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Kiosks Serve Bank Customers, Shoppers, and Probationers


You've seen kiosks in your town: kiosks for flowers, newspapers, bus information. But in 150 spots around the United States, you'll find a different and most unusual kind of kiosk.

It's sort of a government agency rolled into a little walk-up pavilion.

The agency is the department of probation, which keeps an eye on convicted criminals sentenced to court supervision in lieu of going to jail. These folks must check in regularly with a probation officer, who will try to make sure they have jobs, haven't been arrested again, and -- most important -- haven't skipped town.

But with four million adults on probation nationwide, many departments cannot keep up. To the rescue, for the first time ten years ago in New York kiosk, made by the AutoMon Corporation in Arizona, first makes sure you are you by reading your palm or fingerprint. Then, usually in less than two minutes in English or Spanish, using a lot of symbols because the clientele is often semi-literate, it asks a series of questions. If the probationer skips the appointment or tries to send a pal in his place, the machine will know it and alert marshals to go get him.

These kiosks are not out in the open, like pay-telephone booths. Nosy strangers can't point fingers at the criminals. That's because the kiosks are located inside probation department offices or police stations.

Unlike overworked humans, these machines don't take vacation or sick leave. And in several cities, there's another nice benefit. Happy to have avoided jail, probationers actually pay $5 or $10 a visit to use the machine.