Fostering Innovation in Community and Institutional Corrections: Identifying High-Priority Technology and Other Needs for the U.S. Corrections Sector

Fostering Innovation in Community and Institutional Corrections: Identifying High-Priority Technology and Other Needs for the U.S. Corrections Sector

Fostering Innovation in Community and Institutional Corrections: Identifying High-Priority Technology and Other Needs for the U.S. Corrections Sector

Fostering Innovation in Community and Institutional Corrections: Identifying High-Priority Technology and Other Needs for the U.S. Corrections Sector

Synopsis

The agencies of the U.S. corrections enterprise manage offenders confined in prisons and jails and those who have been released into the community on probation and parole. The enterprise is one of the three central pillars of the criminal justice system, along with police and the courts. Corrections agencies face major challenges from declining budgets, increasing populations under supervision, problems of equity and fairness in administrating justice, and other concerns. To better achieve its objectives and play its role within the criminal justice enterprise, the sector needs innovation in corrections technology, policy, and practice. This report draws on published literature and new structured deliberations of a practitioner Corrections Advisory Panel to frame an innovation agenda. It identifies and prioritizes potential improvements in technology, policy, and practice in both community and institutional corrections. Some of the top-tier needs identified by the panel and researchers include adapting transcription and translation tools for the corrections environment, developing training for officers on best practices for managing offenders with mental health needs, and changing visitation policies (for example, using video visitation) to reduce opportunities for visitors to bring contraband into jails and prisons. Such high-priority needs provide a menu of innovation options for addressing key problems or capitalizing on emerging opportunities in the corrections sector. This report is part of a larger effort to assess and prioritize technology and related needs across the criminal justice community for the National Institute of Justice's National Law Enforcement and Corrections Technology Center system.

Excerpt

The agencies of the U.S. corrections enterprise manage offenders confined in prisons and jails and those released into the community on probation and parole. The enterprise is one of the three central pillars of the criminal justice system, along with police and the courts. The system is intended to protect the public by separating violent offenders from the community, deterring others from offending, and rehabilitating offenders for reintegration into the community upon release.

Indeed, the majority of individuals in the correctional system will be released from institutions back into the community, making the rehabilitative role played by both community and institutional corrections agencies of critical importance. Recent assessments of recidivism indicate that a significant percentage of released offenders will return to prison within a few years, which emphasizes the difficulty of that rehabilitative role and highlights a key challenge for corrections going forward (e.g., Durose, Cooper, and Snyder, 2014; Rhodes et al., 2012; Pew Center on the States, 2011).

The enterprise has also been challenged by demographic and fiscal trends and policy shifts that add stress to current facilities and approaches. The United States has an extremely large incarcerated population relative to other nations, driven by legal approaches that send more individuals to prison for increasing periods. At the same time, constraints in state and local budgets on the heels of the financial and economic crisis of 2007 to 2009 have put pressure on corrections organizations, just as on other criminal justice and public agencies.

A Need for Innovation in Corrections

Given these challenges, and the broader societal interest in enabling the corrections community to play its role more effectively, it is valuable to identify opportunities where changes in the tools, practices, or approaches of corrections could improve future performance. Indeed, the first step toward a corrections enterprise that is better positioned, resourced, and equipped to contribute to public safety involves mapping out the changes—that is, the innovations on current practices and approaches—that could lead there. What innovation means for organizations falls across a wide spectrum. They can make incremental changes, in which agencies can improve on current practices, become more efficient, and solve current problems, or transformational changes, which make it possible for agencies to do entirely new things or accomplish their objectives in new ways. Innovation across this entire spectrum is enabled by assessment and evaluation efforts that measure performance, identify problems, and discover emerging challenges or opportunities.

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