Call2Test, a small Cumberland startup, hopes to revolutionize parole and probation programs using technology designed to reduce costs and improve compliance.

The company is expanding its app, ConnectComply, which tracks and notifies people who are on probation or parole of upcoming drug tests and check-ins with their supervising officers. The app is already in use in 29 states, and Sam Hotchkiss, founder, and Stephen Quirk, account executive, are trying to bring the technology to Maine.

In anticipation of the app’s growth, the company is hiring 25 employees and raising $1.5 million.

“We’re at a crisis point in this country as far as crime and punishment and levels of incarceration go,” said Hotchkiss, who is the startup’s CEO. “To be able to leverage technology to provide alternatives to incarceration is the only way that we’re going to be able to make any significant inroads into the issue.”

People convicted of a crime who are released into the community on probation or parole must abide by a set of rules that usually include checking in regularly with a supervising officer and taking drug and alcohol tests.

The app features two-way electronic communication that aims to improve how often offenders keep their mandated appointments.

HOW IT WORKS

The app works by having someone on probation or parole take and upload an image of themselves. The date, time and location is attached to the image and sent to their supervising officer. In return, the app will notify the person if they are due for testing or check-ins with their parole or probation officers. It also allows the user to send a message to their assigned officer in a way that is compliant with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act.

The splash screen of the app Connect Comply, created by Call2Test of Cumberland. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

Joseph Russo, chair of the technology committee at the American Parole and Probation Association, said technologies that use smartphones can be useful in improving the efficiency and reintegration into society of offenders as long as the participants are carefully chosen.

“There is a danger in using the application as a replacement for face-to-face (interaction),” he said. “If you use this technology instead of face-to-face for an offender who’s a significant risk, that would be a downside, but on the other side of the coin, a low-risk offender does very well without any supervision at all.”

Russo said risk is usually measured by looking at an individual’s previous crime records, the severity of the current crime, drug use and addiction, mental health and other factors.

He emphasized the technology’s benefits. He said almost everyone has a smartphone, and utilizing the technology in them can help probation and parole officers manage a larger caseload and provide more structured communication with offenders, such as reminders of important court dates and positive reinforcements.

“The ability to provide smartphone communication really benefits the officer because they don’t necessarily have to get out to the field or take time to be with clients one-on-one,” he said. “They can keep tabs on a client via the phone app, which is a benefit.”

The app also does automatic curfew checks for offenders by using a phone’s tracking system, an improvement in technology when compared with traditional ankle monitors. Call2Test is also working on a smaller ankle monitor that can be slipped discreetly under a sock and still provide tracking.

A U.S. Department of Justice study conducted in 2011 found that location monitoring devices reduce the likelihood of offenders committing another crime by 31 percent. But it also noted that individuals said the visibility of technology such as an ankle monitor negatively affected their ability to get and keep a job. A survey by National Public Radio reported that all states except Hawaii require wearers of ankle monitors to pay the costs, which can range from less than $100 to over $400 a month.

“It’s unsustainable to ask someone to get a job and have a place to live and get their life back on track by saddling them with that kind of expense,” Hotchkiss said.

Call2Test’s app costs from $6 to $20 per month, depending on the plan and amount of participants. Hotchkiss said this could reduce offenders’ costs by 90 to 95 percent in most cases.

SAVING TIME

One customer, Justin Stump, the chief juvenile probation officer from Tazewell County Probation in Pekin, Illinois, said that costs aside, the real benefit of the app is the notification of drug and alcohol tests, saving officers’ time.

“They’ve done a great job with the app,” he said. “Being in corrections, we get a lot of different (software) programs and applications that are geared toward the offender, maybe they’re geared toward the officer. (This is) one of those apps that you don’t have to think too much about it.”

Helping offenders get off drug or alcohol addiction through the app’s notification system is one of the motivations behind launching the company, Quirk said.

“It’s about getting people graduating through these programs and becoming successful,” he said.

Paul Wolford, drug court coordinator at the Frederick County Circuit Court in Frederick County, Maryland, is also a Call2Test customer. He believes Call2Test has saved officers’ time, and helped hold offenders more accountable and stay motivated.

Previously they used a call-in system to randomly select who was coming in for a drug test. Using the app makes it easier, and truly random.

“It’s been very workable,” he said. “(Call2Test is) very easy to get in touch with and if there’s any issue we might have, they’re more than cooperative.”

COMING TO MAINE

Hotchkiss said the company started 10 years ago in Durango, Colorado, when a friend of his got a DUI and told him about the call-in process, where supervising officers would leave a message stating that if the offender was assigned a certain color like blue or yellow, they were due for a drug test that day. Shortly after, Hotchkiss developed Call2Test, initially a platform in which individuals could just call in, enter a PIN and were told if they were due for a drug or alcohol test or not.

Russo said he knows of about a dozen other companies with similar app technology.

Call2Test is trying to become a leader in the niche industry. Hotchkiss said that while it took a while to get courts to switch to the technology, the company has now grown a minimum of 50 percent over the past six years, with a growth of 152 percent nationally in the past year. He declined to disclose the company’s annual revenue. Currently, the company is talking with courts in Maine in hopes of implementing the technology here.

Joseph Jackson, coordinator of the Maine Prisoner Advocacy Coalition, said he supports alternatives to sending individuals to correctional facilities, but worries about older offenders not being able to navigate smartphone technology. He also said affordability of a smartphone might be difficult when an offender may already be struggling to find an affordable place to live.

“The majority of folks that I know in prison are not tech savvy,” he said. “Just because you have a smartphone doesn’t mean you know how to use it. When we’re thinking about technology, even programming, what can we do to reduce the amount of folks that we’re sending to prison?”

According to the National Institute of Corrections, Maine had 6,187 people on probation and 21 on parole in 2016. Nationally, about 4.5 million people were under controlled supervision  in 2016, the Bureau of Justice said.

Hotchkiss said most of the $1.5 million the company is trying raise is from friends and family, but some is from investors in California and New Mexico. The company raised about half of its investment goal as of this month.

 


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