Sep 1, 2009

"Outbreaks Near Me"

You may have noticed that we're a little obsessed with technology, and especially the iPhone, at Rethinking Reentry.

It was hard to pass, therefore, on this story about a new iPhone application, called "Outbreaks Near Me." With all the hysteria about H1N1 (Swine Flu), this app provides users with a way of tracking outbreaks of the disease near them. Users can even upload "outbreak reports" with pictures and descriptions.

Creators at Children's Hospital Boston and the MIT Media Lab admit that the current version isn't able to weed out fake reports from real ones, but say that the tool has real potential if it is adopted among a wide swath of the population.

The thing we're pondering, of course, is whether this kind of application could have other uses, particularly in problem-solving justice. Putting aside the issue of access to technology for the moment (we are well aware that most reentrants don't have the means to acquire and maintain an expensive iPhone), of what use could this technology be in criminal justice circles?

  • What if employers could post jobs to the application (a "jobs outbreak!") and reentrants could find open positions and (more importantly) find employers friendly to people with criminal records?
  • What if parole officers could post their own reviews of local service providers for their colleagues to see? Or share information about a recent spate of relapses in a certain neighborhood for other law enforcement officials to be aware of?
  • What if service providers could get real time information about reentrants who are new to the neighborhood (hmmm, we'd have to make sure this is legal ...) so that they could better target them for services and support?
  • What if reentrants could post reviews of stores, service providers, faith institutions, or other community stakeholders who helped them out (a "good will outbreak!") and would be willing to help others returning to the community?
Any of these ideas would make the process of return certainly more efficient, and with the possibility of pictures and video, perhaps enriching for the technology consumer.

As always, if you have any ideas, we'd love to hear about them! How might this technology be useful in your criminal justice pursuits?