Supporting Justice Reform Through Workload Analysis

Supporting Justice Reform Through Workload Analysis

June 29, 2015 | Sarah Covington

covington

In a time when politics seem more polarized than ever, criminal justice reform is gaining support from both sides of the aisle. Conditions are ripe for bringing about change, but do we have sufficient workforce resources to support this effort? 

In a time when politics seem more polarized than ever, criminal justice reform is gaining support from both sides of the aisle. Conditions are ripe for bringing about change, but do we have sufficient workforce resources to support this effort? 

One of the challenges of tackling an issue as broad as this is knowing how and where to intervene. The criminal justice system involves multiple points of impact, from the police who make arrests to the legislators who shape the funding and governing structure that the system is built upon. Each component can drive adverse outcomes, whether police brutality, incarceration, or recidivism. Reform cannot happen exclusively in one part of the system: there needs to be a change in the culture of practice across all parts of the system, particularly when the barrier of mistrust between the criminal justice system and communities they strive to protect is almost palpable.

This change in practice takes time and requires us to prioritize resources. There are a multitude of promising strategies that align with system reform, such as community engagement activities, deferred prosecution programs, or alternatives to revocation. However, quality implementation requires funding, training, and most fundamentally, staff time. We can’t simply say we should be doing more when there are finite resources; we have to make smart choices.

One way to determine how resources are prioritized in practice is to critically evaluate how people spend their work time. Understanding how various workers within the justice system devote their time can shed insight on the culture of practice and help pave the way for reform. For instance, how much time do probation officers spend on issuing technical violations compared to community-relationship-building activities and outreach? Which staff trainings are prioritized: non-threatening communication techniques or weapon use? Do staff even have the time to dedicate to quality implementation of equitable, research-informed best practices that can lead to reform? There are only so many hours in the day, so we must be cognizant individually and at a system level of how we spend our time.

Quality implementation of best practices may be seriously hindered by deficiencies in staff time. This shortage of time may be a result of two scenarios: Staff are spending too much time on ineffective or inefficient activities; or there are just not enough staff to meet the demand in time. If workers are spending time on activities that perpetuate the chasm of mistrust, this time can be reappropriated to emphasize practices that promote positive outcomes. If workers are over-burdened by time-consuming activities, agencies may wish to reconsider staff expectations, evaluating their utility and efficiency (e.g., the inefficiency of updating poorly designed reporting systems with information that is collected but never used). Understanding how time is spent will not only identify ways in which we can gain productive time but will also help estimate how much time is required to implement promising practices and help determine whether there are enough staff to do it right.

In the midst of budget restrictions and reduced spending, understanding how resources are currently allocated and what activities are prioritized is important to achieving reform goals. Without adequate staff resources to ensure quality implementation, sustainable justice reform will be difficult to achieve.