Is Corrections Ready for TQM?

Article excerpt

American business is undergoing a revolution in management. This new method of leadership has a number of different names: Total Quality Management (TQM), Total Quality Improvement, World$Class Quality and several other titles centered around the word "quality."

TQM is probably the most recognizable of these latest buzzwords and seems to be the most widely used by seminar salespeople and management writers. The basic concepts of TQM have been derived from the work of W. Edwards Deming, the management guru credited with bringing about the recovery and ascendancy of Japanese business in the last half century.

Can Deming's famous "14 Points" be applied to criminal justice operations, and in particular to corrections? This article discusses the need for quality management in corrections and the aspects of TQM that are applicable to our field.

The Public's Call For Quality and Value

TQM may not have the same immediate appeal to correctional administrators as Management by Objectives, Management by Results and many other techniques that have been touted in the past. But while these programs promised quick results, they had dismal records and generally failed because they used quotas or numerical objectives dictated from the top and involved only management-derived measures of success. Such techniques were geared toward creating quick, short-term results by simply doing more of the same, or the same faster. Because "the same" did not meet management's goals in the first place, more of it didn't bring about improvement.

A classic example from the private sector is the apathy American automobile manufacturers showed toward the fact that their cars did not meet the needs and desires of American consumers. Rather than improving the quality and value of American automobiles, they increased production of low-quality cars that guzzled gas and didn't last. It was only when Japanese car manufacturers, using TQM concepts, began to cost them billions of dollars in unsold cars, recalls, rebates and other failed efforts that the total quality movement finally began to be explored and adopted. American car makers now seem to have gotten the point and are slowly winning back customers by offering higher quality and value.

In corrections, we have seen various reports and studies in recent decades that have called for improved quality and productivity. These studies, while having merit, did not foresee the crowding and violence in today's prisons. Rising crime rates in America put us as correctional managers in a tough situation. If we cannot improve quality and productivity, we lose support for our programs. Likewise, if we cannot develop ways to know what our clients want or need and to explain why we can or cannot meet those goals, we lose support as well.

Local and state officials and taxpayers who are dissatisfied with crime control in America urge us to do something. They don't know what we should do, but they do know that what we are doing now seems too expensive and ineffective. Corrections must find a way to do more with what we currently have or we may soon find ourselves trying to do more with less.

Budget reviewers are beginning to demand that we better identify our clients and demonstrate how we are responding to their needs in some logical and measurable way before they will agree to give additional support to more improvement promises. Exploring TQM is only one way to address this quandary, but it has shown great promise in the private sector, where the bottom line is the ultimate measure.

There is no profit-oriented bottom line for government agencies, but there is a bottom line that relates to budgets. Private industry bases its bottom line on profit after expenses. This is easy to measure and clear to all. Most government agencies, on the other hand, develop a projected budget and are allocated funds based on some rationale of how their service is to be delivered using that budget. …