ASQ - Team and Workplace Excellence Forum

October 1997


1996 Baldrige Winner Continues To Grow
Information Sharing, Dispersing Control and High Quality Standards Keys to CRI Success

Kaizen Events: Two Weeks To Dramatic Process Improvement
USBI's 'Kaizen Events' Working to Keep NASA Flying

Electronic Monitoring: There's No Place Like Home

When Cultures Collide...
Keep The Best-Lose The Rest


by Peter Block

We...They...Them...And Us
by Cathy Kramer


Brief Cases
Business News Briefs

Views for a Change

Book Review

Letters to the Editor


Electronic Monitoring: There's No Place Like Home

"It's so nice that he comes home after work."
Thanks to an innovative electronic monitoring program for adult offenders in San Bernardino County in Southern California, more families of offenders are echoing those words, while the community stands to benefit in more ways than one.
And the offenders are paying their own way in this most unusual approach to problem solving in an area that's a favorite destination of drug importers; where one out of 6 children are born addicted to drugs; where there are over 4000 gangs, with 10,000 members; where the city of San Bernardino ranks 17th in the nation in violent crimes committed per capita - and where heading home after work has traditionally been the exception, not the rule.

San Bernardino's focus on quality management allowed teams to create an electronic monitoring program that places the responsibility on the offender to pay his or her own way, while it gives the offender the backing to maintain employment and support the family, thus actually allowing them (or in come cases, forcing them) to spend more time in the home with their families.

"What a concept!" says Julianne Star, a veteran of the Probation Office with San Bernardino County Probation, and a member of the ElectronicMonitoring Confinement Program team.

It all began in 1992 when the San Bernardino County Probation Department, with an emphasis on total quality management and continuous improvement, initiated a participative management philosophy. From that beginning, a Probation Leadership Council evolved the following year, comprised of both labor and management, addressing issues jointly. Link Pin Committees were then formed in the key functional divisions in the department (Juvenile, Adult, Institutional and Administrative Services).

Serious overcrowding at the San Bernardino County Jail led the Adult Division Link Pin, in 1995, to put this participative management philosophy to work. The number of individuals under corrective supervision had grown 100% since 1980, resulting in significant overcrowding. Offenders were being released after serving only half of their sentenced jail time and many low-level offenders weren't even being booked, with probation supervision at a minimal level. These problems led an initial team comprised of managers and staff workers to review existing programs and gather relevant data. Their conclusion: some form of electronic monitoring is the safest and most effective adult custody option.

The proposed program: attaching a transmitter to an offender's ankle, which is worn 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, so that authorities know where they are every minute of every day. The transmitter emits a constant radio signal to a field-monitoring device through electrical and phone lines.

The County Board of Supervisors approved the proposed program with start-up seed money of $178,000 up front for a 45-day experiment - but no ongoing operational funding. A supervising probation officer was selected from a group of volunteers to lead the operations team. The leader then interviewed interested staff and selected seven participants. In addition to their wealth of probation experience, these team members had extensive participative management training. Relieved of their current duties, the team was given authority to put the program into action. With the help of a facilitator, the operations team set out to design their own program, work environment, outcomes/goals, marketing and economic strategies. In essence - run their own probation business.

With the goal of providing quality sentencing alternatives - it needed to be safe, it needed to include the right offenders, and it required supervision once the offenders were released. At the same time, it was important to have provisions for quick response to violations and that the failure rate be kept below 7 percent. Failure is defined as a violation, for which the sanction is a return to incarceration.

One of the key initial goals was to make the entire project financially sound. This involved fee collections to meet monthly operating expenses, with these collections to begin the 10th month of operation and a target of recovering start up costs within three years.

Beyond logistical and financial considerations, the team also mandated the operation be keyed to produce a productive and positive work environment. They believe in utilizing a participatory, continuous improvement management style, with flexible work schedules, home dispatch and a continuing openness to innovative approaches, while maintaining ongoing communications with partners in the program (Sheriff's office, attorneys, central collections and the probation staff).
The economics of the program: At 160 clients, the program breaks even. Overall, the first 10 months of the program saved almost 19,000 jail beds, for more violent offenders, which amounts to almost a million-dollar value to the Sheriff's department.

The program continues to be fine tuned, and as of this past summer, it now has 157 clients, moving ever closer to the 160 client break even point, where it will be paying for itself.

As problems have emerged, the team has learned the challenges of operating their own program and being accountable for the results. Effective communication, true customer identification, financial support - each have proposed unique challenges and been met with innovative solutions. And as things inevitably change and problems continue to arise, this team is confident in the skills they've acquired during their experience.

In reviewing where the program is at this point, Julianne Starr puts it this way: "I believe we are enhancing the public protection and reducing family reliance on public assistance, while permitting the offender to work and pay taxes. And at the same time, we're giving the community a lot more protection."

And as the number of offenders participating in the program continues to increase, in addition to all the community benefits, financial accomplishments etc., there is that very human and telling advantage, underscored by the comments of the wife who sees her family strengthening through her spouse's participation in the program.
"It's so nice that he comes home after work."
What a concept, indeed.

Oct. '97 News for a Change | Email Editor

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