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The Solution

The Department of Juvenile Services needs to be able to text with their kids. Every year people rely on texting more and calls less. The New York Times recently reported that no one under 30 even uses voicemail anymore, and yet we expect youth in conflict with the law to be moored to this antiquated practice. It doesn't have to be this way.

DJS workers, even without cellphones, do have computers, and these computers have internet access. This project envisions a web-based texting app that will automate reminders and allow caseworkers real time texting with their clients. For the caseworkers it will be no different from using Gchat or Facebook Chat. For the kids, they wont know any difference, the text will appear on their phone just like any other text.

This creates a modern means of communication between caseworker and youth, but this project wants to go further. The texting platform will also integrate with DJS's case-management system, which will provide automated reminder-texts to kids with upcoming appointments and trial dates. The end result is better communication, better reminders, and fewer kids in jail.

The Problem

Sitting in a meeting in Baltimore City, a case worker from the Department of Juvenile Services offhandedly mentioned she didn't have a cell phone. When pressed about this shocking omission in 2014, she said they used to have a cellphone but they were taken away during Recession Era budget cuts. I was astounded.

Here's an agency tasked with dealing with kids aged 8-21 and they can't text. They have to leave voicemail. Simply put, DJS couldn't communicate with their kids how their kids communicate. Maybe you think that's not a big deal, but the 2013 Annie E. Casey Doors to Detention study tells us this is a big deal. The statewide study said that the majority of youth in secure detention weren't there because of a criminal offense. They were there for a technical violation of their community release--things like failure to appear in court or missing a series of community meetings.

This communication breakdown not means only more kids in jail, it means more kids in prison. The 2015 Annie E Casey Doors to Commitment study showed the same problem. Kids aren't going to prison because of the crime they committed, they are going because of a violation of their release.