The following checklist is a starting point in addressing the planning, development and implementation of drug court technology.

Network vs. Stand Alone. Determine if the information system will be housed on a network or on a stand-alone desktop PC. Influencing your decision will be such things as the size of the court, its caseload and whether you're sharing technical resources with a larger court system. An information systems specialist may be needed to help decide how best to proceed.

The Brooklyn Treatment Application was designed to operate as a networked client/server application. Its database is housed on a Digital Alpha server running UNIX, and the client application must run on a Windows NT workstation with 64 RAM. Purchasing, installing and configuring this hardware is expensive. It would be less costly if your information system can operate with a stand-alone application running on a standard PC.

Integration. Does your drug court need to retrieve information from existing legacy data sources? Your management team should determine early on if you need to integrate with an existing data source like a mainframe or enterprise-wide system. If you do, what scope of integration will meet your drug court's informational needs? This requires analyzing whether you need a system that responds immediately to data processing (known as real time) or one that uploads data based on a series of commands (known as batch file processing). Alternatively, you may be able to achieve what you need without building a costly new system. The appropriate strategy may be to interface with existing information systems within your drug court.

The above two points will largely shape the scope of your project. For example, a network-based client-server system with read/write capabilities to a legacy data source is a very large undertaking requiring a significant financial, operational and physical resource outlay. On the other hand, a stand-alone system that operates on a few PCs in the drug court requires substantially fewer resource outlays.

Physical Infrastructure. Conduct a detailed survey of your location's technology infrastructure. Know what types of computers, server(s), network (LAN) are in place. Also, develop partnerships with the individuals or departments responsible for purchasing and supporting this infrastructure. They will be key to the success of your drug court technology.

The Brooklyn Treatment Court information system was designed to accommodate many users. When the project commenced there were no LAN or PCs at the location. Accordingly, the project worked with the New York State Unified Court System to purchase the physical infrastructure necessary to operate the system.

Partnerships. Recognize the importance of building partnerships with entities that have a stake in the drug court. In many cases, partners can bring critical resources to the table for developing new technology. These partners can be vital in leveraging resources both financially and operationally.

The Brooklyn Treatment Court works collaboratively with the New York State Unified Court System on the Treatment Application. Since the Brooklyn Treatment Court developed the Treatment Application, the NYS UCS has taken over administration of the database and provides data links to criminal justice information such as a participant's criminal history. In turn, the Treatment Application has now been adopted as the standard drug court MIS in New York State.

Budget. Establish a bottom-line dollar figure you can spend on planning, development and implementation of a drug court information system. Understanding your budgetary limits will further help define the scope of the project.

If your court is working with a budget of $100,000 and you would like to develop a client server-based system that runs on the network to be used daily, it is safe to assert that your costs including programming and equipment will exceed the available budget. In this case, you would need to raise additional funds or modify the scope of your project. Please check out the >Links' under the Tools section to find out the types of funding or financial assistance that may be available.

Needs Assessment. Identify the specific information/data needs of your project. Reach out to all partners to assess their needs, especially those relating to evaluation.

Identify the information key drug court players want. You'll want to find out, among other things, how data is currently being collected, who is collecting it, what new data needs to be collected, if there is any data entry operation, and what reports will need to be created. Once these questions have been answered, a formal proposal or a design document outlining your drug court's needs should be prepared. Please see >Model Materials under the Tools section of the web site for a sample design document.

Application Functionality. Develop a detailed plan for application functionality, which would address issues including user access, security and client confidentiality. It might help to examine what drug courts nationally are doing in this area.

  • Learn which federal and state regulations apply to the release of information and confidentiality about a participant's criminal history and involvement in substance abuse programs.

  • Incorporate visual displays that make the information accessible and easy to understand.

  • Establish rules and guidelines regarding data access and write them up for drug court staff.

  • Appoint someone to administer the system and to create a security protocol based on the user access guidelines.

Project Management. A drug court may fail to achieve its stated technology goals because it has not tightly managed the project. To avoid this designate one person, or if the scope of the project is large, a group of people who will oversee the information system development process. The project manager will be responsible for coordinating all planning and development activities, including:

  • staffing, organization and management of project team;

  • troubleshooting;

  • assessing project needs;

  • training;

  • designing documentation and procedures to assist project team.

At the Brooklyn Treatment Court a deputy director oversees the technology operation and a project coordinator organizes the technical assistance projects associated with the MIS.

Build vs. Adapt. Understand the advantages and disadvantages between building a new information system or adapting an existing drug court information system.

The disadvantage of building a new system is that it's expensive to custom software from scratch. The advantage may be that your drug court can build a system tailored to its specific needs.

understand that technology is not static and is constantly changing, as will your drug court's needs. For this reason, you must plan for on-going costs including maintenance, protection against data loss, expansions, upgrades, modifications, programming, training and technical assistance.

If your drug court's information system is network-based and the user base and case load is expanding you may need eventually to upgrade the server -- a considerable cost.