Budget cuts give prison chance to update system

Budget cuts, audits — administrators should welcome them. They provide the opportunity to take a fresh look at how effective their organizations are in keeping up with changing times and needs. It’s what successful leaders do. And the closing of the state’s prison Diagnostic Center because of budget cuts gives the Utah Department of Corrections an opportunity to do just that and to renew its mission and structure to meet the state’s current needs.

The Department of Corrections is not alone in keeping old programs going without questioning if they are meeting their intended purpose in today’s environment. All organizations, private and public, suffer from mission creep and lose sight of what they are designed to produce without a close eye on their bottom line — what’s their product?

The prison Diagnostic Center’s original intent was to admit prisoners, determine the threat they pose to society, and then recommend probation, incarceration, or the kind of prison program that would help them eventually return to society. So, why is another diagnostic evaluation needed? By the time a lawbreaker is convicted of an offense, most have gone through the juvenile justice system where they have been diagnosed and treated over and over again. And when they come before the adult courts, they likely have had several psychological diagnostic evaluations, and maybe even received certificates of completion from a host of programs such as drug awareness and anger management

Some judges use the Diagnostic Center as a way of shocking convicts by having them experience the loss of freedom and the dangers of prison life, or to seek another opinion in order to make an informed decision. However, after a set period of time, all inmates committed to prison are supposed to be evaluated to determine what they need to do to successfully return to society. This provides the Board of Pardons with information to determine what the inmate needs to do to be paroled. The way the criminal justice system is supposed to work is that the Probation Division, part of Corrections, prepares a pre-sentence report to a judge upon request with a recommendation to make a decision on the case. In reality, the judge frequently receives a thick file full of diagnostic evaluations and treatment programs the convict has undergone, and it often recommends further diagnosis and treatment. So, what is there to another psychological evaluation and what other certificates of treatment will be needed to assure the protection of society? Wouldn’t it be better to focus on education/job training and getting a job?

Cutting out the Diagnostic Center, though done in haste to meet budget costs, allows corrections to review its mission — the protection of society as part of the state’s criminal justice system — in today’s environment. That will require administrators to analyze what programs are effective rather than cling to old ideas or rely on anecdotal and self-serving case examples. It could start with a study of the effectiveness of pre-sentence investigations to eliminate duplication of evaluations.

Also, why not conduct a comparative study to determine if the current parole system works; are those convicts supervised on parole less likely to return to prison compared with those who simply complete their sentence without supervision? Is the concept of parole outdated, and can law enforcement play a different role in preventing crime? Where does responsibility for managing offenders rest? Is it with corrections or the Board of Pardons?

Keeping our government responsive to current state needs requires policymakers to seek answers to such questions. Successful businesses do it constantly in order to survive. Audits and budget cuts can be good reminders for policymakers and administrators to do the same.




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