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Report Ten Steps Corrections Dir Can Take to Strengthen Performance, May, Pew, 2008

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MAY 2008

10

Ten Steps Corrections Directors
Can Take to Strengthen Performance

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

As part of its assessment
of overall state government
performance, the Pew
Center on the States
conducted hundreds of hours of interviews with a
wide cross section of officials from 45 state
corrections departments in an effort to spotlight
the most effective management practices.
Across the country, innovative policy makers and
corrections managers are joining forces to improve
correctional systems’ performance, transparency

Better Information Leads to Better Outcomes

and accountability. We offer the following

2. Develop performance measures that matter.

management practices as a menu of the strategies

A number of states have begun implementing

currently under way that can be employed to

the uniform performance measures

strengthen prison operations and, ultimately, to cut

developed by the Association of State

crime and tame spiraling prison costs.

Correctional Administrators, which has
standardized the definitions of key

Get the Agency Mission Right

performance measures. More innovative

1. Reevaluate agency mission to include focus

states are now using outcome measures that

on reducing recidivism. Leading states have

judge the effect of policies on inmates in

completely reevaluated the missions of their

order to inform funding decisions.

corrections departments to include
recidivism reduction alongside other crucial

In this
brief:

3. Make better use of technology systems.

objectives such as keeping dangerous

Cutting-edge states are using modern Web-

offenders off the streets and maintaining safe

based applications that feature readily

and secure institutions.

accessible key “dashboard” indicators to track

5: Get the Agency
Mission Right

6: Better Information
Leads to Better
Outcomes

8: Corrections
Infrastructure
Matters

9: Re-think the
Money Equation

13: Focus People
on Performance

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY, CONTINUED
performance and adjust management
practices. As a lower-cost stopgap measure,

Focus People on Performance
7. Hold facility managers accountable.

other states have boosted information access

The leading correctional systems are

by grafting a Web-based interface onto their

reviewing detailed data at the facility level to

mainframe servers.

monitor trends and hold key managers
accountable for progress toward targeted

Corrections Infrastructure Matters

goals. Some states are going so far as to

4. Build smarter. Some states are targeting new

provide financial incentives for facility

construction for certain populations that need

performance, based in some cases on facility-

more intensive services, whether by building a

level inmate recidivism rates.

new stand-alone facility or an addition to an
existing institution. Adding to existing

8. Pay for security staff on the front end.

facilities can often be more cost-effective than

Leading states are addressing correctional

building expensive new facilities—and can

officers’ compensation inequities and

help achieve other goals as well.

developing career path strategies that can
save money in the long run.

Re-think the Money Equation
5. Seek alternative forms of funding. Some

9. Find nonfinancial ways to improve employee

states are forgoing new prison construction

morale. Cash-strapped states are carefully

by allocating resources to substance abuse

examining and following up on employee

programs, mental health treatment and

morale and quality of life issues to boost

community-based services that ultimately pay

performance and reduce turnover. Some

for themselves in cost-avoidance. Creative

states have addressed matters ranging from

collaborations with other state agencies and

the immediate work environment to housing

other jurisdictions also are streamlining

and child care.

services and saving scarce dollars.
10. Develop new leaders. Even in states
6. Develop partners to cut down on medical costs.

with interagency leadership academies,

State corrections systems are using a variety of

it’s important that corrections agencies

new partnerships—including contracting with

develop their own programs to tackle

public university hospitals and other entities—to

the unique challenges of managing and

provide cost-effective services, quality control

motivating employees in the high-stress

oversight and group purchasing arrangements.

prison environment. ■

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS
This issue brief was reported and written by Michael Blanding, who served as a consulting editor to the Government Performance Project
focusing on the functioning of state departments of corrections as part of the Project’s Grading the States 2008 report card on state
management. Jake Horowitz, senior associate with the Public Safety Performance Project, was an integral member of the issue brief review
team. The project’s creative direction and communications efforts were guided by Pew Center on the States’ (PCS) Carla Uriona and Janet
Lane, and Jessica Riordan of Pew’s Communications office. We would like to thank 202design for their design and production assistance, and
PCS associate Melissa Maynard for her copy editing skills.

2

Ten Steps Corrections Directors Can Take to Strengthen Performance

FOREWORD
These are challenging times for state departments of corrections. Truth-in-sentencing initiatives, tougher
laws for violent offenders and increased rates of incarceration for drug crimes and female lawbreakers have
sent prison populations soaring. The number of prisoners nationwide has nearly tripled over the past two
decades—from 585,000 to nearly 1.6 million—and many states are still facing projections of double-digit
percentage growth rates well into the future. (See Figure 1 on page 7.) North Carolina is planning for an
additional 1,000 prisoners a year. Pennsylvania is projecting 1,500, Arizona is expecting 2,000 and Florida is
looking at an eye-popping 3,000 extra prisoners or more annually. Overall, corrections costs have grown
even faster, spiking 315 percent in nominal dollars since 1987. (See Figure 2 on page 12.)
Many states have been hard-pressed to keep up with those increases. Legislatures have been right to
complain that budgets for corrections have been soaring; at the same time, corrections agency
directors often have even less money per prisoner to manage their growing populations. With state
budgets stretched especially thin in today’s volatile economic climate, the prospect of spending
millions for new prisons—or, as some see it, money for programs to educate and rehabilitate “bad
guys”—can be a tough sell. As a result, many systems are pushed to the bursting point, with institutions
at 125 or 150 percent of capacity—Alabama is the highest at 200 percent—and less money than ever
for corrections officers, who arguably have one of the toughest jobs in the country.
Fortunately, the stories from the cellblock aren’t all gloom and doom. In fact, precisely because of these
challenges, corrections directors have a rare opportunity to bring about substantial change. Prison budgets
have reached a point where they can’t be ignored. Many governors—and an increasing number of state
legislators—are beginning to take a leadership role in addressing the problem. The tired old debate about
coddling prisoners with programs versus locking them up and throwing away the key is finally taking a
backseat. In its place are discussions of more pragmatic approaches for dealing with the problem
underlying behind both overcrowding and soaring budgets: the increase in the number of prisoners.
By investing in forward-looking programming, training and motivating effective staff, and seeking out
community and private partners for help, many states are starting to make a determined effort at cutting
recidivism. The overall size of the prison population is more under the control of the legislature, judges
and parole boards—those who make sentencing and release laws and decisions—than those who
manage prisons. But by reducing the chances that a prisoner will commit another crime after release,
corrections agencies are not only improving public safety, they are also helping drive down their prison
populations and, with them, the bill that taxpayers must pay for prison construction and operation.
In the past eight months, as part of its assessment of overall state government performance, the Pew Center
on the States conducted hundreds of hours of interviews with a wide cross section of officials from 45 state
corrections departments in an effort to spotlight the most effective management practices. What we found is
that success is not simply a product of money or other resources. Rather, it depends upon adoption of

Ten Steps Corrections Directors Can Take to Strengthen Performance

3

FOREWORD, CONTINUED
innovative solutions by corrections management, transparency and accountability to determine what works,
and a willingness to transcend finger-pointing politics to invest in those policies and practices.
In all of these areas, corrections department directors are uniquely positioned to have a real impact through
management of the people, money, information and infrastructure that comprise their agencies. They may
also provide invaluable feedback to their governors and legislators to determine the states’ broader lawand-order policies. Through our interviews and analysis of department documents, we identified 10 practical
steps that creative corrections executives are taking to improve their effectiveness. If emulated by their
colleagues, these practices could go a long way toward cutting crime and the spiraling cost of prisons.
This report focuses on state departments of corrections, agencies that play an extremely important role in
providing public safety. Ten Steps Corrections Directors Can Take to Strengthen Performance is the result
of a collaboration between two initiatives of the Pew Center on the States. In 2008, as part of its 50-state
report card on state government, Grading the States, the Government Performance Project partnered with
the Public Safety Performance Project to conduct an in-depth examination of the management systems
undergirding corrections departments. The result is a compelling picture of how leading states are
redefining the missions of their correctional systems and using performance information to make smarter
policy, budget, human resource and facilities decisions. This report also suggests ways that governors and
legislatures can be better stewards of public safety, supporting their corrections executives with the tools
they need to create safer institutions and communities.
To be clear: We did not “grade” state correctional systems. Rather, we used the information that we
gathered to help inform our analysis of state management systems as a whole. In the analysis, we
focused on the domains of information, infrastructure, people and money to shine a spotlight on
emerging and promising practices in the states. We confined our review to prison operations because all
corrections departments manage prisons but only some include probation and parole functions.
Pew’s leadership in fostering meaningful change through data-driven research and partnership provides
a road map for high performance in all 50 states. Visit www.pewcenteronthestates.org to learn more
about your state’s performance through the Grading the States 2008 report, and the work of the Public
Safety Performance Project.

Neal C. Johnson
Director
Government Performance Project

4

Adam Gelb
Director
Public Safety Performance Project

Ten Steps Corrections Directors Can Take to Strengthen Performance

in 2003 at eight sites; the initiative is now active at

Get the Agency
Mission Right

18, and will be implemented departmentwide by
2010. “In terms of significant budget savings, we

Defining a public organization’s mission is one
of the most important and challenging
foundations to improving performance.
Understandably, employees can lose focus
when they are caught in a web of sometimes
conflicting organizational purposes that have
accumulated over years or even decades.

can fool around with a lot of little things, but the
only big savings we have left is reducing the
population appropriately and closing prisons,” says
Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC)
Director Patricia Caruso. To that end, the initiative
has funded “re-entry centers” that collaborate with
community organizations to help prisoners find job

Nowhere is this more true than in the
corrections policy field. A growing body of
evidence and practice suggests that the states
that are reexamining the balance between
reducing recidivism, protecting the public,
maintaining safe and secure institutions and
other crucial objectives are getting it right.
Without a doubt, one of the most effective
ways to improve public safety and reduce
prison populations is to marshal resources
toward a primary goal: Once offenders leave
state institutions, they don’t come back.

and program placement to better transition them
to the outside world. It has also completely
changed the way corrections officers are trained,
with an increased focus on preparing prisoners for
life beyond bars. The department continues to
work hard at implementation with participating
countries but, as a result of MPRI and other efforts,
the prison population trend was a flat line last year.
Kansas, too, has led the way in this new trend with
a recent shift in its strategic plan to emphasize
proactively managing inmates to reduce the

1

likelihood of recidivism upon release. Using a

Reevaluate agency mission to include a
focus on reducing recidivism.

comprehensive risk-assessment instrument, inmates
are given individualized case plans upon entering

“Re-entry” has fast become the hottest

prison to ensure they get adequate and

buzzword in prison management, with nearly

appropriate programming. Then, a year prior to

every state corrections department now placing

release, the department begins working with case

some focus on the concept. However, agencies

managers, parole officers and family members to

vary widely in the comprehensiveness and

ensure a smooth transition. Both Kansas and

effectiveness of implementation. The best states

Michigan have received substantial assistance in

in this regard have completely reevaluated the

their re-entry efforts from the JEHT Foundation and

missions of departments to include recidivism

the National Institute of Corrections.

reduction alongside other crucial objectives
such as protecting the public and maintaining

Similarly, Georgia has developed a forward-looking

safe and secure institutions.

20-year “Transformational Campaign” that includes
a strong emphasis on re-entry. For nonviolent

Michigan, for example, rolled out its Michigan

offenders, the Georgia Department of Corrections

Prisoner Re-Entry Initiative (MPRI) as a pilot project

incorporates the use of minimum security detention

Ten Steps Corrections Directors Can Take to Strengthen Performance

5

centers, diversion centers (in which inmates work in

corrections managers and policy makers

the community and report back at night), and

make better decisions.

transition centers. All of these options are less
expensive than traditional prisons and have

A number of states have begun implementing

additional programming to prepare offenders to

the uniform performance measures developed

rejoin the community. Eventually, Commissioner Jim

by the Association of State Corrections

Donald hopes to house 50 percent of offenders in

Administrators (ASCA), which has standardized

these kinds of lower-cost arrangements. “We need

the definitions of key measures. Begun with just

to differentiate between those offenders we are

six states (Washington, Ohio, Iowa, Louisiana,

‘afraid of’ and those we are just ‘mad at,’” he says.

South Carolina and Pennsylvania), this effort

For that second group, he continues, “We need to

now includes reporting from 36 jurisdictions on a

see what we can do to manage that population

variety of output and outcome measures.

without putting them in prison beds.”

Uniform measures help the field define its
standards of performance, compare among
jurisdictions and track progress. Measures gauge

Better Information Leads
to Better Outcomes
In both the public and private sectors,
advances in information technology are
shaping the organizations of the future.
In the corrections field, the Government
Performance Project team found that the best
efforts in improving performance depend on
transparent results that show progress toward
specific goals, such as cutting recidivism rates,
decreasing prisoner assaults on corrections
officers and reducing staff turnover. Accurate
performance measures—and the technology to
assemble comprehensive databases and
analyze them—are critical to help managers
better allocate funds and staff, and secure
funding increases to expand programs that
reduce recidivism or increase agency efficiency.

institutional and public safety, through variables
such as assaults on staff and recidivism;
substance abuse; mental health and academic
assistance, through variables such as needs
assessment, programming, and participation and
completion rates; and contextual information,
including offender profiles.
More innovative states have begun to use
outcome measures that judge the effect of
policies on inmates in order to inform funding
decisions. Nebraska’s corrections agency, for
example, is a leader in measuring not only overall
recidivism but also recidivism of inmates who
have completed different types of risk-reduction
programs. More importantly, the state has used
the measure to influence budget decisions. In
one instance, the state scrapped plans to build a
stand-alone substance abuse treatment center

2

6

Develop performance measures
that matter.

when evaluations showed the money would be
more effectively spent on hiring 40 new

Meaningful performance measures, including

substance abuse counselors and integrating them

authentic outcome data, are helping state

into separate wings at existing facilities.

Ten Steps Corrections Directors Can Take to Strengthen Performance

Other states—including Washington, Nebraska,
Ohio, Alaska, Wyoming and Iowa—are
producing their own corrections-specific
measurement systems. One of the most
sophisticated is Oregon Accountability Model, a
system currently being developed by Oregon.
The strategic plan has a multi-step process for
evaluating and improving every aspect of the
department through performance measures,
including some mandated by the legislature and
others developed by the department. The
department’s measures are among the most
sophisticated of any state at tracking the factors
that are most likely to lead an offender to
recidivate. For example, rather than just tracking
the recidivism rate, the agency tracks the
percentage of offenders employed 180 days after

trends and adjust management is particularly risky

release. Rather than just tracking the percentage

in an environment where managers make daily

of inmates completing programs, it tracks the

decisions concerning a potentially dangerous

percentage who enter and complete the

population. Yet many states are stuck in the 1980s

programs recommended for them in an intake

or even 1970s, with mainframe legacy systems

assessment. While the agency is still establishing

employing DOS or “green screen” interfaces.

baselines for many of these measures, it hopes to

Often this means that wardens and other managers

reap future benefits in reducing recidivism. “We

must submit time-consuming requests to their

took a look at the body of research out there and

research departments for data reports.

are saying what are the major contributing factors
to an offender’s criminality and focusing all of our

States on the cutting edge of technology have

efforts on that,” says Assistant Director of

replaced their old systems with modern Web-based

General Services John Koreski.

applications with a “dashboard” application that
allows managers to pull up information instantly.

3

States that have been unable to secure necessary

Develop modern information
technology systems.

funding for such upgrades have compromised with a
Web-based interface grafted onto their mainframe

You can’t track performance without having

servers, which nonetheless increases the accessibility

technology to support it. While corrections

of information. As the emphasis on re-entry and

departments are not the only areas of state

community corrections expands, some states that

government with outdated information technology,

are upgrading technology are integrating their

the absence of easily accessible data to identify

offender management systems for institutions with

Ten Steps Corrections Directors Can Take to Strengthen Performance

7

their systems for probation and parole. This creates

The technology is not only used for staff meetings

a seamless network that follows offenders from

but also for telemedicine and telepsychiatry for

intake through post-release supervision.

inmates and for parole hearings and
communications with family, saving the department

Improving technology doesn’t necessarily mean

transportation costs and strengthening prisoners’

spending big bucks on proprietary software.

community bonds in preparation for release.

Several years ago, a coalition of Western states led
by Utah, New Mexico and Alaska began
developing an open source management system
that would be free to any state that wanted to use
it—as long as that state allows any other state to
take advantage of any upgrades it made to the
software. Now, a second phase of the software is
being developed by the corrections agency in
Idaho. By creating new modules to coordinate
offender tracking in institutions as well as

Corrections Infrastructure
Matters
Inevitably, prisons are expensive. For decades,
the country has been on a prison-building
boom, spending tens of billions of dollars for
new institutions to house a rapidly growing
population. But states have not always received
the expected return from their investments.

probation and parole, Idaho is producing one of
the most state-of-the-art systems in the industry.
In addition to upgrading the backbone offender
management database, several states have
pioneered truly innovative technologies that are
making their agencies more efficient. Indiana has
developed so-called “smart phones:” small,
handheld devices that shift supervisors can carry to
quickly input information about incidents. The
devices are directly tied to the incident reporting
systems which allows officials miles away to get a
real-time view of what is going on in institutions

Because of political or economic
considerations, institutions sometimes are
sited in rural areas where it’s hard to find
adequate staff or contractors for services, and
transportation costs can skyrocket. In the
heart of cities or thriving population centers,
prisons can have difficulty competing with the
private sector for employees.
In the corrections field, the Government
Performance Project team uncovered
especially promising new approaches to
making decisions about new construction and
facility expansion.

and displays “hot spots” of violence or gang
activity. Other states are pioneering a similar

4

Build prisons smarter.

concept for probation officers, outfitting them with

8

computers in their cars that allow them to input

Changes in sentencing and release laws and a focus

information on the go—rather than waiting until

on community corrections and re-entry have slowed

the end of the day when they are back in their

inmate population growth in some states. But the

offices. And New Mexico, among many other

fact remains that many states still will have to build

states, has conquered the vast distances of its state

prisons in the upcoming years. While no one can

with regular use of videoconferencing technology.

undo past mistakes, corrections departments can

Ten Steps Corrections Directors Can Take to Strengthen Performance

ensure that future facilities help manage prison
populations in the most effective way possible. One
approach states are using is targeting new
construction for certain populations that need more
intensive services—whether as a new stand-alone

Re-think the
Money Equation
Financial resources are a critical ingredient of
any state policy, whether the area is
environmental protection, education and
health or corrections. State fiscal systems are
especially important in navigating today’s
uncertain economic climate.

facility or as additions to current institutions.
Adding to existing facilities can often be more
cost-effective than building expensive new
facilities—and can help achieve other goals as well.
For years, Alaska has had on the drawing board a
new “mega-prison” that would house 2,250
prisoners in a remote, rural area. Incoming Director
Joe Schmidt, however, performed an evaluation
upon entering office last year and concluded that it
would be more cost-efficient to build a smaller
1,250-bed prison while expanding several regional
prisons. By spreading out the construction, the new

The Government Performance Project team
found that leading state corrections systems
are creatively leveraging alternative revenue
streams—then using the results to make
better-informed state investment decisions.
State corrections leaders are also
developing new relationships with other
public agencies and the private sector to
get the most bang for the buck.

plan increased the agency’s ability to hire adequate
5 Seek alternative forms of funding.

staff—and house prisoners close to their families
and communities, aiding in their eventual transition
back to society. Similar concerns drove the

With the increase in prison populations and the

selection of a location for a new prison in South

emphasis on new programming to aid re-entry

Dakota. There, prison officials pushed to site a

efforts, prison budgets continue to climb. At the

prison in Rapid City because 30 percent of the

same time, the national economic picture shows the

state’s inmates came from that area, and the

country sliding into recession, squeezing the states’

majority of the state’s jobs are there as well, thus

ability to fund corrections and other essential

increasing the future employment prospects for

services. Some states, such as Kansas and Texas,

returning offenders. By working with the city’s

have found money for substance abuse programs,

mayor, the agency was able to secure a free parcel

mental health treatment and community-based

of land in an agreement to co-locate a county

sanctions—services that have ultimately paid for

facility and share costs for inmate transportation,

themselves by avoiding the need to build costly new

food service and other joint services.

prisons. Despite such savings, these programs cost
money up front that not all governors or legislatures
have been willing to provide.
In some cases, states have been successful in
obtaining initial funding from alternative sources,
continued on page 12

Ten Steps Corrections Directors Can Take to Strengthen Performance

9

How Governors and Legislators Can Help
Strengthen Corrections Performance

Governors and legislators are key players in setting
corrections policy, investing in the right strategies, and
overseeing agency performance. From establishing the
right sentencing and release laws to aligning fiscal
incentives and demanding accountability for
performance, these elected officials can help shape the
right framework to foster a high-performing correctional
system. Here’s how.
■

Reevaluate Sentencing Laws. Prison populations
in the past two decades have spiked for several
reasons, but more stringent state sentencing and
release laws are chief of among them. Mandatory
minimums, truth-in-sentencing requirements and

■

Coordinate Agencies on Reducing Recidivism.

tougher enforcement of parole and probation

Corrections doesn’t exist in a vacuum. The best

orders have made it more likely that felons will go

strategies for reducing recidivism—and helping to

to prison and stay there longer. Some states, such

drive down victimization and prison costs—require a

as Mississippi, Nevada and Maryland, have in the

collaborative effort among multiple agencies.

past year modified their laws to ensure that prison

Leadership by a governor or legislature can make a

cells are available for violent offenders while

tremendous difference in persuading agencies to

higher-quality supervision and services are available

work together, especially those with different
philosophies and cultures, such as law enforcement

to lower-risk offenders in the community.

and social service providers.
Changing sentencing laws does not necessarily
Oregon has established a “re-entry council” with

mean cutting terms of incarceration; it can also
mean reconsidering the types of commitment,

representatives from corrections as well as

especially for nonviolent offenders. Missouri, for

employment, housing, law enforcement and the

example, has recorded a 3 percent drop in its

legislature to review policies on returning prisoners

prison population, in part by mandating

and coordinate services to cut the state’s 33

presentencing reports that may suggest that

percent recidivism rate. Tennessee has established

judges consider nonprison sanctions in low-risk

the Tennessee Re-Entry Collaborative (TREC), with

cases. At the same time, the state’s corrections

representatives of a dozen state agencies and a

department implemented community supervision

similar number of nonprofits, coordinating services

centers with drug treatment and education

for released inmates.

programs to help manage the diverted cases.
■

Align Local Fiscal Incentives with State Policy.
Many states want to keep low-risk offenders out of
expensive state-funded prison cells, but local courts
often put these offenders in prison because they
believe that probation and community corrections
programs don’t provide sufficient supervision and

10

Ten Steps Corrections Directors Can Take to Strengthen Performance

How Governors and Legislators Can Help Strengthen Corrections Performance

services. When courts do put offenders on

■

Weigh the Cost/Benefit of Prison Construction.

probation, caseloads grow but resources to manage

Policy makers increasingly are recognizing that they

them usually don’t keep pace. This further weakens

can’t build their way to public safety. Before

the courts’ confidence in community supervision and

authorizing construction bonds for new prisons, they

leads to even more imprisonment, both for new

are taking a hard look at other options to hold

crimes and technical violations of probation.

offenders accountable and reduce crime. These

Some states have found a way to get policy and

who pose a real threat to public safety; that the

include ensuring that prisons are holding offenders
fiscal incentives in sync through Community

parole release valve isn’t clogged by a lack of in-

Corrections Acts and other state-local partnerships

prison risk-reduction programs; and that lower-risk

that award additional funding to counties to manage

probation and parole violators face a graduated set

low-risk offenders in the community. A recent

of sanctions before being sent to prison cells.

example is found in Kansas, where the state offered
$4 million in grants to local community corrections

Recently in Texas, for example, legislators worked

programs that agreed to reduce their probation

together with state auditors, corrections officials

revocations by 20 percent.

and the governor’s office to increase funding for
drug treatment and diversion programs by over

■

Analyze Salary Structure for Corrections

$200 million while also increasing the parole grant

Officers. There is no question that some

rate. Together, the steps cut an anticipated shortfall

corrections officers are paid well, often because

of 14,000-17,000 prison beds over the next five

of the influence of powerful unions or ample

years to a current projection of zero.

overtime. On the whole, however, officers are
woefully underpaid relative to their counterparts

■

Demand Accountability For Performance.

in other state and county law enforcement

Many states are developing sophisticated

agencies—a factor that helps account for the

performance measurement systems to hold agencies

exceptionally high rates of vacancy and turnovers

accountable and track the results of programs. States

in the prison system.

serious about getting a handle on their prison
populations must look beyond simply measuring the

To maximize retention of corrections officers, and

safety of institutions, or even monitoring recidivism

cut down on the expense and inefficiency of a

rates, to pinpoint what really works.

revolving door of new recruits, some states have
undertaken comprehensive analysis of their salary

States such as Maryland, Oregon and Washington

structure. Georgia, for example, recently brought in

are pioneering performance measures that track

a private management consultant to evaluate

specific positive outcomes such as inmates who

salaries across state government to ensure that

earn education certificates, get jobs upon release,

corrections officers’ pay is in line with competing

or overcome substance abuse. As part of their

positions. The legislature also has given the

statewide performance management systems,

department authority to offer retention bonuses for

these states also are evaluating the impact of

positions in regions experiencing particularly high

specific programs on recidivism rates. ■

rates of turnover because of competition from
county corrections.

Ten Steps Corrections Directors Can Take to Strengthen Performance

11

such as the federal government or grants from

for example, the corrections department agreed to a

private foundations. The trick is being able to

budget cut in order to give funds to social service

then show the effectiveness of programs in ways

agencies to aid in community corrections efforts.

that lead to ongoing funding from the state.

Under the governor’s leadership, corrections gave

Illinois, like many states, has been hard hit by an

up funds to the Department of Health and Human

increase in offenders incarcerated for

Services for substance abuse treatment, and to the

methamphetamine-related crimes. The state used

Department of Public Safety to build more halfway

a federal grant to implement a methamphetamine

houses. The result benefitted all of those agencies—

treatment program that state officials cite as one

and was a departure from the usual approach of

of the main contributors to a drop in recidivism for

competing over a limited piece of the pie. “We are

the first time in a decade. Because of its success,

not interested in building an empire,” says

the state began funding the program this year

corrections CFO Karl Spiecker. “If we can fund

despite a difficult financial climate.

programs in other agencies that reduce our inmate
population, that’s just good policy.” In another

Federal and private dollars aren’t the only places to

example, Iowa’s department has partnered with

look to leverage money for programs.

county jails to fund an in-jail substance abuse

Collaborations among different agencies within a

treatment program. It addresses the big increase in

state also can help provide efficiencies. In Colorado,

inmates sentenced for methamphetamine offenses
(many of whom are females with non-violent
histories), relieves overcrowding in the prisons,
provides a revenue stream for underutilized county
jails, and costs the state half as much per inmate
($30 per day compared to $60).

6

Develop partners to cut down on
medical costs.

Medical care is a leading contributor to rising
inmate costs, and some prison systems have been
slapped with lawsuits and resulting consent
decrees because of the poor care they provide
prisoners. While all state agencies face budget
increases due to the increase in health insurance
premiums, corrections departments are
particularly hard hit because they provide care to
thousands of offenders. Many inmates did not
have adequate medical care before prison, or
have special needs such as mental illness. And

12

Ten Steps Corrections Directors Can Take to Strengthen Performance

with an increase in the length of sentences, the
prison population has been aging, causing even

Focus People
on Performance

greater increases in medical treatment costs.
Thankfully, corrections departments don’t have to
exist in a vacuum. Some states have been very
successful at leveraging state-funded hospitals to
help provide medical care. Kentucky and
Connecticut, for example, have contracted out
inmate medical services to their state universities,
enabling them to get all of the benefits of a
university hospital system while leveraging costs
on medical procedures and taking advantage of
purchasing power to cut the cost of drugs. Rhode
Island, similarly, has been working on a mental
health screening partnership with a local hospital.
Even in corrections agencies that contract out for
medical services, states can play a role. In
Delaware, for example, the department has been
working to overcome poor medical care that led to

People form the living core of any
organization, and nowhere is that more true
than in state correctional systems. Given the
challenges of an aging workforce, new
expectations of younger workers and
competition for top performers with the
private and not-for-profit sectors, how a
state deals with its employees is crucial to
how well that state serves the public.
During this year’s “Grading the States”
analysis, the Government Performance Project
team found a wealth of creative new
approaches to helping public safety systems
meet their goals. They ranged from
performance incentives for facility managers
to data-based reviews of compensation scales
for corrections officers, as well as nonfinancial
morale-boosters and comprehensive
approaches to leadership development.

a consent decree in 2006. One of the ways it has
improved services is by partnering with the

7

Hold facility managers accountable.

Delaware Medical Society to perform regular
quality review of contractor services. “It’s a

The 1990s-era turnaround in New York City’s fight

significant benefit to the state,” says Commissioner

on crime arguably began with the implementation

Carl Danberg. “They provide a high level of

of the Compstat system, a process by which

expertise, and it is not costing the state a penny.”

officials kept meticulous track of statistics,
identified trends and held precinct captains

In addition to working with other agencies within

responsible in departmentwide meetings, where

a state, some states are banding together to

they were publicly called to account for their

leverage the economies of scale that come with

progress. Some corrections officials have led the

strength in numbers. North Carolina and

way in applying a similar approach to prison

Minnesota, for example, have banded together

management. After all, the best system of

in a multi-state consortium to make bulk

performance measurement is useless without

purchases of pharmaceuticals, negotiating lower

some mechanism to ensure that managers are

costs for drugs and positively impacting the

held accountable for progress toward the set

bottom line of each state.

goals. While many agency officials will say they

Ten Steps Corrections Directors Can Take to Strengthen Performance

13

hold meetings with facility managers, there is a

Because offenders often move through several

big difference between doing so on an ad-hoc

institutions while in the prison system, it’s not

basis and implementing a more formal, regularly

easy to tie recidivism rates to one institution—

scheduled process.

much less one manager. Even so, some
corrections directors are working toward pay for

The best example is in Maryland, where the state

performance systems that tie facility managers’

recently has implemented a StateStat system that is

performance back to their annual reviews. Iowa

directly inspired by Compstat. The crux of the

has instituted performance evaluations for

system consists of small StateStat teams that have

wardens that include several factors that affect

been systematically analyzing performance

recidivism rates, including the percentage of

information from state agencies. Several times, the

medium- and high-risk offenders receiving

agency has had live audits in which officials from

evidence-based interventions, the percentage

across the state identify trends and come up with

whose risk-assessment levels drop significantly

strategies to improve performance.

and the percentage who return to prison within
three years. “Our focus is not just on

Where no statewide system is in place, some

recidivism,” says Human Resources Director

corrections agencies are developing their own

Mary Murray, “but also on how we can help

internal methods to keep managers accountable.

offenders while we have them.”

After collating the data from its “smart phone”
incident reporting system, Indiana conducts
quarterly meetings at each facility to review

8

Pay for security staff on the front end.

incident trends face to face. In South Dakota,

There is no question that corrections officers have

the department holds monthly “metrics

very difficult jobs. In some states they are fairly well

meetings,” in which data is compiled into a

compensated for the daily risks they face at work.

briefing report given by the director and key

Still, in far too many cases, they are paid much less

managers, and managers are held accountable

than other state and local law enforcement officers

for progress toward targeted goals. Georgia

and private security guards. The low pay can lead

produces a monthly report that has

to crippling rates of vacancy and turnover for

comprehensive statistics for each facility on

corrections officers, impairing all agency functions.

incidents as well as program completion rates, so
top managers can hold wardens accountable by

For these reasons, Michigan has consistently paid

name for their progress.

corrections officers at a higher rate than many
states, including some neighboring states, despite

14

Some states are going beyond holding facility

facing severe budget problems. In spite of

managers accountable at meetings providing

increasing pressure from some legislators, the

financial incentives based on the performance

agency has held fast on salaries and defended the

of their institutions and the recidivism rates for

union that is responsible for negotiating the

inmates who leave them. The practice is tricky:

salaries and benefits of its officers.

Ten Steps Corrections Directors Can Take to Strengthen Performance

Says MDOC Director Patricia Caruso, who is
unapologetic about the pay scale for her officers:
“I need to have corrections officers who look at
this as a career, who have been here long enough
to see pretty much anything that can happen and
know how to respond to it. That saves lives. When
you pay corrections officers as if they work at the
local fast food joint you don’t get that. You get a
revolving door of inexperienced staff and a
dangerous prison system where the prisoners are
in control.” And if she gets any pushback, she
points to the example of a former private prison in
the state that didn’t compensate officers well.
Turnover ranged as high as 75 percent, even in
one of the poorest counties in the state.

used that study to secure a commitment from the
legislature for a $5,000 raise over the next three

In past years several other states, including

years. (As it turns out, only $2,000 of it went

Delaware, Louisiana, North Dakota, Vermont,

through this year, and it did not cover the most

Virginia and West Virginia, have pushed through

recent, most underpaid hires, a situation that the

raises for corrections officers to bring them more in

department hopes to rectify in the future.)

line with the private sector and other law
enforcement agencies. Delaware, for example,
pushed through an 18 percent raise for corrections

9

Find nonfinancial ways to improve
employee morale.

officers in 2006. Since then, the vacancy rate has
fallen to its lowest level in five years.

Despite the importance of salary to employees,
money isn’t everything. The flip side of the

In some states, corrections department directors

compensation debate is that corrections officials

have played a role in demonstrating to the

sometimes miss the other quality-of-life factors that

legislature how shortchanging officers is “penny

can go a long way toward increasing employee

wise, and pound foolish.” Their argument is that

happiness and decreasing turnover. States such as

high vacancy rates can lead to increased spending

Virginia, Pennsylvania, Connecticut and

on overtime, while high turnover can boost

Arkansas are formalizing this process with

recruiting and training costs.

systematic culture assessments in institutions to
identify the little things that can make a big

In West Virginia, for example, the agency

difference in employee satisfaction. “We believe

produced a salary study that demonstrated the

that money, while important, is not a satisfier,” says

real costs of high turnover, which it estimated at

Virginia Department of Corrections’ (VDOC)

$20,000 per new hire for recruiting and training. It

Human Resources Director Paul Broughton.

Ten Steps Corrections Directors Can Take to Strengthen Performance

15

“People connect with their jobs because they find

address morale at that institution by offering real

them a rewarding place to work.”

perks that are important to employees. These range
from tuition benefits for higher education to prime

During the past several years, a team from

parking spaces for employees of the month. In

VDOC’s HR staff has gone to facilities to pick

addition, the department has subsidized employee

employees’ brains about changes that could

housing to tackle high housing costs—and has even

improve their workplace. In one facility, for

entered the day care business, subsidizing local

example, the team received information that the

child care centers in exchange for lower fees for

radios were constantly on the blink, causing

employees. Most importantly, it has formed a

untold frustrations for staff. Replacing radios was

committee to monitor employee satisfaction.

relatively easy. Crucially, however, the team went

Recent results are encouraging. On a recent survey

back a year later for a follow-up visit, and found

with a scale of 0 to 7, most employees rated their

that staff were again unhappy—this time because

work experience between 5 and 6.

the radios were working too well, and there was
too much cross-chatter on the system. New
protocols were developed to deal with the issue
and morale improved.

10

Develop new leaders.

State governments face a deluge of retirements by
baby boomers over the next several years. In

As that example shows, follow-ups to an initial

corrections, this is already happening. Upper

assessment are vital. Pennsylvania has changed its

managers who were hired during the prison

employee assessment program to include follow-

building boom in the 1980s and 1990s are starting

ups, and the state also has guaranteed anonymity

to retire, encouraged by a lower retirement age

to staff to ensure that they speak up.

than officials in other state agencies. For that
reason, every state corrections agency must make

This focus on morale boosting is even more

preparing the next generation of leaders a high

essential in states where tight budgets prohibit

priority. Even lower-level managers can benefit from

adequate raises. For example, in some states the

an increased focus on leadership development. In

employee benefit structure is so costly that the

exit surveys, employees often cite their relationship

legislature may balk at raising salaries because of

with their supervisor as the number one reason that

the long-term costs to the state. In others,

they leave, suggesting that a good leader can

competing industries may pay so much that it’s

mitigate problems an employee might have with

impossible for corrections to keep pace. Such is the

compensation or work environment.

case in Wyoming, where entry-level jobs in the oil

16

and gas industry pay workers $60,000, compared to

Although corrections departments often have

$30,000 for a corrections officer at its main prison—

rigorous training academies for officers and other

which is located near the oil and gas fields. To

employees, one area rarely emphasized is

tackle the issue head on, Wyoming’s Department of

leadership development. One outgoing

Corrections has produced a “master plan” to

corrections director affectionately refers to his

Ten Steps Corrections Directors Can Take to Strengthen Performance

agency’s leadership development program as

National Institute of Corrections (NIC). Delaware’s

“promote and pray.” Another says, “We either

corrections department recently reached out to NIC

sink or swim on our own. We either survive or we

for help designing a supervisor training program for

don’t.” Even in states with interagency leadership

30 middle managers. The department also enrolled

academies, it’s important that agencies develop

four senior managers in the program so that they

their own programs to tackle the unique

could institutionalize it within the department.

challenges of managing and motivating
employees in the high-stress prison environment.

While leadership development is part of the
solution to succession planning, it’s not the only

Some states are developing excellent programs

element. Some states are doing even more to

that address all levels of agency management.

prepare employees for future leadership. In

Arkansas, for example, recently implemented

Louisiana, for example, some positions are

individualized development plans for each

double-booked for a period of time before the

employee, a career blueprint that includes financial

current manager retires, so that the incoming

incentives for meeting requirements for

manager can learn on the job while the outgoing

promotions. The crux of the system is a four-level

boss is still in place. In Connecticut, the

management training program with myriad

corrections department has collaborated with

elements to groom future leaders, including job

other state agencies to develop a true

shadowing, mentoring and educational incentives;

knowledge management system. Departing

manager candidates must also tackle a real,

officials are invited to record videotapes

pressing issue in the department. Programs in

explaining their jobs and accumulated

other states such as Oklahoma and Connecticut

experience, which are then archived on the

include a 360-degree assessment of managers to

company intranet system to serve as a training

determine gaps in their competencies, which are

tool and resource for future employees.

then addressed through formal classes and
mentoring. In Nebraska, the leadership
development program has a strong job shadowing
component, where leadership candidates spend
several hours a week working alongside superiors
to learn the ins and outs of their jobs. Oregon
offers job rotations to allow employees to work six
months to a year in another department or even
another state agency to gain additional experience.
While the best leadership development programs
have at least some elements in-house, some
agencies also have benefited from programs run by
national corrections organizations, such as the

Ten Steps Corrections Directors Can Take to Strengthen Performance

17

Better Management,
Stronger Institutions,
Safer Communities
In the end, there is no magic bullet for fixing
the nation’s burgeoning prison crisis, which
has been decades in the making. Each state
has unique challenges and must develop its
own strategy to best address its prison system
in accordance with its particular political and
criminal justice landscape.
These 10 action steps, however, are not only
rooted in sound management theory, they
have been proven effective by states that
have used them in a real-world corrections
environment. By following the examples set
by pioneering states and adapting these
practices to their own circumstances, states
can build upon the successes of others.
What are the potential results? Better-run and
more cost-efficient institutions, a more
satisfied workforce and safer communities.

18

Ten Steps Corrections Directors Can Take to Strengthen Performance

How We Graded the States:
Inside the Government Performance Project
The Government Performance Project’s Grading the States 2008 report, developed in partnership with
Governing magazine, is a vital component of Pew’s efforts to foster effective solutions to some of
America’s most pressing challenges—including corrections policy, which was a particular focus of the
2008 analysis. The report examines and measures four key areas—people, information, money and
infrastructure—that are critical to ensuring that states deliver results. This year, the report’s findings
were drawn from extensive interviews and surveys of state-level managers and opinion leaders.

To evaluate state performance in information management, the Government Performance Project
team examined how well state officials deploy technology and the information it produces. The
team examined how information is used to measure the resource effectiveness and results
produced by state programs, make budget and other management decisions, and communicate
with one another as well as with the public.

To assess how well a state is managing its infrastructure, the Government Performance Project
Team factored in the degree to which a state has transparent and effective capital planning and
project monitoring processes, maintains its assets, and coordinates this work within the state and
with other jurisdictions.

To gauge how well a state is functioning in the money category, the Government Performance
Project team evaluated the degree to which a state takes a long-term perspective on fiscal matters,
the timeliness and transparency of the budget process, the balance between revenues and
expenditures, and the effectiveness of a state’s contracting, purchasing, financial controls and
reporting mechanisms.

To assess state performance in the category on people, the Government Performance Project team
examined how well a state manages its employees. Among many other factors, the team reviewed
how state human resource systems handle hiring, retaining, developing and rewarding highperforming employees.

Ten Steps Corrections Directors Can Take to Strengthen Performance

19

The Pew Charitable Trusts applies the power of knowledge to solve today’s most
challenging problems. Pew’s Center on the States identifies and advances effective
policy approaches to critical issues facing states. The Public Safety Performance
Project and the Government Performance Projects are initiatives of the Center.
The Public Safety Performance Project helps states advance fiscally sound,
data-driven policies and practices in sentencing and corrections that protect
public safety, hold offenders accountable, and control corrections costs.
The Government Performance Project improves service to the public by
strengthening government policy and performance. The Project evaluates how
well states manage employees, budgets and finance, information and
infrastructure. A focus on these critical areas helps ensure that states’ policy
decisions and practices actually deliver their intended outcomes.
www.pewcenteronthestates.org

 

 

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