Shifting the Emphasis
From Prison to Education: How Indiana Saved over $40 million
States are facing the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression. Yet, despite these deficiencies in funds, state governors must assure their constituents that dangerous criminals will still be arrested, adjudicated and imprisoned. Experience shows that the best way to ensure public safety efficiently over the long run is to spend less on incarceration and more on education.
This emphasis on education to enhance public safety is difficult to shape into operational terms. How can a governor transfer scarce state funds from corrections to education without causing a political crisis?
Indiana faced just such a situation in the late 1980s and serves as a prime example of how states can achieve critical education goals despite extreme budget shortfalls.
In 1988, the State of Indiana elected Evan Bayh as Governor. He promised to simultaneously hold the line on taxes, rid the corrections department of long-standing corruption, and protect the public. He asked me to be his executive assistant for public safety.
I had experience as an assistant U.S. attorney in Los Angeles, which included serving as the deputy chief of the Government Fraud and Public Corruption Unit. This enabled me to help the governor tackle the prison resource transfer issue. Governor Bayh was precise about his expectations and my operational constraints:
• Protect the public;
• Work within a smaller budget;
• Honor prison legal mandates;
• Shift prison budget resources to other government mandates (education); and
• Ensure accountability at all levels of the corrections department.
This would be no easy task under any circumstances, but at that time the problems faced by Indiana’s corrections department included:
• Corruption and inefficiencies;
• Costly and ineffective prison health care;
• Juvenile inmate deaths;
• Disgruntled staff;
• Split party legislature; and
• Negative media.
Yet, despite our problems and challenges, I was convinced that a model for freeing state revenues for education initiatives could be created. This step-by-step model included 10 critical components.
Step 1: Change the image of the corrections department with new leadership.
First, we selected Jim Aiken as our new commissioner of corrections. A graduate of an HBCU (Benedict College), he understood the legal mandates and constraints confronted by a modern corrections official and knew how to translate correctional management concepts into “bottom line” results.
Aiken, from the South Carolina prison system, had held positions ranging from drug counselor to warden of the state’s penitentiary. He had also supervised 16 prisons and was a national prison expert.
Just a few days before Aiken began his new job, an Indiana inmate on an early release program bludgeoned his wife to death. Accordingly, although Aiken confronted an Indiana corrections department that was in the midst of a public firestorm, the governor insisted that the mandate to save and transfer monies remain unchanged.
Step 2: De-emphasize political affiliation and seniority in hiring.
Under Aiken, an employee’s party affiliation within the department became nearly irrelevant.
We also did not give undue weight to a person’s seniority in the agency. Instead, we focused on finding people who were highly motivated and innovative; consequently, we were able to ask hard questions without getting answers shaped by the employee’s previous “considerable years of prison experience.”
Step 3: Critically analyze the current situation.
Aiken and I objectively reviewed the entire prison system. We reviewed media clips, incident reports, agency investigations, budget requests and conducted analyses of every conceivable issue. Our assessment found: money was being spent before anyone could track why and for what reason; the inmate classification system focused on overcrowding, not public protection; factions between different work shifts, departments, and prisons lead to discord costing money and lives; components of the agency were not exchanging information causing critical events to occur; the inmate population and disgruntled staff were able to manipulate the public through the media; a segment of the inmates had developed a power base at several prisons (they controlled the inmate population by intimidation and violence).
Step 4: Create action through planning.
We knew that writing memoranda, policies, budget cutback announcements and speeches alone would not achieve the specified goals. We also knew that an infusion of money would not increase our chances of success. Instead, we formed a new prison management team by combining innovative agency people with external technical advisors who had the appropriate backgrounds and expertise.
Step 5: Improve staff morale and create a sense of unity.
Staff morale was low as manifested in the conflict, fear, confusion, concerns about personal safety, and inherent tensions between management and line staff (as well as inmate population). We made it clear that bureaucratic rivalry, use of authority for personal gain, demanding respect rather than gaining respect, intimidation, sexual harassment, excessive use of force upon inmates and rash decision-making were unacceptable. Instead, decisions were made based on facts rather than hunches and resources were pooled for the common good.
Step 6: Create change within individual facilities.
We devolved authority from a centralized bureaucracy to individual institutions. We gave facility heads the authority to reduce the cost of their operations and to increase safety. Executive staff shared prison-specific techniques and approaches to change the organizational culture.
Step 7: Reassess the distribution of internal and external communication.
We developed a communications plan that informed the public of the issues we were confronting, and explained how we planned to deal with each issue. We became the proactive source of factual information rather than responding to “leaks” to the media as in the past. We validated all data concerning the agency through the use of information technology.
Step 8: Identify trigger events to boost public confidence.
In order to increase confidence, we identified “trigger” events that showed everyone that public protection, cost containment and adherence to legal mandates were not just verbal expressions, but action items. For example, we closed the prison system to all incoming inmates in order to comply with the federal court orders prohibiting overcrowding.
Step 9: Expand positive judicial involvement with corrections, especially sentencing.
We expanded community corrections counties controlled by judges using mostly the correction department funds to reduce intake pressures and to avoid endangering the public. After we established credibility with legislative leaders, the legislature agreed to pass bipartisan legislation that allowed the sentencing judge to reduce an inmate’s confinement time if that person’s prison behavior and commitment to education were deemed worthy of a sentence modification. This allowed the community and local judges to control who went to jail and for how long. The approach also avoided increasing the current overcrowding crisis.
Step 10: Tighten control within corrections facilities.
We made an assessment of the inmates who had been classified for community placement and determined that many of them presented too great a risk of harm to the public. As a result, these offenders were placed in more secure facilities.
We established emergency prevention and response activities, identified inmate predators and separated them from the remainder of the population, and placed staff in charge of prison operations before a new inmate group could replace the former ringleaders.
The outcomes yielded the following:
• No new taxes;
• Reversion, in one fiscal year, 13 percent ($40 million) of the Indiana Department of Correction’s base operating budget to the general fund, much of which was spent on education;
• Development of a drug-free prison environment at a major maximum-security prison without increasing the state budget;
• Removal of over 7,000 juvenile offenders from adult jails without increasing the risk of harm to the public; and
•At least in part due to the above, the re-election of the governor by a record margin.
Most states are currently trying to identify resources for education; each must be prepared to face resistance in applying new approaches to old problems. The process is intricate and time-consuming. But long-term planning is essential.
When this undertaking was most difficult, Aiken told the governor and me that to adequately predict the needs of prison budget expansion, we must assess the “at risk” juvenile population in the second grade. While shocking, his premise made sense: The calculation focused upon the fact that most children are approximately 7 years old upon entering the 2nd grade level, 10 years later, many of them would be of age to enter the adult prison system. His calculation allowed the prison system 10 years to plan for expansion because of the correlation between children living in “at risk environments” and ultimately entering prison. Unfortunately, these children are much more likely to go to prison during their early adult years than to higher education institutions.
Education is the key to engage our children constructively into society, and to avoid prison. We can pay for education now or pay for prisons later. As a former prosecutor and state attorney general, I know the harsh reality of Aiken’s calculations.
— Jeff Modisett served as Indiana’s executive assistant for public safety to then-Gov. Evan Bayh from 1989-1990. He has held the elected offices of Prosecutor Attorney and Attorney General in Indiana. He is currently in the private practice of law with Bryan Cave LLP in Santa Monica, Calif.
© Copyright 2005 by DiverseEducation.com