Justice focuses on the process
Business process management helps reduce costs and improve results
- By Jennifer McAdams
- Feb 28, 2008
Jane Doe was arrested on drug charges in 2004 at the U.S.-Mexico border in Arizona and placed in police custody.
Doe’s arrest occurred before the Justice Department’s Office of Federal Detention Trustee began a strategic business process management (BPM) initiative. Doe’s case, mired in paperwork, dragged on at a high cost to taxpayers.
Fast-forward several years and Doe’s case files are now electronic. Her case workflow is automated. Using eDesignate, a Web browser-based BPM system that automates document-handling procedures, U.S. district court employees quickly gather documents to charge and sentence Doe.
The U.S. Marshals Service, which takes custody of Doe, has easy access to her records. The service works with the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) on the details of Doe’s incarceration and transports her to a federal prison to begin her sentence.
About 4,000 people move through the federal sentencing process each day.
Improving that process required reducing the amount of time detainees spent in detention.
“The average length of time a person spent in detention was far too long, and there was no set of common business operations to standardize and improve this process,” said Stacia Hylton, who the attorney general appointed to be the federal detention trustee.
“With eDesignate, we have avoided about 500,000 days of detainment overall,” Hylton said.
OFDT was created in 2001 after Congress and Justice recognized that detaining individuals charged with federal crimes had become a fragmented process. Justice established the agency to centralize detention operations, reduce detention costs and manage the steps that occur between a person’s arrest and incarceration.
“Like any trustee, we handle funding and infrastructure issues and are held accountable for end results,” Hylton said.
eDesignate is among several OFDT initiatives to improve the detention process. Last year, OFDT launched the Detention Services Network to help officials shop for services — such as housing, transportation and medical care — for detainees.
The agency spent “a couple hundred thousand dollars” to develop eDesignate, but the system has generated about $31 million in savings by reducing the amount of detainment days, Hylton said.
Officials expect savings to increase by the year’s end, when OFDT brings eDesignate to a remaining 12 of 94 judicial districts.
When OFDT officials deploy eDesignate in a particular district, they travel to the site to customize eDesignate’s features and train employees to use the system.
BPM fit the bill OFDT directed various process improvements centrally, but from the beginning, it sought assistance and suggestions from employees who would be using eDesignate.
“This is a system created by the users for the users,” said Shannon Brown, OFDT’s chief information officer. “The idea was to streamline workflow, so that all agencies would assemble the paperwork and send documentation along with prisoners in a uniform fashion” to BOP.
In 2004, OFDT ran a test program using eDesignate in several Arizona districts, including Phoenix, Tucson and Yuma. “We decided to go right to the heart of the crisis,” Hylton said. Those cities were struggling to manage a huge volume of criminal justice and immigration cases.
Assisted by a steering committee composed of district judges, marshals service representatives and others, OFDT considered several technical options, including case management software. OFDT ultimately selected the BPM approach.
“BPM is an overused acronym in the technology world right now, but it does truly represent what we are trying to do,” Brown said. “We wanted workers to communicate back-and-forth in managing cases, and we wanted to help supervisors ma nage caseloads. OFDT also wanted tools it could use to generate metrics on each step of the sentencing process.
BPM includes many capabilities and often is the best choice for achieving a variety of management objectives, said Colin Teubner, an analyst at Forrester Research.
“Many BPM suites are supersets of case management” software, Teubner said. “They bring case management-style features but also bring more process context as well,” he said. “The integration features, open [application programming interface] and Web-based nature of a BPM suite enables integration across organizational boundaries.”
BPM technology can also meet stringent security requirements. “Security features are normally quite detailed and will let certain partners or organizations see only what they are meant to see, while still allowing the relevant information to be stored in the system,” Teubner said.
Although eDesignate required a significant amount of customization, its foundation is a commercial software package from Metastorm. The company’s BPM software suite offers content management, collaboration, integration and business intelligence capabilities.
“Other technologies might not have been compatible with existing systems and databases,” said Laura Mooney, Metastorm’s director of corporate and product marketing.
Metastorm BPM supports common platforms such as Microsoft and Unix, .NET and Java. It can be tailored to integrate other platforms.
Integrating existing databases will be important as OFDT moves into its second phase of eDesignate, officials said. The agency will help the marshals service link its Justice Prisoner and Alien Transportation System database to eDesignate. The inclusion of transportation data should further increase processing efficiency, Hylton said.
“Officials can decide more easily whether to move a prisoner by ground using a bus, van or car, or see quickly that it’s a 500-hundred mile move that will require a plane trip,” Hylton said. “We are trying to get the system to the point where it does as much of the work as possible, once the data points are plugged in.” McAdams is a freelance writer based in Vienna, Va.