Correctional Agency Mission Statements: Can We Do Better

By Mathews, Brandon | Corrections Today, January-February 2015 | Go to article overview

Correctional Agency Mission Statements: Can We Do Better


Mathews, Brandon, Corrections Today


As the empirical literature on the successful implementation and use of evidence-based practices (EBPs) continues to increase, corrections practitioners are increasingly being called upon to adopt and implement these practices in their respective fields. Corrections professionals must understand that the use of EBPs is not just a passing fad or trend within the correctional system, but it is a cemented expectation to further public safety through empirically driven programs and interventions. Ultimately, it takes more than just understanding that EBPs are here to stay to successfully implement these practices into an agency's daily routine. In most instances, it requires a radical adjustment to the culture of the target organization. Organizational culture is a widely studied phenomenon and has been appearing regularly in the empirical and trade literature since the 1980s.1 Organizational culture is defined as "a pattern of shared basic assumptions learned by a group as it solved its problems of external adaptation and internal integration, which has worked well enough to be considered valid and, therefore, to be taught to new members as the correct way to perceive, think and feel in relation to those problems."2 Organizational culture consists of the following three layers: underlying basic assumptions; espoused beliefs and values; and artifacts, or what we often refer to as organizational climate--the behaviors and symbols of an organization.

Correctional practitioners often focus on the outward behaviors that take place within their organizations, attempting to change the way members behave, interact and perform their work. These things are important; however, human beings tend to resist such long-term changes, eventually reverting to the comfortable status quo. Thus, correctional practitioners must focus their attention on those underlying levels that drive the outward behaviors. This is often done through large-scale transformation initiatives, cultural interventions and the like, but such activities can be time-consuming and expensive to organizations that are operating on finite budgets with finite personnel resources. There is, however, an avenue correctional agencies can pursue to begin the cultural change process without much time or expense. Agencies can focus on the espoused beliefs and values of their organizations by transforming their mission statements to reflect the importance placed on the use of EBPs in pursuit of increased public safety through recidivism reduction. Though a mission statement will not alone change the underlying assumptions held by the organization, it will certainly signal a shift in cultural expectations, increasing the intrinsic motivation of organizational members to adopt EBPs in their daily work. The importance of mission statements--and the relative ease with which they can be adjusted to reflect the strategic and cultural direction of the organization--makes them "low-hanging fruit" that correctional agencies cannot afford to ignore.

The Impact of Mission Statements

Mission statements can be defined as "formal statements that are generated to articulate an organization's distinct and specific purpose or reason for being."3 There is a growing body of literature connecting mission statements to increases in organizational metrics, such as financial and individual member performance. The mission statement is a tool that should be used by leaders to promote organizational integration and to ensure all members are focused on the same objectives, outcomes, behaviors and goals. An organization with a culture aligned to its strategy will always be more effective than one with misalignment. Thus, the act of creating a mission statement alone is not enough. Organizations must ensure their culture, strategy and leadership are aligned with the mission statement to maximize the statement's positive affect. Agencies must integrate the importance of EBPs into new or existing mission statements to ensure organizational members can rally around a common purpose--the adoption and use of EBPs to positively affect public safety. …

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