Written By: Jeff Myers and Gauri Kayande
Court administrators and law enforcement agencies often face challenging and conflicting demands. They must ensure their processes not only comply with the law (and sometimes byzantine legal requirements), but must also meet high expectations and tight deadlines for trial dates or timely information needed to protect rights. Most case management decisions also rely on extensive research and investigation of documents/evidence. In many instances, there is also a need for transparency and easy access to case information, though case management systems must also be secure from cyber threats that might compromise confidential information and criminal records.
Many courts and law enforcement agencies invest significant employee effort to ensure that older technologies and combinations of systems can meet these occasionally conflicting pressures. As laws change, the challenge of quickly modifying cobbled-together systems increases, as does the expense of doing so. At the same time, the likelihood that an aging system will fail as its patchwork complexity increases, and the software on which it relies is decreasingly likely to be supported by vendors.
Further, any good case management system in the judicial and law enforcement arena must be able to interface with many other systems – for example, those that support criminal and compliance investigations, attorney filings, legal publishing & research, regulatory and other enforcement actions, prisons/corrections, policing, reports to executives and oversight agencies, etc.
The good news is that through our experience we have found that the challenges noted above can be effectively addressed. Often, significant cost savings can be achieved if the challenges are addressed using modern technologies and agile methods to implement a best practice case management solution using a low-code platform as the starting point.
MODERN APPROACHES AND TECHNOLOGIES ARE KEY TO BETTER CASE MANAGEMENT IN COURTS ADMINISTRATION AND LAW ENFORCEMENT
As REI Systems scans technological innovation and maturation, we have found that modern approaches and technologies hold the most promise for case management in the courts and law enforcement environments.
Customer Experience and AI-Enhanced Search
Public Challenges Accessing, Using, and Searching Case Information – can be helped by Improved Customer Experience and Search Capabilities. Many court and law enforcement IT systems have grown as needs have become apparent and evolved. The consequence is that their multiple systems are often patched together to support an agency’s customers – with little regard for ease of use or efficiency. And the ability to find information – a particular case, a particular issue, or the group of cases relating to a specific attorney, for example – is stymied because it is not technologically possible to search multiple systems and databases at the same time, and because most older systems do not use effective modern search algorithms. Focusing on user experience – for example, with specific personas such as judge, investigator, prosecuting attorney, or member of the press – enables the creation of a case management system that works efficiently and helps an agency succeed at the mission that is carried out by people holding those roles.
The Administrative Office of the US Courts’ (AOUSC’s) Case Management / Electronic Case File (CM/ECF) system, is widely used by judges, court clerks, attorneys, and the public to file and access case information electronically, for over 200 courts. However, CM/ECF’s current search capability is almost 20 years old. Unfortunately, CM/ECF’s search capability is distributed across those 200+ courts, slow, hard to use and frustrating for those who have become accustomed to commercial search options, despite the fact that CM/ECF has processed 1.5 billion docket entries, served 3 million users, and managed 60 million cases. Ultimately, a unified search feature that integrates data from multiple court systems would greatly improve knowledge access and use, transforming how cases are discussed, researched, filed, fought, adjudicated and resolved.
Example from Another Sector: Improved User Experience and Search Capabilities – GSA’s Integrated Award Environment (IAE). REI Systems helped consolidate ten different predecessor applications for General Services Administration (GSA) to create the Integrated Award Environment (IAE), used by every agency in the federal government as they acquire goods and services. REI recognized the need to reduce barriers to use of the system so that many inexperienced and public users could successfully access government contracts and payments. As well, REI collaborated with GSA to improve data integrity, streamline role management, and improve user experience using agile software development on a virtual cloud-based platform. Of course, the most significant benefit was that users could use a single interface (rather than as many as ten different systems), and that the interface had been created with a consistent human-centered design tested with representatives of several specific “personas” and their individual needs. Consolidating the systems in the cloud made it possible to share and reconcile data from multiple sources, and thus possible to access that information using the modern Elasticsearch search engine, which REI implemented for that purpose. The result is a faster and more productive search across a much broader range of GSA’s acquisition and payment processing cases.
The Need for Access to Case Data Across Geographies and Jurisdictions – can be helped by Cloud Hosting. Cloud hosting offers three benefits that are particularly relevant to courts administration and law enforcement case management. First, cloud hosting enables easy, secure and efficient access by dispersed court locations and law enforcement personnel who work in widespread geographic locations. Second, most cloud environments include continuous monitoring, advanced security tools, and timely software updates/patches that do not depend on inexperienced staff in remote locations. Third, cloud hosting makes law enforcement data easily available and compatible with advanced analytic tools that can help multiply the effect of law enforcement efforts, significantly improving productivity of personnel as well as of IT systems.
Using the AOUSC example again, unfortunately, the current structure of the CM/ECF system makes it impossible for users to search cases from multiple federal courts at the same time. Thus, judges, clerks and attorneys must search one court at a time. A cloud-based platform for case management at an agency such as AOUSC could allow judicial users and litigators more timely access to data and information. In fact, AOUSC has recognized the importance of the cloud to transparency and trust, as well as search, and is planning an effort titled the Unified Search Research and Development (USRD), which will leverage planned cloud hosting to make data more quickly accessible across the agency’s multiple courts and geographies. These features and the reliability of cloud hosting will almost certainly increase confidence in the judiciary and enhance transparency as well as accountability within the judicial system.
Example from Another Sector: FDA’s Inspections and Investigations Systems. REI has helped FDA develop the tools and systems it relies upon to conduct inspections more efficiently and investigate both intentional and unintentional non-compliance with food and drug safety regulations. REI’s design and development of cloud-native applications has helped FDA enable inspections in multiple geographic locations, including overseas, and allowed FDA staff to conduct inspections efficiently using mobile devices, bar codes and QR codes and photographs with which the employee can work securely offline, and then upload results when they return to a secure internet accessible location. Importantly, the cloud hosting and modern technology stack allows FDA’s inspection data to feed into investigation risk and targeting systems, and to inform re-inspections where appropriate. These tools have excelled in supporting staff productivity in the face of significantly increasing workload – a situation quite similar to those faced by many law enforcement and investigatory agencies. As just one example, REI’s work helped the FDA to increase its lab test results productivity by 600%, and concurrently obtain results 55% faster than with its previous legacy system.
Zero Trust Architecture
Threats of Hacking and System Compromise – can be addressed by Security Throughout the Software Development Lifecycle. With the particular sensitivity of law enforcement case information and data, advances in cyber security are an important part of any case management system. In fact, building security into a system up-front using DevSecOps principles and leveraging the most advanced security tools (such as SonarQube, Fortify, BlackDuck and Coverity) and practices (such as Zero Trust Architecture and continuous monitoring) are vital to maintaining the integrity of law enforcement efforts and trust in the administration of justice.
Security risks are not just imaginary. In February 2023, the US Marshal Service suffered a cyber attack that compromised information about employees and about potential targets of federal investigations. In May 2022, the Drug Enforcement Administration reported discovering that hackers had gained unauthorized access to an agency portal that taps into 16 different federal law enforcement databases. And in April of 2021, the DHS Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, CISA reported that it was assisting five federal civilian agencies whose vulnerable Pulse Connect Secure products have been exploited by a cyber threat actor. Finally, Los Angeles-based cybersecurity company Resecurity registered an increase in malicious activity targeting law enforcement agencies. It found that threat actors are hacking email and other accounts which belong to law enforcement officers and their internal systems. This range of risks and threats make it imperative to be aware of threats, plan for them, and use the most advance tools possible to prevent their occurrence and mitigate their impact.
Example From Another Sector: US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). USCIS asked REI Systems to help modernize the Electronic Immigration System (ELIS) it uses to process immigration benefit applications. Recognizing that this system is the legal “front door” for entry into the United States by most foreigners, REI sought to help ensure that the system is as secure as possible. Security was even more important because USCIS employees at any worksite (inside the US, and outside) use ELIS to serve customers from around the world. The DevSecOps pipeline REI developed has been a key to strong security, but so is the appropriate use of security tools and updates via Amazon Web Services (AWS) cloud-native infrastructure. And – REI collaborated with USCIS and partner agencies to help ELIS interface with more than 60 other IT systems used by the federal government, that include the ability to track and address risks and threats from persons who may wish to harm the US and the American people.
As a result, there have been no breaches of security associated with ELIS over REI’s history of nearly five years supporting USCIS, and as the agency relies on our solutions to handle more than a million immigration applications annually. Importantly, the technology has also made USCIS more efficient – reducing the time taken per immigration case and enabling the agency to handle 19% more citizenship applications with no increase in its staffing, and no increase in complaints or reversals of its decisions. REI believes that every court administrator and law enforcement agency could benefit from the same secure development tools and system integration that make ELIS a cybersecurity success story.
Agile, DevSecOps, and Microservices
Constrained Resources (Stagnant Budgets) as Workloads Increase – can be helped by Software Operating Efficiency and Innovation. The same DevSecOps techniques and software testing practices that help to strengthen security also make it easier to try innovations quickly, and to change course if the innovation is not productive (or if a security feature is not strong enough). REI has also found that Modern technologies built using DevSecOps and Microservices (loosely coupled components of application platforms) are up to 25% more efficient to operate and maintain.
Courts administrators and law enforcement professionals realize that laws change, and most agencies are eager to learn new effective practices from each other. Their ability to accommodate changes in law, policy and practice – in short, their ability to innovate – is most readily possible if they can make quick adjustments to their technology. Thus, DevSecOps and microservices architecture (building each piece of a system so that it can easily be unplugged and replaced if a better option is found) are all important facets of effective IT case management solutions in the courts and law enforcement sectors.
Example From Another Sector: HHS’ Administration for Children and Families (ACF). REI used the Agile approach and created a DevSecOps software development pipeline to create the Shepherd Case Management System (SCMS) for ACF. The Agile approach was instrumental in helping multiple agencies (DHS, DoJ, ACF and other HHS operating divisions) to gain visibility during implementation, and reconcile their policies and processes to jointly support victims of human trafficking. During each two week sprint, we shared real, functional components of the software solution, allowing the agencies to understand each other’s needs, and to revise their own processes to better mesh with those of other agencies. This core approach motivated innovation. And – the DevSecOps pipeline made innovation easier because it allowed ACF to release new ideas in a matter of hours (versus months previously). The consequence was that ideas which worked could be quickly identified and built upon. Ideas that failed could be abandoned or re-worked just as quickly, with no major loss of time or resources. Evolving laws and experience in courts administration and law enforcement will be enabled by these same technology tools.
Artificial Intelligence / Machine Learning (AI/ML)
Difficulty Seeing the Forest vs. a Tree in the Courts and Law Enforcement Environment – can be helped by Artificial Intelligence / Machine Learning (AI/ML) and Analytics. AI/ML has revolutionized many facets of technology in recent months. From search processes for text, images, PDFs, and videos – they make it possible to find a needle in the haystack in a fraction of a second. Not surprisingly, AI/ML- can greatly improve search accuracy, saving time and resources. It can provide suggestions based on patterns, understand user intent, analyze text using natural language processing, and analyze text in photos, videos, and non-readable formats like images in PDFs. Across cases and jurisdictions, analytics can help strengthen courts administration by estimating or predicting workload, and by improving the productivity of resource-constrained staff – allowing humans to focus their effort where human judgement is required.
Example From Another Sector: HHS’ Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA). REI recognized that HRSA’s primary activity – making grants to fund care for those who have difficulty finding access to health care – focused the agency on the tactics of managing grants. Yet HRSA has tremendously valuable data – about health treatments and outcomes for more than 20 million patients annually in more than 12,000 public health clinics. As a result, REI envisioned, and helped HRSA capture tremendous value from that data, creating the Modern Data Analytics Platform (MDAP). MDAP helped HRSA look across grants and across individual patients to identify the common threads – which treatments and clinics across our country were the most successful in treating certain common and severe health problems, such as high blood pressure, diabetes, and low infant birth weight. Using powerful analytic tools, and the collaborative imagination of our joint team, HRSA and REI found the successful approaches – reducing the need for extensive experimental research, and allowing HRSA to achieve better health outcomes, on average, for poor and disadvantaged patients than are achieved by Americans who are able to afford and access our countries traditional commercial and non-profit health systems. We are proud that HRSA’s MDAP tool won first prize amongst more than 250 government innovations at the ACT-IAC Igniting Innovation Summit in 2019.
Accessible Transparency of Data, Case Status and the Basis for Decisions Can Help strengthen Trust in Fairness of the American System of Justice. Many courts and law enforcement agencies recognize that the public’s faith in them reflects experience with their process, and the information about it. Inaccessible or difficult to access information leads to suspicion and makes it easier to sow intentional disinformation. Thus, many courts and law enforcement agencies want to make thorough information easily available as soon as permissible by law. And, of course, appropriate technology is certainly the fastest and least costly way to do so. REI’s work designing, developing and operating transparency websites such as Performance.gov, Data.gov and USA.gov has helped us recognize that useability and diverse uses drive attention for transparency websites. Our experience creating Performance.gov, Data.gov, and many other similar transparency portals helps us understand the value of “light” websites that make access easy, and that show example data, but that do not store complete data sets. Such an architecture can provide very quick response as they draw information from large and complex underlying databases – while helping to ensure the security and integrity of the underlying database contents. We also recognize that a transparency website may serve some users inside an agency, in addition to the external public users. This fact helps ensure that data is valid, and that agency staff more deeply understand (and care about) the public customer’s experience.
Modern Case Management Approaches and Technologies Will Improve the Effectiveness and Efficiency Of Courts Administration And Law Enforcement. As laws change, the challenge of quickly modifying cobbled-together systems increases, as does the expense of doing so. The likelihood that an aging system will fail as its patchwork complexity increases and the software on which it relies is decreasingly likely to be supported by vendors. Further, judicial and law enforcement case management is becoming more complex as each agency must interface with many other agencies and their systems. For example, there are many inter-connections between agencies and systems that support criminal and compliance investigations, attorney filings, legal publishing & research, regulatory and other enforcement actions, prisons/corrections, policing, reports to executives and oversight agencies. The good news is that modern case management approaches and technologies can address all of these challenges, often with significant cost savings.
REI’s broad experience with case management technologies across multiple sectors of government, can offer exactly the sort of value that court administrators and law enforcement managers need. To learn more, contact CaseManagement@reisystems.com.
About the authors:
Jeff Myers is a Senior Director at REI Systems with over 30 years of experience helping government agencies to improve their performance.
Gauri Kayande is a Program Manager with REI Systems who supports customers in court administration, law enforcement, and health.