Sunday, March 04, 2007

Recidivism and Performance Reviews

Interesting idea being floated by that conservative House Speaker in OK I mentioned a week or so ago. He has a bill out right now to start a "Transformational Justice Interagency Task Force with its own revolving fund. What would the fund be used for? Bonuses for corrections officials who can demonstrate improvement in reducing the recidivism rates of inmates in their custody. The bill also requires the state DOC to come up with rules and policies to ensure that recidivism rates are included in performance reviews, promotions, and raises. Says the Speaker, "Oklahoma's prisons should be preparing inmates to function in society when they are released. Prison shouldn't be a place where inmates are just warehoused, where they lift weights and mark time and commit more crimes once released." (Sorry about no link--this all comes from a hard copy press release.)

Now, given the many stops along the way a released offender is likely to have while in prison, it's going to be a test to attribute who did what good or bad in resulting recidivism rates. And performance measurement tied to raises and such is notoriously overrated once research is actually done on the systems in operation. That said, however, there's much here to consider and appreciate.

Too often institutions of all kinds, public, private, nonprofit, suffer goal displacement and come to equate their wishes and needs as those of the people who are actually paying the bills. It's especially easy for public agencies to forget that they were created to serve the public, not themselves or the people they interact with regularly. I blanch whenever I hear the mental health people I work with talk about the inmates as their "customers." Uh, excuse me. As a taxpayer, I'm the customer. I want a well-adjusted former patient as much as anyone but that guy is not the customer. I'm picking up the check. I used to get furious in higher ed, a major reason I left it, when, instead of asking what the public expects of our graduates when we release them and then working to accomplish that, we started emphasizing whether the student liked the course well enough to recommend it to a friend. And higher ed folks wonder why the folks who pay their bills aren't more upset when prisons suck away their dollars.

This emphasis on reducing recidivism and prepping offenders to be legally functional in their reentries is well received right now among most correcions types, including the DOC in OK. Having a major political player make it number one on the department's agenda fits well with that department's new "reentry is everyone's job" mantra. The Speaker is giving the administrative team support and buffer for a major culture shift in the department's orientation and perspective. Will it work? Well, the window will not likely ever be more open for this sort of change than right now in OK. Does it have possibilities for other states? Say, for states about to renegotiate labor contracts and trying to shift the way those laborers perceive their jobs and responsibilities? Say, states that start with C and end with A. Maybe. It's certainly a provocative and proactive way to address the recidivism/reentry problems. We'll be keeping a close eye on what happens to the bill and how OK puts it into action if it passes.

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