Monday, August 14, 2006

Touring Corrections Websites

As part of my new correctional research duties, I have to do annual and other similar reports so I took a tour of DOC websites across the country to review what colleagues had done. I’m not here to critique (glass houses and all that) so I’ll just note a couple of things I found interesting.

All of the sites were organized by function and/or unit/division. Some of them pretty much stopped there, some with pictures of facilities, staff, or both, some not. Others had recent news or noted links to recent news. On the front page, a couple had current stats, more had some form of mission/vision statement (or links thereto). Most required some prior knowledge before really being able to navigate the site well or quickly. Several states had nice recidivism studies up just waiting for some enterprising Master's thesis candidate to put together and compare. Probably the most disappointing finding was just that a lot of states don't have easily accessible annual reports (but we definitely won't get into stone-throwing on that one.)

It was good to see the efforts made. As a prior sentencing commission director, I was a big believer in websites as an info-transmission medium for a public agency informing public policy. The potential for interaction, communication, data-sharing, and education is only now being tapped to varying degrees, as these DOC sites show. (The same is true for sentencing commissions--during the entire discussion of "second generation" sentencing reform at the recent NASC conference, websites and blogs were never mentioned as tools.) As she aged, my mom regularly expressed amazement at the changes she had seen in her life (1921-2000) and wondered at what her great-grandchildren would see. I feel the same way just considering what public websites may be even five more years from now. It will be fund to take tours each year. I encourage you to do the same.

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