it's the machine not working.' It has caller ID so you know where they're calling from. They can't use call forwarding because it will tell the child to call back in five minutes so it would be hard to get to the number they're supposed to be at - if they aren't there. The kind of youths we deal with are not super sophisticated. I've had more problems with juveniles trying to fake my drug tests. They'll try all kinds of things there. Dr. Markowitz: What kinds of objections might a defense attorney have regarding the system? Judge Dupont: We've had a few question it. That's why having that printout is so important. It shows every call made every day and the type of violation that resulted. So far, no one has given me a knockdown, drag-out fight. Most of the time once the report is given to the defense attorney you get more excuses than anything. No one has said that they talked to it and it didn't know their voice. That may come but when I see one youth with total non-compliance and five others that have a list of successful verifications I know it's working. Dr. Markowitz: Have you had any problems with the system? Judge Dupont: The biggest one is that we had multiple probation officers using it and they have different levels of knowledge. My city probation officers were trained in enrolling people in the system but the state probation officers just the reports. Every now and then I'd see them on the witness stand when somebody asked 'How does this work?' or 'What kind of violation is this?' and they couldn't explain. So we had to get a city officer in to explain how they enrolled, how the voiceprint is made, and how it works. So, we started training all officers who monitor the juveniles and started making sure they learned the mechanics of the system the same way they learn the mechanics of a radar gun. How you tune it and how you do this and that. That was the first problem we had. It was part of the learning curve. Dr. Markowitz: If you were to start this again what would you do differently? Judge Dupont: I would not only train all the supervising officers but I would require them to have experience with the entire process. They would actually enroll people and not just do monitoring. The thing that I would like to set up a little better is the immediate response - which we haven't used that much so far. That's really letting the officers know how to respond. We don't want the police to go out every time there's a violation. So we're looking at the different types of violations to see which ones can wait till the next morning and which ones can't. I have people who are state probation, parish probation and city probation. Each has different supervisors. I don't know if the system can distinguish between the three of those. So, if THIS person is in violation they should call THIS number but if THAT person is in violation they should call THAT number. Right now, it notifies us all in one spot. I've been waiting to see whether I'm going to continue handling the parish before I do any changes. If I don't continue to handle the parish it won't be a problem because I'd handle them all through my city court. Dr. Markowitz: Is there anything you want to add? Judge Dupont: In reality, this does save money. It saves a lot of money. It is one of the reasons I was asked to help out the parish. In six months I actually saved the parish $100,000 in detention costs by moving cases fast, by using the voice system, and using some of the other community tools. Shadow Track was definitely one of those reasons. Judge Dupont continues to use the ShadowTrack system for juvenile offenders in Plaquamine but he is no longer supporting Iberville Parish.
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