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Tight Budgets Will Influence Jails and Prisons Operations
By William Sturgeon
Published: 01/31/2011

2011 budget The title of this article is self-explanatory. Of course tight budgets will influence the operations of criminal justice agencies. The more important questions are these. How severely will the operations be influenced and for how long?

Throughout my many years in the field of criminal justice, I have lived through many instances of tight budgets. In the old days we survived these budgets cuts by tweaking this and that, not filling vacant positions (hiring freeze), shutting off lights, taking every other fluorescent light bulb out, and canceling all travel, etc.

My concern now is that governmental bodies are in reality running out of cash to operate criminal justice agencies, especially correctional facilities. While there is a great deal of rhetoric by our politicians at every level of government, as of the writing of this article, nothing substantive has been presented to solve the nation’s (world’s) economic problems.

The differences between the budget crises that I experienced and today’s budget crises are these:
  • The duration of this budget crisis promises to be far longer than any of those I experienced.
  • Additionally, when the economy does start to come back, criminal justice operations, especially corrections, will be the last to enjoy it.
  • There will be the loss and/or serious reduction of federal and state grants.
  • Not being prepared could prove to be disastrous.

To develop the open minded thinking that will be required for the budget cuts that I believe are coming, administrators, supervisors, staff, and stakeholders will have to come to terms with the reduction in agency budgets.

Those of you who have followed my career or read my previous articles, videos, or books, know I believe in trying to be prepared for any eventuality. You have had to be living under a rock to not believe that deep budget cuts are coming soon. So rather than wait for it to happen, start to prepare now.

Negativity and denial of the reality of the situation will delay the process of preparing for significant budget cuts. I would suggest that you develop two budgets. The first one should reflect a 10-15 percent cut and the second should show a 25-30 percent cut.

The team who works on this budget cutting exercise should be made up of people who have proven to be:
  • Positive people
  • Have an in-depth knowledge of the operations of the agency
  • Leaders

I am going to suggest that you use this Matrix [1] that I developed many years ago to help me solve problems. My Matrix is made-up of 4 elements:


                               Paper                                People
                               Places                              Equip/Tech

I use this matrix because it requires me to think in a systematic and logical way. The logic behind my matrix is this:
  1. The Paper element instructs people:
    • On what they should do
    • How they should do it
    • Any special requirements or constraints (time, number of personnel required, etc.).
  2. The People element refers to all people concerned with the project.
    • Staff
    • Criminals
    • Inmates
    • Victims
    • General public
    • Other CJ agencies
  3. The Places element refers to places that will have an impact on the budget.
    • Community police outreach centers
    • Sub-stations / Precinct Stations
    • Correctional facilities
    • Courtrooms, etc.
    • Other
  4. The Equipment/Technology element refers to equipment and technology that is currently being used or that could be used to reduce costs.
    • Vehicles
    • Radio equipment
    • Uniforms
    • Computers
    • HAZMAT
    • Weapons
    • Special Weapons
    • Non-lethal weapons
    • Copy machines
    • Printers
    • Cameras
    • Other

Overview on How to Use The Matrix

Paper Checklist
  • All court cases, consent degrees, statutes, etc., that will have an impact on the budget. Examples: Staffing ratios, medical requirements, retirement requirements, staff training requirements, etc.
  • Contracts and written agreements with other entities. Examples: Contracted law enforcement services, labor contracts, contracts with counseling services, stenography services, medical services, culinary services, private corrections companies, mutual aid, etc.
  • Current policies and procedures, protocols, directives, and other documentation that determines how an agency is operated. Examples: staffing schedules, outdated or unnecessary P&Ps or requirements, etc.
  • Court mandated operations that will have an impact on the budget. Example: Minimum staffing levels.

People Checklist
  • All staff, stakeholders, (General public, staff of other agencies, civilian contracted staff, etc.)
  • The current number and classification of fulltime staff (FTE) that equals 38 -40 hours per week.
  • The current number and classification of part-time employees.
  • The current number and classification of fulltime contracted personnel (FTE) who work 38-40 hours per week.
  • The current number and classification of part-time contracted employees.
  • The cost of required staff training.
  • The cost of vacancies.
  • The cost of non-required training.
  • Benefit costs per employee.
  • Current staffing patterns and rationale
  • The hourly cost of doing business for every hour of the day.

Places Checklist
(The places checklist is determined by the CJ agency using it. Law enforcement agencies will look at things that corrections or the courts will look at as they do their individual reviews.)
  • Facility operational costs. (specific)
    • Utilities
    • Day-to-day maintenance
    • Routine maintenance
    • Annual replacement and maintenance
    • Capital expenditures (For the next 5 years – Does it really have to be done within the current time frame or can it put off?)

  • High crime areas (Law enforcement, probation, parole.)
    • Community policing programs. (What community policing programs are working and to what extent are they working?
    • In short, are the costs associated with the program worth the result?
    • Could volunteers be used?
    • Are the more cost efficient programs, etc.?

  • Courtroom operations costs (All inclusive)
  • Adjust the hours of operations to compliment the other agencies.
  • Incorporate video court appearances to reduce transportation and personnel costs.
  • Correctional facilities have a variety of Places that should be reviewed.
  • Perimeter security and how it is accomplished. (Are there external towers, external patrols, double fences, single fences, intrusion detection, etc.?)
  • Inmate living areas and hours of operations. (Hours of operations refers to the hours that the inmates are out of their cells.)
  • Dining methodology refers to how and when inmates are fed. (Feeding takes place using - Mainline, in-cell or in living areas/pods.)
  • Dining methodology refers to how and when inmates are fed. (Mainline, in-cell, or in living area pod).

Equipment / Technology
(E/T Checklist requirements again will depend on the mission of the particular CJ agency)
  • Is the equipment up-to-date and serviceable? (Vehicles, weapons, etc.)
  • Is there equipment / technology that usage is less than 50%? (What is it used for and is it still relevant – Use it – or lose it.)
  • Is the technology really needed? (What specific purposes does it serve? Can the agency live without it? How long will it be before it passes its life expectancy?).
  • Are there technologies that can assume some/all of the duties currently being performed by staff? (Access control, perimeter control, auto-lockdown, video cameras, etc.).

This article only touches the surface of how finite and comprehensive a budget cutting exercise will have to be in order to accomplish what has to be done.

There is always a kneejerk reaction to the layoff of personnel to save money. I caution you NOT to fall into this trap. The rapid layoff of staff could cause any CJ agency to fall into turmoil. Staff layoffs should be the last method used to reach budget objectives.

If it is determined that there has to be a reduction in staff, it is crucial that at least these areas be considered.
  • Determine how the staff will be laid off
    • All at once*
    • By seniority
    • A few at a time*
    • Volunteers who accept layoffs
    • Early/normal retirement

    • *Both of these approaches have their pros and cons.
  • Prior to deciding on what staff will be laid off, it is crucial that the duties and responsibilities of the affected staff be precisely identified. (An often forgotten principle is – while the person may go away, the workload will not – someone will have to pick-up the slack.)

I strongly encourage everyone who takes the time to read this article to start to plan for substantial budget cuts that will span several budget years.

The old way of doing business is quickly disappearing, and the reality of lack of funding is quickly approaching. Correctional managers and supervisors will have to lead the staff through the changes. For staff, you need to think about what you would do if you were a supervisor or manager, because I guaranty that there will be a great many people retiring or leaving the CJ field, thereby creating openings on the career ladder.

[1] No Time to Play, American Correctional Association, 1998.

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