Feature: Towards an Integrated Criminal Justice System

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By all reports criminals have taken to abusing information and communications technology (ICT) in a big way, but the same does not appear to be true of law enforcement – at least not in SA.
The country’s police stations and courts are still largely bereft of ICT and a great deal of spin is generated around even small accomplishments, such as close circuit television (CCTV) cameras in a few courts to allow abused children to testify out of sight of their molesters.      
Addressing a Justice Crime Prevention and Security Cluster media briefing in Pretoria in August, then police minister Charles Nqakula said the review of the criminal justice system had “become the leading project of the JCPS cluster”.
“It is the crucible that must temper the work of the Integrated Criminal Justice System (ICJS). The review, which was given impetus by the partnership we have with big business, seeks to overhaul the criminal justice system and through an effective system of management and co-ordination, define a process of seamless interconnection between investigations and arrests; prosecutions and adjudication, and detention and rehabilitation.”
Nqakula added that “some of the work … has already been done en route to the implementation of all aspects relating to the revamp of the system. He added that an effective criminal justice system “is the best guarantor for the reduction of crime.”
ICJS
National Prosecuting Authority acting CIO Marnus Steyn says the state has been working on an integrated justice system (IJS) since 1995.
The IJS has two legs, one civil, to deal with divorce, delict and the like, and one criminal. Within the Department of Justice (DOJ), the NPA is responsible for the latter. 
The ICJS is a massively complex transversal “crime to time” business process reengineering scheme  that when completed will give the appropriate people the appropriate information at the appropriate time to successfully prosecute crime, administer the criminal courts and rehabilitate and reintegrate offenders.
Departments and agencies involved with the NPA in creating this is the police, the DOJ and the Department of Correctional Services (DCS). Recent arrivals are the National Treasury and the Department of Home Affairs (DHA).    
“To build an ICJS is a huge challenge, and I don`t think we realised this when the initiative started in 1995. We knew it would be a whale we had to eat, but we didn`t know the size of it; and it has taken a long time to get to grips with the problem,” says Steyn.
“But we have made much progress over the last few years. It took a long time for people to understand what the ICJS really means… and in my own opinion is we`re probably in the best position now that we`ve ever been in to achieve the objective.”
The NPA IT chief – and former prosecutor – adds that a number of factors bedevilled the project in its early years. This included a lack of understanding, trust and cooperation, turf wars, complex and unmapped processes and an absence of appropriate technology.
“Much of ICJS involves incredibly complex processes and it takes an incredible amount of time to get your head around them because for nearly every rule there`s an exception.” Steyn says much of the technology side of the ICJS involves integration and for a long time this was an IT soft-spot. This has changed with the advent of open standards and modern software engineering tools. “It is so easy to integrate now in comparison to when we started. Then there was so much bespoke development required.”
The second leap forward was the mapping, simplification and standardisation of processes across ICJS departments while the third was the development of cooperation, coordination and mutual trust, enabled in part through a number of boards and steering committees.
The keystone of this pyramid is the Developers` Board, consisting of the directors general of the contributing departments. Answering to them is the IJS board chaired by DoJ CIO Sharon Thomas.
Below these august bodies are a number of steering committees, including one tasked with architecture and another coordinating the development of SAJXML, the SA Justice Extensible Markup Language. Modelled on a similar US XML and under development under the auspices of the State IT Agency, Steyn says SAJXML will bring about “a new level of interoperability” in the fight against crime.               
 



 
The NPA ICJS architecture
The NPA ICJS toolset consists of a
   
-          Prosecutors workbench: “This allows quick and easy access to the information they need to properly prepare for a case, things like published cases, and work colleagues have done,” says acting NPA CIO Marnus Steyn.
-          Unreported cases database: “Not all cases reported in criminal law reports, but that doe not mean they are not relevant to us, and the rules of precedent apply,” says Steyn. “So we keep our own cases to establish sentencing trends and the like.
-          Prosecutorial experts database: “We have a huge potential pool of shared knowledge and this draws it all together,” says Steyn. “This database will capture and share knowledge and move us away from the anecdotal and word-of-mouth system used to date.”
-          Prosecutorial case flow management system: Steyn says this system will interface with the police`s integrated case docket management system and give prosecutors early insight into police investigations, allowing for a prosecution-driven process of the type that made the Scorpions so successful.   
-          Prosecutorial schedule and resources management system: This will make sure there are prosecutors in court to represent the state and ensure “that we know where they are and what caseload they are carrying.”
-          Criminal assets recovery system: The Asset Forfeiture Unit`s (AFU) IT system. “The AFU is a big drive within the whole anti-crime environment. They take the profit out of crime,” says Steyn.
-          Electronic case management system: “This is about governance, retention, workflow. We`ve developed this and are about to roll it out nationally.” This application allows the AFU and other NPA specialist units to manage their investigations. 
-          Management and tracking system: A business intelligence and management information system.
 
Identity management
Home Affairs has a mass of information, especially for identity management,” says Steyn. “Identity management is key to the ICJS – I need to know I`m prosecuting the right person, or giving the right person bail.”
Criminals are inherently untrustworthy and have bribed each other to swap identity in order to escape from prison. In addition, criminals routinely deny their identities even in the face of overwhelming evidence “and it “it is a lengthy process to confirm they are who you think they are,” laments Steyn.
Yet the DHA has a repository of over 50 million sets of fingerprints and photographs that neither the police nor the NPA have access to. These were and are being collected from every South African every time they apply for an identity document or passport and there is no law nor legal impediment preventing the police, prosecutors or prisons from accessing it. All that is lacking is the means. But perhaps not for much longer.
      
“If we have access to the database at Home Affairs I can very quickly establish identity and short circuit a long process,” says Steyn. Some privacy advocates may be appalled at giving police access to the Home Affairs National Identification System (Hanis), home of the fingerprint and photo repository, and Steyn concedes legislation may be needed to regularise such access.
“But if you look at the attitude of the courts regarding privacy and bodily integrity… you cannot as an accused refuse to give fingerprints for verification at police local criminal records centre. The courts have said this does not impinge on privacy.”
He adds that section 36 of the Constitution imposes limits on rights including those that are reasonable in a democracy. This would include the police tapping Hanis to nail criminals. “If the right checks and balances are built in, I cannot see that there is a problem,” says Steyn.
The police already use handheld Sagem MorphoTouch mobile biometric scanners to screen prisoners as well as commuters at roadblocks. Costing about R45 000 each, the fingerprint scanners have been in use by police since 2002 but only draw on the police`s automated fingerprint identification system (AFIS), which only contains the fingerprints of previously captured criminals. (The prints of suspects that are later exonerated or whom the courts simply cannot convict on the available evidence are meant to be destroyed and are not in the police AFIS database.)
Presently only officials at Home Affairs head office in Pretoria have routine access to the Hanis AFIS and they use it to verify the identities of persons applying for documentation. The much delayed R2.5 billion “Who am I online” project will change that by rolling out Hanis AFIS access to every DHA office, as well as border posts and to the police, prosecutors and prisons – truly leaving criminals nowhere to hide.          
 

 
In addition to the NPA`s initiatives, the DOJ is implementing –
     
·         An “e-Scheduler” case management solution for the courts that allows Chief Magistrates and Judges President to allocate cases to magistrates and judges, manage workflow and allocate courts.
·         A “Justice Deposit Account System” to track trust monies, bail and maintenance payments.
·         A digital court recording system.
·         A workflow system for the Legal Aid Board.
·         A “transversal hub” to act as a nodal point between ICJS departments as well as the social development department to ensure links between
o        The police’s CAS, the Legal Aid Board and the courts’ e-Scheduler to facilitate the electronic transfer of pertinent data;
o        The e-Scheduler and the prison department’s admissions and release system (A&RS) for inmates;
o        CAS and “Crimm”, the system that contains the criminal histories of those who have had run-ins with the law.
o        Crimm, the A&RS as well as the Home Affairs National Identification System (Hanis), the Automated Finger Printing System (AFIS), the Live Scan fingerprinting system and the national photographic system to allow for fingerprint or “mug shot” verification.
·         An IJS business intelligence and management information system – a data warehouse – to generate useable statistics.
Timelines
The big question is “by when?” Steyn says the pieces of NPA ICJS will fall in place from next year and all should be in place by 2011. The police and prisons may take a while longer, though both have plans in place and pilot projects in progress.
For the prisons this includes a CCTV network linking them to the courts so that routine postponements can be remotely witnessed by the detainee – without the need to transport them to and from court, a process fraught with possibilities of escape.
The DCS have also invested in biometric gates and CCTV surveillance inside prisons and have trialled e-tagging solutions to track parolees after their release and awaiting trial detainees inside prison. DCS IT deputy commissioner Jack Shilubane has sung the system`s praises in Parliament but did not say when it would become ubiquitous.
The police are also tagging along. It last November successfully implemented a 10111 contact centre and policing command-and-control centre in Midrand for Gauteng province. A request for tender (RFT) for a second, in the Eastern Cape, closed in December and the response is currently (still) being evaluated.
It is expected that every province will have a 10111 centre by 2015. The police are also migrating from analogue to digital radio and part of the Gauteng implementation was a Terrestrial Trunked Radio (Tetra) network that includes a Global Positioning System (GPS)-based tracking facility to track police patrols and monitor their response to crime. The police are planning a Tetra RFT for the Cape metropole within the next 12 months.
Other initiatives include digitising the police photographic archive and piloting an e-docket subsystem to automate the criminal administration system as well as a Property Control and Exhibit Management (PCEM) to link 3 815 police stations and about 760 courts.
The RFT for the latter closed earlier this year; a pilot is scheduled for January and roll-out for April. All is to be done-and-dusted by January 2011.
According to the call to tenders the main motivator for the project is that “many criminal cases have been lost in court due to the manner in which exhibits have been dealt with, ranging from being contaminated, to the switching of evidence”. Other policing IT priorities are upgrades to the Forensic Science Laboratory, manned and robotic aircraft and geospatial information systems for border control.
Police stations are also getting their own command-and-control centres and the Department of Communications is setting up two Public Emergency Contact Centres (PECCs), reachable by dialling “112” toll-free on any communications device to allocate workload.
SA`s own “911”
Although not part of the ICJS, the PECCs will receive calls from the public and direct them to the appropriate emergency service(s). DOC spokesman Albi Modise says there are currently more than 350 emergency centres handling calls and dispatching for the various police, ambulance and fire-fighting services.
“The result is that South Africans have to know the telephone numbers of every emergency service provider in the country in the event of a specific emergency,” says DOC spokesman Albi Modise. “The new 112 emergency service will integrate all the services on one number, thereby allowing for a single entry in emergency situations, irrespective of the nature of the emergency.
Modise says the DOC hopes to award tenders by the third quarter of the year and have the centres running in time for the 2010 Soccer World Cup.
There is no reason these deadlines cannot be met. The politicians are talking the talk; the technicians are ready to walk the walk. The funding is in place and Treasury is aboard. But why is progress always ever-so-slow?