Corrections agencies across the country are facing pressing staffing shortages, and the consequences are far-reaching. Understaffed prisons may see an increased risk of violence or an exodus of experienced staff. To ease the pain, corrections departments are using technology to free up staff time and create a better environment for everyone inside their facilities.
1. Helping People Earn Time Off Their Sentences
Many departments are stuck in a tough cycle. During staffing shortages, teachers, nurses, therapists and other program facilitators are often temporarily pulled into security roles resulting in programs being paused or eliminated. Without programming, people can’t earn time off their sentences. Without that earned time, the average person stays in prison longer, which leads to more people in prison, which leads to greater staffing shortages.
To combat this, agencies need to find ways to reintroduce opportunities for people to earn time off their sentences. And most agencies are eager to do so — earned time doesn’t just ease staffing shortages, it offers hope and motivation to people serving time and demonstrates the agency’s commitment to rehabilitation.
Recidiviz is partnering with states nationwide to optimize program matching. In Missouri, each person’s treatment and programming needs are analyzed so that they can be matched with required and recommended programming as soon as possible — this leads to earlier and more successful transitions from prisons to communities.
It also leads to better job satisfaction — when staff see the transformative impact of their support, it instills a sense of pride, meaning, and fulfillment. By connecting people to education, vocational training, mental health services, and substance abuse treatment staff become active participants in shaping a better future for their communities. This sense of purpose can drive increased job satisfaction, improved morale, less violence in facilities, and reduced burnout.
2. Using Analytics to Understand Performance and Empower Staff
Corrections officers have complex jobs. To navigate the complexity, they need actionable information about what's working. What's helping people complete supervision or get stable housing and employment? What's helping reduce incidents in facilities? What programs are leading to more custody downgrades?
Recidiviz's Outliers tool offers apples-to-apples comparisons on these key success metrics at various levels — benchmarks for individual staff, for districts, and for the agency overall. With comparative data, staff can adjust their own approach over time and learn from their peers. This level of insight enables the best ideas and tactics to spread, leading to fewer returns to prison and improved reentry outcomes. For example, an Idaho officer experienced a 40% decrease in absconsion violations after participating in coaching conversations based on Outliers reports.
Comprehensive data gives supervisors and staff a clear understanding of performance right now and over time, so that they can implement best practices and see how doing so impacts outcomes.
3. Enhancing Staff Wellness and Automating Processes
Working in prisons is mentally and emotionally demanding, which can drive burnout and decreased job satisfaction. By prioritizing staff wellness, corrections departments can foster a culture of care and support. Showing staff that they are valued, respected, and understood increases their job satisfaction.
Recidiviz is helping agencies proactively seek input from staff on all aspects of operations. Engaging employees in decision-making creates a sense of ownership over the agency’s direction and over changes big and small. Recidiviz helps agencies run online surveys, focus groups, and one-on-one meetings to gather insight into how staff are thinking and feeling.
In Maine, probation officers shared large caseloads were a major pain point. To assist, we developed a tool that quickly surfaces people eligible for early termination. The tool automates the paperwork to facilitate their release. Staff felt heard. Incarcerated people are getting recognized for their hard work. And smaller caseloads are leading to better work-life balance. With this knowledge, we expanded the tool across our partner states. It has been instrumental in moving over 5,000 people to lower supervision levels or off supervision entirely in partner states, saving more than 2,000 hours of staff time.
When staff feedback is turned into action, they are more likely to remain committed to their roles, improving team culture and reducing turnover.
Solving Staffing Shortages Requires Innovation
Addressing staffing shortages in corrections is a multifaceted challenge that requires innovative solutions. By leveraging technology, data, and analytics, agencies can improve staff morale, reduce turnover rates, and create a more positive and supportive work environment. Embracing technology is key to driving positive change within correctional facilities – whether through helping people earn time off their sentences or by automating paperwork. By adopting these strategies, corrections agencies can better fulfill their mission of rehabilitation and contribute to safer communities.
1. Absconsion violations are when a person on parole cannot be located.