The company I worked with creates communication solutions for the incarcerated.
(To comply with my non-disclosure agreement, I have omitted and obfuscated confidential information in this case study. The information in this case study is my own and does not necessarily reflect the views of the company.)
By 2016, an estimated 6,741,400 individuals were supervised by U.S. adult correctional systems. Prison (or jail) tech is on the rise, but currently inmate monitoring methods are low-tech and inaccurate; this issue is multiplied when it is scaled to hundreds and thousands of individuals and over many years.
Imagine if each inmate could be monitored via a wearable device that would transmit vital signs, sleep patterns and pedometer data. Using wearable technology and creating a monitoring app to keep track of that data would provide accuracy, ease-of-use, and decrease time-consuming administrative and documentation tasks. In addition, the wealth of data is an intriguing design problem and would deal with potentially thousands of data points.
I worked closely with the company's CEO and ideated a supportive mobile device management system for correctional facilities that manage and monitor wearable devices worn by inmates.
Throughout this case study write-up, I will provide a retrospective at each step in the design process.
The original goal of my role on this consulting project was to design a minimum viable product (MVP) around specific features; however this means that certain--and vital--use cases were neglected due to feature priority and timeline.
When I revisited this project with a renewed focus on the user, I ideated a variety of approaches and new solutions that I wasn’t able to explore in the original project scope.
The solution I’m focusing on for this retrospective is an outcomes management software aimed at supporting the development, monitoring, and evaluation of prisoner reentry programs. This could help redeemable individuals get out of the criminal justice system.
RESEARCH & ANALYSIS
I was excited to work on this project, because it was a great opportunity to understand the needs and wants of the incarceration industry and think about how to design a mobile device management system at scale. As I formulated my research questions, I split it into two areas: first, I wanted to understand the users; second, this was my first time designing a mobile device management system, so I wanted to research the technology too.
- Who are the main users that would benefit from this solution?
- What is being monitored?
- What is being managed?
- What are the facility staff roles?
This wasn’t my first time designing for inmate communications and monitoring. I had prior work experience with Telmate designing for tablets, kiosks and management systems. The type of user I worked with was similar, especially designing for inmate and corrections professionals.
I was presented the unique opportunity to design a web app that could monitor and manage device usage, manage apps and OS’s, provide device and content analytics, biometric data, and financial data; and furthermore, the monitoring should be able to scale to monitor hundreds or thousands of users.
UX & DESIGN AUDIT
This was a stealth and exploratory project, and there was no legacy or alpha/beta product, so I was free to start from scratch.
I also reviewed apps in the mobile device management space:
For the minimum viable product, I focused on admin roles such as:
- Super Admin, who would have the ability to dial back privileges per user.
- Custom Admin, who would have the ability to remove privileges from the default Super Admin.
Before I focused on the MVP personas, I also wanted to look at the following user types typically found in the incarceration industry. Whereas the Super Admin and Custom Admin personas focused on role-based access privileges, I wanted to explore these personas because these user types are more nuanced and have specific tasks and responsibilities that would inform the design to make the app a more rounded product.
- Correctional Officer
- Correctional Sergeant
- Correctional Lieutenant
- Correctional Captain
- Community Corrections Officer
- Classification Counselor
- Correctional Unit Supervisor
- Corrections Classification Officer
- General Correctional Officer Administrator
34 years old
28 years old
Correctional Administrator (Warden)
36 years old
Corrections Classification Officer
Task Task Task Report Writing Pre-Release/Release Preparation Classification and Case Management “Effective report writing is vital to your criminal-justice career. Poor reports don’t add value to an incident and only require more follow up work to be done to get the right information to begin with hence a loss of precious productivity and time regarding the outcome of such investigations or reviews.” “Not all offenders share the same risk levels or needs, and learning how to accurately assess these attributes and deliver customized help is an important element to truly helping people get out of the criminal justice system.” “Classifications systems should be valid, reliable, and consistent in today’s correctional facilities. Being subjective is like playing Russian Roulette when it comes to our officer’s safety. Safety should always be first and is the top priority of a classification unit.” Challenges Challenges Challenges Remain aware in the same surroundings every day, interact with a number of people who don’t want to interact with them and react in a moment’s notice when an incident occurs. Invisible dangers - severe mental illness, personality disorders or developmental disabilities Misclassification Be the eyes and ears for medical and mental health staff, the sounding board for the inmate and, at times, an informal counselor when mental health staff is not readily available and an offender needs to be talked down. Safety and security procedures consume an increasing share of administrators' time Inaccurate classification leaves the housing officer and other staff in limbo to a potential violent inmate. Inconsistent writing styles or no report at all Higher expectations among policy makers and the public for rehabilitation Needs Needs Needs To give evidence-based input on reports, classification decisions, etc. To inform sentencing and recommendations for intervention or rehabilitation programs. To evaluate an inmate and assign them to the right part of the corrections system. Improve identification of offenders who are more likely to commit crimes in the future Identify offenders with the potential for escape and misbehavior while in prison Careful inmate intake screening to identify medication needs, suicidal thoughts and ideations, anger outbursts, self-destructive behaviors, and other risks associated with mental illness. Tech Expertise Level & Use Tech Expertise Level & Use Tech Expertise Level & Use Facebook only
SCOPING THE DESIGN PROBLEM
DESIGN PROBLEM STATEMENT
Implementing unmonitored wearable devices into a prison would be irresponsible and a frustrating experience for corrections staff.
In the original problem statement, I focused specifically on admin roles and their use cases for the purposes of the project timeline. However--realistically--in the corrections ecosystem, there are other roles that would be involved in monitoring inmates. That said, I would have liked to dive deeper into the problem statement and explored areas like the following:
Report writing is a challenge for Corrections Officers because they have to interact with unforthcoming inmates.
Pre-Release / Release preparations is a challenge for Correctional Administrators because there can be bias against offenders based on race, their charges, mental illness, and/or other factors.
Classifications is a challenge for Corrections Classifications Officer, because it's hard to detect, monitor, and manage a growing population of mentally ill offenders.
- Lightweight UI and workflows, requiring minimal interaction from staff.
- Actionable next steps at a glance.
In the original design criteria, I focused on the app being lightweight, unobtrusive in day-to-day tasks, and providing actionable next steps at a glance.
However, based on my learnings, I would revise my design criteria to include the following user needs: What would the staff at a correctional facility find useful in outcomes management software?
- Efficient task-based user interface.
- Meaningful and logical screens.
- Effective data visualizations that would enable the user to discover unexpected patterns and invite a different perspective of the data.
- Eye-friendly, clean, focused, and no fluff.
- Consistency and standards in visual design, interactions, and UI patterns.
DESIGNING THE SOLUTION
I initially focused on the Monitor and Financial pages. The wireframes were inspired by components from Material Design (Data table, Expansion panel) and my previous experience with Elasticsearch concatenation.
App functionality is basic:
- Search and/or select an inmate to monitor and configure their device settings.
- Select one or more inmate to manage or run user report.
- View high-level financial data and statements to understand the activity and progress of the wearable devices program.
Mo Data, Mo Space
I learned that more data will display in the table, so I explored displaying content in a modal and added the ability to apply filters.
I was also informed that Admin Users will be screening the communication apps on the wearable device (photos, messages), so I explored ways to efficiently display content within the table (popover).
The ‘Device Management’ page was added, and I explored different ways to display data (charts, bar, etc.)
Expand and Collapse
I realized that side panels would be the better choice than a modal because it would allow more screen real estate and also not block content, so I reverted back to data displaying in a side panel that opens and closes when an inmate is selected.
I also explored an expandable/collapsible filter ‘side rail’ for additional screen real estate.
The screening feature was placed within the data table, allowing the Admin Users to quickly investigate and monitor at a glance without leaving the Monitor page.
CONCLUSION & RETROSPECTIVE
Writing this case study and documenting lessons learned was an educational and rewarding experience.
The solutions I created in this case study are a promising start to the design lifecycle but in order for my design to be fairly evaluated and well-rounded, I would have liked to develop my skills in user research and do more user testing to validate my designs.
At times it is difficult to sell to a client the importance of diving deep into user research before producing design deliverables. I strive to improve my skills in the user experience design process and further push for the creation of personas, writing use cases, diving deeper into the needs of the users and asking “What is the design problem I am solving for?”
I learned a lot working on this project. Although I am familiar with and have practiced user-centered design processes, I’m learning to apply a more formal framework and process in an oftentimes unpredictable design project. Using a design process has helped me articulate my design decisions to stakeholders and make sure my design solutions are user-focused and based on research and user studies, rather than subjective feedback. Also, following a design process has helped me strategically evaluate my designs as I create various iterations and identify areas of improvement.
This is a project I would love to revisit. The criminal justice system and high-tech are not often used in the same sentence, but this project illustrates that there is a disadvantaged audience that would benefit from web and mobile technology tailored especially to address their pain points in day-to-day tasks, support correctional staff, and empathically help people get out (and stay out) of the criminal justice system.
- Welcome to the High-Tech Jail of the 21st Century
- New Solano County jail a high-tech marvel
- Runnels County Jail gets tech upgrades
- 4 Elements of Successful Reentry Programs for Inmates
- The Nightmare of Prison for Individuals With Mental Illness
- Mental Illness Soars In Prisons, Jails While Inmates Suffer
- How Apps Are Tackling Important Mental Health Issues
- Elevated Vital Signs in Late Teens May Portend Future Mental Issues
- Browsing Documents Related to 'Classification Research'
- Research Finds Offender Risk Assessment Tools in U.S. Are Promising, but Questions Remain
- Challenges for Canada in Meeting the Needs of Persons with Serious Mental Illness in Prison
- The Challenges of Incarcerating Mentally Ill Inmates
- Not ready for re-entry: State falls short in preparing inmates for release
- Release Planning for Successful Reentry: A Self-Assessment Tool for Corrections
- Classification – The Engine That Makes Correctional Facilities Go
- “A Look at Subjective and Objective Classification”
- 4 tips to excellent report writing for corrections officers