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The Office of the District Attorney of Allegheny County is turning to artificial intelligence.

The DA’s office announced Monday that it will begin using NICE Justice, an AI-powered tool from the publicly traded, New Jersey-based NICE’s Evidencentral platform. The hope is that this cloud-based technology will make it easier to manage digital evidence, and ultimately render outdated tech like discs unnecessary while advancing efficiency.

“We have a sizable number of cases that were postponed due to delays in processing digital evidence,” said Rebecca D. Spangler, first assistant district attorney for the Allegheny County DA’s Office, in a written statement. “With NICE Justice, we’ll be able to streamline the entire process of managing digital evidence, from intake to discovery. When we’re able to eliminate postponements by making the system more efficient as a whole, that’s good for everyone.”

Since the DA’s office has just 127 attorneys to manage 35,000 cases annually, the announcement said, staff members tend to have more digital evidence than they can handle. Not only that, but since the office receives evidence from 200 different police departments that share their digital evidence in multiple formats, thus extending evidence processing time.

The benefit of NICE Justice, per the DA’s office, is that it consolidates evidence intake through one system. Additionally, police departments will be able to upload and share all different types of digital evidence through a single online portal. Once uploaded, the evidence will be automatically placed in the relevant digital case folder. The NICE Justice platform also includes an AI-powered transcription and redaction software which will further save the office’s staff time.

“As digital evidence grows, the entire criminal justice system is becoming bottlenecked. NICE Justice is an innovative solution to this digital evidence challenge,” NICE EVP Chris Wooten said. “By combining AI and automation, NICE Justice liberates everyone from the manual work of managing digital evidence — police departments, public defenders, prosecutors, and courts — so they can deliver swifter justice and get to the truth faster.”

Although the DA’s office sees AI as a tool for efficiency, criminal justice advocates have been wary of the use of the technology in the criminal justice system. In 2019, for instance, when the Pennsylvania Commission on Sentencing approved a tool to identify folks who are “lower risk” to move them to diversionary programs and curb overcrowding at prisons, advocates worried racial and gender biases within the technology could actually increase incarceration.

Atiya Irvin-Mitchell is a 2022-2023 corps member for Report for America, an initiative of The Groundtruth Project that pairs young journalists with local newsrooms. This position is supported by the Heinz Endowments.

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