Achieving Life-changing Results at the Utah Department of Corrections

Colby Oliverson Success Stories

It’s not possible or affordable for the state to keep offenders separated from the public indefinitely. In fact, the state’s re-entry system, or the system that transitions offenders from prisons or supervision back to freedom with supervision and programming, costs taxpayers upwards of $9 million monthly. So, the faster the system can effectively rehabilitate offenders, the better off are society, the offender, and his/her family. 

Because of this reality, one of the ways that the Utah Department of Corrections (UDC) measures its performance is by how many offenders earn early exits from the criminal justice system. To earn an early exit, offenders must prove they have lessened any risk previously posed to the public by completing treatment, adhering to laws and terms of their supervision, repaying society for the financial toll of their prior crimes through restitution, and obtaining work and a residence. After implementing the Social Services Blueprint Solution, UDC has seen a 186% improvement toward this outcome to date in 2020 compared to much of 2019. While only about 6% of offenders earned early exits from supervision last year, nearly one third of offenders on supervision qualified early for exit this year. Even higher proportions of earned-early exits are expected over time as UDC continues to make holistic improvements, thereby improving offenders’ lives and saving millions of taxpayer dollars.

Strategies

The following strategies were implemented to make improvements:

  1. Focus all efforts to provide the right services, at the right time, and in the right amount
  2. Clearly define probation/parole agents’ and case managers’ duties to help them spend more time doing the work they believe in—to help people successfully exit the criminal justice system
  3. Provide more direct meetings for programming/treatment between case managers and offenders to address individualized needs
  4. Assign one case manager who stays with the offender throughout his/her experience in prison or on probation/parole supervision
  5. Maintain one synchronized, individualized plan for each offender from the time they enter the system until the time they leave to enable constant improvement, rather than constant change and rework
  6. Share offender plans with other supporting agencies who are invested in the offender

Process Changes

Case manager offices were centralized to help maintain focus on goals and limit time spent performing tasks that do not contribute to goals. More flexible scheduling was created to provide offender access to case managers from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. seven days a week instead of 10 hours per day four days a week. UDC established consistent caseloads to enable case managers to remain with offenders, even if the person is moved to a different housing area. Computer systems were improved to better track and celebrate offenders’ progress across agencies. The department now tracks the reasons offenders get stuck in their progress and proactively intervenes to address challenges. Enrollment processes are being improved to provide offenders the programs and classes that they need, replacing haphazard paper processes and wait lists.

The road to broadened individual successes and overall culture change has been paved by basic process changes, enabling a needed shift in thinking toward an approach that identifies and treats individual risks that tend to drive criminal behavior. The Blueprint Solution has expanded case managers’ familiarity with individual case plans, heightened investment in offenders’ success, simplified and standardized how employees work with offenders, and enabled service providers to understand what offenders need in order to succeed in changing their lives and keeping the community safe.

Congratulations to the Utah Department of Corrections for achieving these truly life-changing results. Over time, these successes will help drive other necessary changes to improve public safety and offender success.