CrimeSync exemplifies the individual grit and determination in attempting to change the domain of justice delivery. CrimeSync is the brainchild of Sorieba Daffae, a young lawyer and changemaker navigating the complexities of criminal justice institutions in his country Sierra Leone. The software platform brings different agencies together under one roof as they work on criminal justice collectively. CrimeSync is the winner of HiiL’s Annual Innovating Justice Challenge 2019 (Justice Hub 2019).
The data and facts presented in this case study were collected during conversations between HiiL and Soreiba on October 1st and 15th 2020, respectively. The text has been condensed and edited for clarity.
Sorieba Daffae wanted to combine his background in technology and law to work towards solving societal problems, especially access to justice and the rising rate of crime throughout Sierra Leone.
The police in Sierra Leone release nationwide crime statistics every year. Soreiba analysed data of the past five years to identify patterns. He also referred to reports such as the Afrobarometer and one of the UNODC’s Analysis on Crime. HiiL provided support in fine tuning classification of crimes. HiiL’s Justice and Needs Satisfaction survey conducted in multiple countries in Africa showed crime as one of the most prevalent justice problems experienced by people. This helped to confirm significant issues in the criminal justice system and how it responds to crime.
For Sorieba, the question that emerged from the data involved institutional capacity. Is the system simply not equipped to deal with a large volume of cases or is the system insufficiently dealing with the cases?
He started to get acquainted with the system itself first by speaking to professionals within the justice system to understand the institutional structure. Sorieba visited prisoners and interacted with officers to know the inner workings of the prisons and the courts. These conversations led to a detailed understanding of the system and pointed to Soreiba that, in fact, the underperforming criminal justice system can attend to 50% more volume. The challenge to be solved: help make the system more efficient.
He saw that there was no repository that recorded details of the case. The officer investigating it would make it difficult for victims, complainants and even the police officers to keep a track of the status of cases.
After studying the system thoroughly for 6 months, he identified the blockages. The available data showed that the number of pre trials was roughly always around 52%. More than half of the inmates in prisons were stuck without adequate legal recourse.
In many occasions, the inmates were already in prisons for more time than the highest duration of punishment possible under the crime in which they were booked. This troubled him greatly and decided to do something about this problem.
Sorieba analysed what different functionaries of the criminal justice system such as prison officers, police, judges to identify objectives wanted to achieve. The insights helped him to outline the activities and processes that would need streamlining if the objectives had to be achieved. Accordingly, he designed a software called CrimeSync, a platform to record and monitor data in the prison, which would outline the number of inmates, the alleged crime, time spent in the jail and a number of other details.
He then conducted step-by-step training with the prison officers for seamless execution of the processes. For instance, if a prisoner officer’s objective is to allow seamless identification of inmates that need to go to court the next morning, Sorieba would ask the officer the steps that the prisoner would have to go through. In this way, he gave control to the justice functionaries in the design of CrimeSync. It became a participatory process, in which functionaris of the criminal justice system were actively involved. To cultivate a sense of ownership of CrimeSync among the justice workers, Sorieba would say that:
Before designing the product, Sorieba referred to crime statistics published annually by the police in Sierra Leone. He conducted analysis using data that dated back upto 5 years to find the gaps in the justice system in Sierra Leone.
To assess whether statistics align with experiences of persons in the justice system, he conducted visits to the prisons in the country. Over there, he interacted with prison officers and unearthed tragic stories of inmates who were imprisoned in the jail without even a fair trial and had ultimately served their prison sentence as a result of the delay in the trial process. The data, coupled with stories that emerged from the prison system, helped Sorieba determine that existing justice processes were falling short of people’s expectations.
To measure its impact on the system, CrimeSync examines if the number of cases closed and the number of under-trial prisoners reduced over time.
Unfortunately, data on the time taken to resolve a case prior to implementation of CrimeSync is not available. So there is no benchmark against which it can measure the improvement brought about in the time required to resolve a case. CrimeSync conducted preliminary research to measure the time taken to clear a case in a paper-based system but it was a rough study that did not give clear results.
However, Crimsync collects feedback from its users (the prison authorities in this case) to understand if it improved the efficiency and quality of life of the functionaries of the criminal justice system.
According to Sorieba, CrimeSync has helped reduce the prison population in Sierra Leone by 30%. But it’s not just about numbers but it’s about personal stories of individuals who were lost in the system. CrimeSync identified people who were in prisons for petty crimes or trivial matters. For instance, a Kenyan woman was mistakenly imprisoned. She was in prison for 3 months. The Crimsync team was conducting checks with some partners who are engaged in advocacy, that’s when they discovered her. When the authorities realised this mistake, her case was taken over immediately and she was released. One of the imprisoned boys lied to the police about his age, told them he was 16/18, but really he was 14. The platform has been able to bring data that was not available before, in front of the authorities and many people have benefited from this.
With the help of the CrimeSync software, the prison management system categorizes criminals by doing an assessment, called as violence risk assessment. It is a scientific tool that’s a part of CrimeSync. It measures the profile of the prisoners so that all petty criminals are not put together with hard core criminals.
To measure its impact on the system, the software examines if the number of cases closed and number of prisoners under-trial has reduced. Unfortunately, data on the time taken to resolve a case prior to implementation of the CrimeSync software is not available. So there is no benchmark against which it can measure the improvement brought about in the time required to resolve a case. CrimeSync conducted preliminary research to measure the time taken to clear a case in a paper-based system but it was a rough study that did not give clear results. However, the software collects feedback from its users to understand if CrimeSync improved the efficiency and quality of life of the functionaries of the criminal justice system.
Sorieba and his team built Enterprise Architecture deliverables. They wrote 4 sets of documents, the first one is about business architecture. This document profiles the roles and responsibilities of all stakeholders: the police constable, superintendent, the judge, chief justice, registrar of office. Each of these documents is 165 pages. It’s a granular document. It details every process for instance evidence management and how the minister of justice receives information from police. Sorieba documented these steps with the help of judges. It was a year-long process. These documents provide an overview of the criminal justice system to people who are not familiar with it. Then he replicated what he piloted. It worked seamlessly. It’s been appraised by so many people across the world, including Interpol that they are working the software now. It’s a locally-made product of international standards.
CrimeSync is trying to get the intellectual property rights but they are covered by confidentiality agreements with partners and local registrations. So far, they have filed for 28 patents.
CrimeSync has been piloted in two prisons: Pademba prison and a female correctional centre in Freetown.
There are only two separate detention facilities for women in Sierra Leone, the largest of which is the Freetown female correction centre. It houses 90 women and their children (1). These prisons deal with the biggest offenders in Sierra Leone (Mahtani and O’Gorman 2018). Both of them account for 51% of the prison population in the country. It took Sorieba a year to implement CrimeSync in the 2nd prison, after finishing with the first. As of now, the software is used in all 21 prisons across the country.
To ensure that justice workers outside of the prison system also can benefit from the services it provides, CrimeSync is conducting pilots with paralegals in various communities. Through its recently launched app, Paralegals can use CrimeSync to manage cases: record cases, survivors.
One of the organisations uses this platform to profile the victim: name, contact information, medical information, hearing details if they are supposed to go to court, take pictures of evidence and store them. They are deploying it for various organisations. And they call it Crimesync-mini. This app is being funded by the Open Society Foundation.
Sorieba has given a demo of the product to 8 French speaking countries in the African Union. Right now, the team of CrimeSync is also discussing how to expand its services to other legal jurisdictions such as common law and civil law. Its making efforts to expand geographically as well as sectorally.
Sorieba developed the software with the intention of selling it to clients for free and then charging them for value added services and other featured services on the platform.
The Government of Sierra Leone invested in the prototype of Crimesync. There are two sources of revenue. First is the government. Currently, Sorieba and his team are trying for the government to pay for the services that platform provides.
The organisation has also received funding from international stakeholders such as UNDP, DFID, Open Society Foundation, HiiL and EU. The international actors are not a stable source of income. At times, they bring in a lot of money, at times, none.
Sorieba engaged with Google in Ghana. Google is an entrusted authority with what they can do with AI in predictive analysis, where the next crime will take place, who the criminals are. They want to inject some more AI into it so we are trying to work something out with them.
The team is trying to design services for private practitioners to diversify its source of income, through the parent organisation: Fix Solutions.
The government of Sierra Leone pays for some of the services. But the organisation is facing challenges in terms of being sustainably financed.
Fix Solution, the parent organisation, is a for profit company. It is a software development company that works across sectors. It handles issues other than crime. It has developed a travel portal, tools needed to resolve the Covid-19 crisis among other projects. The initiative is turning out to be lucrative. This for profit company helps CrimeSync in staying afloat, especially by paying salaries of staff members.
Sadly for CrimeSync, many organisations, people and government officials like the idea. They say it is very innovative and much needed but they are not willing to pay for it.
CrimeSync gets revenue through maintenance from all the institutions it servers and some organisations subsidizing the platform. It also receives donor funding but the main source of funds is mostly the revenue generated from the system itself.
It now plans on extending its services to private law firms as they need help in managing their basic cases and setting internal processes.
Direct quote from Sorieba, “Someone asked me “In 5 years time, what can go wrong that will derail your innovation?” My answer would be that I don’t want CrimeSync to be a surveillance tool. This is the biggest fear that I have. Such a tool can be misused in many ways and we need to find a way of managing this problem.”
Direct quote from Sorieba, “The government is not averse to everything, it’s about how you convey a message to them. If you say that the police are wasting resources, then such a statement carries a connotation. The empathy with which you convey messages to those in the system matters. We have to walk in the shoes of the police inspector. The people who are in charge of the system are not averse to change, they are not bad people. The way I present matters. I have to have a dialogue with them to give feedback. It is important to involve those in the system in the process of change and let them be the owner of the initiative. When they say CrimeSync is Sorieba’s initiative, I say no it is yours.”
CrimeSync software is now being included in the training programs offered to the upcoming batches of new police recruits. The judges are also required to use it. The software is more or less embedded in the system to a significant extent.
The innovation has stimulated the following research and policy action:
CrimeSync has proven to be catalytic in increasing usage of data among policy makers in the space of the criminal justice system in Sierra Leone. The software creates a Dashboard in consultation with stakeholders such as the Chief Justice, Vice President incharge of national security, ministers, head of police, and national security. The indicators on the Dashboard are developed in consultation with what the stakeholders would like to see. The Dashboard acts as a repository of statistics on crime and justice and features detailed data on the profile of the criminals as well as the victims, how to financially optimise the functioning of prisons by identifying prisoners who are adding burden on the infrastructure of the prisons, and a few other themes.
Data is also collected on the overall system as well. For example, when it comes to the economy of justice, Sierra Leone spends 8.9 million dollars in major prisons across the country. They spend this money to guard, feed and house the prisoners. Some of these prisoners have committed traffic offences that are worth around 200 dollars, but the expenditure of keeping those prisoners is around 2000 dollars. Data such as this prompts action. It also makes it possible to analyse prisoners from the parameters of gender, economic and social or for example, educational backgrounds in understanding the type of crime committed.
The innovation has benefitted from the following research and policy action:
CrimeSync has legal ambassadors such as lawyers, judges, police officers who promote the use of technology and citizen’s engagement in the legal field. The organisation is trying to bring private practitioners on board and get them to lobby for CrimeSync.
CrimeSync has proved to be catalytic in increasing usage of data among policy makers. It is creating a Dashboard in consultation with stakeholders such as the Chief Justice and other justice leaders as well as policy makers. These stakeholders suggested indicators that they would like to see on the Dashboard. The Dashboard acts as a repository of statistics on crime and justice in Sierra Leone. It features data on gendered crime, how to financially optimise the functioning of prisons by identifying prisoners who are adding burden on the infrastructure of the prisons, and a few other themes.
According to Sorieba,
Data collected by CrimeSync has highlighted larger socio-economic problems that plague Sierra Leone. Imprisonment of women for non-criminal matters is one such problem. The collected data by the software shows that women in Sierra Leone are often arrested for being unable to repay debt and other such reasons where they are unable to meet their financial obligations. They are booked under the offence of ‘fraudulent conversion.’ CrimeSync identified one region in the country that accounts for 39% of fraudulent conversion cases. Over 85% of them are women. Sorieba is taking up the case of these women with the Finance Ministry. He proposed the solution that there is a need for cash transfers among communities that will prevent women from falling in the debt-imprisonment trap. As a result, the Ministry of Finance is taking cash transfers into consideration in the financial plan.
The attention of the justice sector institutions in Sierra Leone has been redirected to protecting the public health emergency protocols and or legislations. There is reduced reporting of crimes as access to the police during this pandemic appears to be limited. The use of the fingerprint component of Crimesync in prisons and police has been suspended to avoid contact between subjects. The organisation had plans to expand to other locations in the country but they are now stalled due to the pandemic.
A single case was recently detected in the biggest detention facility (with more than 1,500 inmates). The CrimSync team has had to work from home, which has brought on additional challenges of aligning processes and maintaining productivity. In a move to adapt to the new rules and regulations announced to contain the spread of Covid-19, the organisation is enhancing its mobile products. SMS campaigns with a partner (OSIWA) on sexual and gender based violence to targeted communities have also been organised. CrimeSync is also rolling out value added service products to support citizens’ reporting of crimes.
The majority of female prisoners are arrested for minor, petty offences such as theft, loitering, disorderly behaviour or debt. These laws are vague, poorly defined and disproportionately affect the poor. Many women spend excessive time in prison waiting for their trial to be heard or serving sentences simply because they cannot afford to pay the alternative fine (Mahtani and O’Gorman 2018).
Justice Hub (2019). How to fix Sierra Leone’s criminal justice system through tech innovation.
Mahtani, S. and O’Gormon (2018). Inside Sierra Leone’s maximum security prison for women. Aljazeera.
Table of Contents