During the conference „Alternatives to detention”, organized by the Confederation of European Probation (CEP) in Bucharest, Romania (6-7 October 2016), the workshop session „Technology in the process of alternatives to detention” was held, where the utility of web and smartphone based applications within probation practices was discussed. It was identified that very similar developments were emerging in various European countries like Sweden, the Netherlands, Great Britain and Finland at the same time, but with little or none cross-border experience and exchange of ideas.
Considering this important developmental trend of probation practice and in cooperation with the Swedish Correctional Service (Kriminalvarden), the CEP organized an expert meeting in Stockholm, Sweden (9-10 March 2017) on the development and implementation of applications in probation practice.
The expert meeting was attended by Professor Fergus McNeill (Glasgow University, Scotland) and experts from Sweden, Finland, the Netherlands, Northern Ireland (United Kingdom) and Latvia.
During the meeting, experts were introduced on the Swedish Correctional Service (Kriminalvarden) and shared experiences about ongoing information and communication technology development projects within their countries, where particular emphasize was put on the development of applications. Special attention was paid to explore the connections between the development of the applications and the promotion of desistance from crime of probation clients (Desistance theory) in order to increase efficacy of probation practice. Prof. F.McNeill gave a presentation on this topic and facilitated the subsequent discussion.
It was noted that the presentation of prof. F.McNeill helped to better understand the context on the development of the applications and provided a theoretical framework – why we do this, how this could help us to improve our job?
As conclusion of the meeting, which consisted of discussions and experience exchange, experts developed recommendations for other probation services regarding the development of applications:
– End user involvement in the early stages of the application development is very important, especially when the use of the application is going to be voluntary;
– The goals that need to be achieved with the application and how its efficiency will be evaluated must be very clear at an early stage in the developmental process. What is the logic behind the introduction of the application? What makes that the application will increase the quality of services or what problems will it solve? It is important to look for opportunities to assess efficiency of the application by taking into account its influence on the probation client’s “journey” through the probation system.
The use by probation officers
Experience from all jurisdictions represented in the meeting, shows that the main resistance towards the introduction of applications is to be expected from the professionals (probation officers), not the probation clients (offenders). The management of the probation organisations should pay particular attention to these important matters:
- Clear orders to start using applications within the organisation;
- Trainings for probation officers, not only about the developed application, but on the use of progressive information and communication technologies in general, including smartphones, tablets and applications;
- Provide a supportive environment for development and implementation of innovations – change management issues;
Expectation management is of crucial importance. Expectations towards technologies and what they can solve must be realistic. It is also important not to forget that technologies are developed and maintained by people, the human factor will always be an issue. The application should be developed as simple as possible.
Experts developed recommendations for the CEP as well: to pay particular attention to how CEP members involve themselves into a dialogue with society. Quality of this dialog is very important for the future of probation. Information and communication technologies like apps can be of great assistance there.
Participants of the meeting agreed that this was a very useful and inspiring event and there was an interest shown to organise such meetings on a regular basis.
Presentations are available online in the CEP Knowledgebase: https://www.cep-probation.org/knowledgebase/cep-expert-meeting-applications-probation/.