2 local kiosks to serve people on probation

A quick scan of fingerprints, the snap of a photo, and some click-clacking of keyboard keys might soon replace a meeting with a probation officer for many of the approximately 450 people on probation through Marietta Municipal Court.

Two machines, one of which will go on the ground floor of Marietta’s city hall and one which will be made available around the clock in the Belpre City Building, are currently being built and programmed to fit the probation department’s needs, said chief probation officer Dale Willson.

The kiosks will be an option for moderate to high risk offenders who are on probation for a misdemeanor crime and have a proven track record of compliance with probationary rules, said Willson.

“The opportunity to use a kiosk is going to be a privilege,” he said. “It will allow a probation officer to move those people who are doing everything necessary to a kiosk to reduce their case load to where they have time to really see people that need more services, more of their time.”

Willson himself handles around 400 low risk, non-reporting offenders, who would not use the kiosks. His three probation officers each supervise approximately 150 reporting probationers at any given time, many of whom Willson hopes to eventually transition into kiosk reporting.

The kiosks will work by allowing a probationer to check in with a user name and password. It will fingerprint and photograph the probationer and then ask a series of questions. The exact questions have yet to be determined, but they would likely have to do with changes to the probationer’s basic information such as work status or contact information.

The kiosks, which have a full keyboard, would also act as a message center where probation officers could leave messages or demands for the probationer, such as requiring them to report for a face to face meeting or take a drug screening upon check-in. Similarly, the probationer can leave messages or questions for his or her probation officer.

The two machines, which will cost approximately $21,000, are being funded with grant money from the Ohio Bureau of Community Corrections, said Willson.

Local residents said they could see both benefits and drawbacks to the system.

Marietta resident Sandy Rexroad, 55, pointed out that the kiosk system would take less time for everyone involved.

“I think it sounds like it will be a more efficient way of keeping track of probation requirements,” she said.

Jammie Barry, 29, of Marietta, agreed that the time officers spend on face to face meetings could be better spent elsewhere.

“It takes valuable time away from other things they could be doing like tracking down people who aren’t reporting,” she said.

Freeing up probation officers to spend more time with the offenders that need more supervision is the goal of the machines, said Willson. Currently, those required to report to an officer as part of their probation do so an average of once a month, though some offenders have weekly or even daily reporting requirements, he noted.

Similar kiosk check-in systems are already being used for offenders in Summit County and in the city of Toledo. Both areas have gotten positive feedback about the system, both from the supervising authority and the offenders using them, said Willson.

But some residents expressed concerns similar to those posed nationally as the machines gain traction-the benefits of human interaction.

As Marietta resident Adam Farmer put it, “I think the personal touch matters.”

While the kiosks likely mean improved efficiency, they will also chip away a layer of connectivity and accountability that happens during human interactions, said Parkersburg resident Mike Towner, 41.

“You can’t get all of the information that you need to read out of a conversation when it happens electronically,” he said.

The kiosks will not do away with in-person reporting entirely. Some probationers will likely never use the kiosk and even those who do will still be expected to have occasional in-person meetings with the probation officer, said Willson.

The machines are being programmed by Henschen & Associates, Inc. There is no date set for their arrival, said Willson.