Community Corrections Earns National Achievement Award

Saline & Ottawa Counties 28th Judicial District Community Corrections has been recognized with an Achievement Award from the National Association of Counties (NACo). The awards honor innovative, effective county government programs that strengthen services for clients.

According to Saline County, NACo recognized the 28th Judicial District Community Corrections for implementing a technology program called UPTrust. In its simplest form, UPTrust is a two-way, real-time communication application that can be tailored to a client’s specific needs allowing them to receive texts or emails and to share a calendar with their supervising officer without the officer using their personal cell phone number.

“These aren’t like the messages you get from your doctor or dentist reminding you of an appointment,” explained Andrew Pellant, Pretrial Services Coordinator. “This is a two-way communication, where the client can respond to text messages, even the reminders, with questions or concerns or if they just need support in something else. It’s another way for them to reach out to you.”

The program was developed to increase the success of the agency’s target population, juvenile and adult high-risk, high-need, substance-addicted, or mentally ill offenders sentenced to supervision with Community Corrections. Implementing UPTrust has increased the number of clients meeting all their court hearings, treatments, and other services, thereby avoiding arrest and warrants issued to those clients.

“Many of our clients are high-risk and high-need. They have a lot of obligations – mental health appointments, drug and alcohol treatment, and other social services that they have to attend to be successful,” said Pellant. “UPTrust is an evolution of communication. We’re meeting our clients where they are.”

Where they are, is on smartphones and tablets, preferring text and email to letters in the mail or voice-to-voice conversation. Previously, supervision staff have used phone calls, letters that are delayed for days, even tracking down family or friends, or surveillance to re-engage clients who have missed appointments. For many clients, text and email are a preference, but for others with limited access to reliable internet, they are a necessity. Supervising officers have taken the platform a step further and have begun using it to send out daily encouragement, positive outlooks, and more to provide support.

“I have had more success communicating with my clients via text,” said Pellant. “It could be generational, or it could be as simple as access to wi-fi. Many of our clients have poor conflict resolution skills, and UPTrust allows us quick communication so we can work through problems they might have in meeting their obligations.”

The most significant catalyst for failure to appear warrants being issued by the courts is a lack of communication. Not only does the platform allow the supervision officers to send out reminders of court dates, but it also allows the client to quickly notify the officer of any issues, such as transportation or lack of internet access, that would prevent them from attending court hearings.

“Clients experience barriers in the form of transportation, illness, child care needs, and work schedules that might prevent them from making it to an appointment,” said Michelle Callam, 28th Judicial District Community Corrections Director. “A client may text back ‘Thanks for the reminder, but I don’t have a car.’ And the officer can respond with, ‘I gave you a bus pass last week; do you need a new one?’ So we can solve a lot of those issues through text messaging. We’ve also found that drug and alcohol clients who experience relapse are often more comfortable talking about it via text. And we can work through that too.”

Supervising officers often have 50 active clients at a time and work with around ten each day. The court’s expectation when it comes to supervision is intense. Callam explained that this intensity, combined with the number of supervised clients and the number of services each client requires, can translate into busy signals and long hold times.

“It is my job to support our staff and provide them with tools that make their job easier so that they can work smarter, not harder; and that our agency remains innovative and timely,” she said. “UPTrust makes communication more efficient for everyone.”

From implementation in October 2020 through January 2022, clients in the most intensive programs serving the highest risk/need population have seen the most success. Ninety-one percent of drug court clients, 86.5 percent of juvenile ISP (intensive supervision probation), and 83.9 percent of pre-trial clients have met their expectations.

The team is hopeful that through continued use, Saline and Ottawa counties will see long-term success in the form of re-engagements, less recidivism, recovery and more.

That is truly award-worthy.

Nationally, awards are given in 18 different categories that reflect the vast, comprehensive services counties provide. The categories include children and youth, criminal justice and public safety, county administration, information technology, health, civic engagement and many more.

This year’s Achievement Award-winning programs showcase how counties work every day to build healthy, safe and thriving communities,” said NACo President Larry Johnson said.

Started in 1970, NACo’s annual Achievement Awards program is designed to recognize county government innovations. Each nominee is judged on its own merits and not against other applications received.