Modernizing technology to facilitate integrated databases and online learning


Katrina I. Serpa

Across the correctional field there is an increasing demand for evidence-informed trainings and integrated software solutions, particularly as it relates to community supervision and risk assessment. The advancement of evidence-based practices has been most influenced by the adoption of the Risk-Need-Responsivity (RNR) model. Developed in the 80s and formalized in the 90s, the purpose of the RNR model is to strengthen the design and implementation of effective interventions (Viglione, 2018).

The current focus on integrating rehabilitative strategies empirically proven to reduce recidivism has highlighted the need for services and programming that promote evidence-based best practices and improve both compliance and outcomes in assessment, treatment, and monitoring (Bonta et al., 2011). To ensure implementation of these practices, organizations must ensure their staff is updated on current policies, processes or procedures. If implemented correctly, digital solutions benefit both staff and organization alike.

Advancing e-learning and software solutions for forensic and correctional staff

To date, innovations aimed to enhance community supervision and case management have focused on the skills of the professional (Robinson et al., 2012). For instance, a recent study by Helmus et al. (2021) has found that the field validity of risk assessments is influenced by whether appropriate training has been provided to the administrator or user of the risk measure.

However, apart from the current skill-building focus of the professional involved, ensuring that a training is substantial requires understanding that not every learner learns the same way. Adults have specific learning needs that are not shared by adolescent learners (Freedman, 1985). Establishing an e-learning course must have a good foundation in adult learning theories so course design during conception, development, and execution result in a way that will facilitate the learning process (Gouthro, 2018).

Therefore, when creating e-learning opportunities, we must make sure that the relevant topic is important and covered in a meaningful way, but that training curricular nurtures the learning process so that implementation can be executed properly.
With new research and advancing technology, it’s hard to keep up with best practices in a cost-efficient way.

 Agencies without proper training are more likely to misuse assessments and continue using outdated strategies not aligned with the latest research. As evidence-based best practices for prevention and intervention continue to evolve, rapid dissemination of updated research needs to be taught in a manner that aligns with real learning contexts within the criminal justice field.

Online training takes 40-60% less time to complete than learning the same things in a classroom. As a result, online training has been found to increase productivity as staff can resume their work faster and immediately apply the skills they learned.

Leveraging automation to improve outcomes

Public safety agencies are leveraging automations in several ways in an effort to improve outcomes. The industry continues to find innovative ways to leverage automations to ensure accurate scoring, encourage clean data sets, and to build evidence-based case plans automatically.

This can mean building in functionality to auto-fill fields to ensure there aren’t inconsistencies in the scoring of risk/needs assessments or to reduce the need for duplicate entry. It also means increased used of drop-down menus over free fields to ensure data sets are clean.

Building in if/then rules into case plans is also encouraged so that case planning is automatically filled out based on criminogenic needs, responsivity factors, and risk level. This will ensure that similarly situated people are getting the same access to interventions and that the path of least resistance is an evidence-informed case plan.

There is always the ability to override an automation as human-in-the-loop automations ensure that, where appropriate, a change can be made. Automations should be used to reduce the burden from humans while freeing up their time for more human-centered activities that can overall provide better outcomes.

The case for integrated databases

To that end, public safety agencies are also considering the integration of software services to achieve streamlined and automated workflows. Application programming interfaces (APIs) drive agility to optimize user experiences, create dynamic digital ecosystems, and achieve operational excellence that support law enforcement, prosecutorial, court and corrections services provided within their regions. Having to manually transfer data in and out of platforms is an issue commonly faced by corrections and law enforcement staff.

Specifically, when a manual transition of data occurs, human-error and time-consumption are the biggest cause for concern within criminal justice organizations.

Both government agencies and private companies keep vast databases containing sensitive and personal information of thousands of individuals. These databases are used to make many critical decisions affecting peoples’ lives, influencing outcomes of sentencing, successful re-entry, and case management.

The need to simplify system/user interaction and improve system reliability is well established. Beyond the potential value and implications of use in law enforcement and criminal justice, the push for integrated databases is also an example of the potential for digital government activities to have a hand in transforming the ways that government agencies and public sector organizations work collaboratively.

The power of online learning and integrated datasets is being confirmed ensuring that digital solutions will continue to be a service that criminal justice agencies expect and seek. Ultimately, eliminating the possibility of human-error relies on accurate data and training. Integrity of case management, assessment, and monitoring can be achieved by leveraging and modernizing advancing technology to fit the needs of criminal justice organizations and their clients.


Bonta, J., Bourgon, G., Rugge, T., Scott, T.-L., Yessine, A. K., Gutierrez, L., & Li, J. (2011). An Experimental Demonstration of Training Probation Officers in Evidence-Based Community Supervision. Criminal Justice and Behavior, 38(11), 1127–1148. 

Freedman, J. A. (1985). Reflections of a teacher of adults. New Directions for Adult and Continuing Education, 1985(26), 97–102.

Gouthro, P. A. (2018). Taking Time to Learn: The Importance of Theory for Adult Education. Adult Education Quarterly, 69(1), 60–76.

Helmus, L. M., Hanson, R. K., Murrie, D. C., & Zabarauckas, C. L. (2021). Field validity of Static-99R and STABLE-2007 with 4,433 men serving sentences for sexual offences in British Columbia: New findings and meta-analysis. Psychological Assessment, 33(7), 581–595.

Ho, A., Shlosberg, A., & Lesneskie, E. (2018). Sensitivity of Error: An Examination of the Impact of Human Mistakes on Offender Risk Classification Validity. Justice System Journal, 39(2), 171–188.

Meredith, T., Speir, J. C., & Johnson, S. (2007). Developing and Implementing Automated Risk Assessments in Parole. Justice Research and Policy, 9(1), 1–24. 

Robinson, C. R., Lowenkamp, C. T., Holsinger, A. M., VanBenschoten, S., Alexander, M., & Oleson, J. C. (2012). A random study of Staff Training Aimed at Reducing Re-arrest (STARR): using core correctional practices in probation interactions. Journal of Crime and Justice, 35(2), 167–188.

Viglione, J. (2018). The Risk-Need-Responsivity Model: How Do Probation Officers Implement the Principles of Effective Intervention? Criminal Justice and Behavior, 46(5), 655–673.

Katrina I. Serpa

Katrina I. Serpa

Katrina I. Serpa, MSc, is the Product Manager for the Public Safety Division of Multi-Health Systems Inc. She has worked with organizations from around the world to leverage product development, training, research, and data analytics to increase public safety. Katrina has published scientific articles, book chapters, and is the editor of The Handbook of Forensic Mental Health in Africa, 1st edition. Having produced over 250 e-learning modules and online trainings for mental health, correctional, and legal professionals, she specializes in providing cutting-edge, problem-focused solutions to those working in both general care and forensic settings. She completed her graduate studies in Forensic Psychology at Maastricht University, The Netherlands.


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