On this blog we have explored how budget shortfalls have caused reductions in police officers, the early release of prisoners and the availability of treatment and re-entry services. Now, yet another segment of the criminal justice system is feeling the crunch. According to the St. Cloud Times, budget cuts and staff reductions have redefined “typical” and “usual” in Minnesota state courts. They have forced courts to turn to trim staff and implement new technology, and it’s likely technology will play an even bigger role with another state budget shortfall looming.
For a branch of government traditionally considered slow to adapt to change, the judiciary has made significant strides in using technology to increase efficiencies.
The annual budget supplied by the state for the Stearns and Benton county courts has dropped to $3.22 million for 2011 from $3.25 million in 2008. At the same time, the money supplied by the state for the 7th Judicial District, which includes those and eight other counties, has decreased from $14.63 million in 2009 to $13.89 million in 2011. At the same time, health insurance contributions have increased, reported the Times.
The 7th District is down 17.5 staff positions since April 2009, when it had about 182full-time equivalents. According to the Times, Stearns County in the same period is down 11 positions, from about 59 FTEs. That includes court administration, court reporters and law clerks. A self-imposed hiring freeze, retirements, transfers and employees leaving has reduced the work force.
The new technology consists of a ticket scanner. Tickets are sent to a data entry center where someone keys in the data and makes sure it’s accurate. Previously, an officer would handwrite the ticket, information about fines and fees was added at the police station before the ticket went to court administration, where the information would be entered in the computer system, reported the Times.
The scanner reduces the chance of errors and frees court staff for other tasks.
Two other innovations automate fine payment and debt collection, the latter happening at a call center where 60 people do what 125 used to do in counties statewide.
According to the Times, counties are saving an estimated $2.7 million per year by taking that work out of each of the 87 counties and centralizing it in a state unit. Other savings have come from combining judicial districts and counties under one administrator.
To read more: http://www.sctimes.com/article/20101210/NEWS01/112100018/Cash-strapped-courts-turn-to-technology