Man vs. machine in juvenile justice?

Sunday, March 6, 2011; A01

Joseph Mitchell monitors youngsters on behalf of the District's juvenile justice system, conducting daily checks that supplement the work of probation officers and social workers. He makes sure the youngsters make it to class. He stops by their homes to make sure they're in by curfew. He sits in court with them so they don't feel alone.

He does this as part of a job that most people have no idea exists and that now faces competition from a little black box. The city, using a $400,000 grant, has launched a year-long pilot program expanding the use of Global Positioning System devices to monitor juveniles, allowing real-time tracking of the youngsters at a less costly rate.

With 175 devices at their disposal, officials have until Sept. 30, when the pilot program ends, to weigh the benefits of computerized efficiency against human interactions, to ask, among other things: What is lost when no one knocks on the youngsters' doors every day?

Coming Sunday, C1.

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