Chapter 3: Trends in Corrections

Several significant trends have emerged over the last 30 years in criminal justice and corrections work — trends that have and will continue to have an impact on this business. The first concerns organization. In today's public service, organizational theory and all its related tenets are a major area of study and concern, as most organizations try to become more competitive and more effective and improve their status in whatever way they can. But this is a relatively new phenomenon. If we look back over the first part of the century through the late 1950s, organizations were fairly stable. They were based on definite hierarchical models where the power structure and the authority structure were clearly defined, and the goals of the organization were simple, whether they were private or public.

Typewriters and the white-collar worker

Beginning in the 1950s, a number of things changed. Probably the most important was the widespread use of the typewriter, which had a significant impact on the structure of how we organize ourselves to conduct business. It seems like a silly thing, but it changed how we collect information and report data, and it brought about the era of forms. Up until then, we recorded our activity in journals. We could standardize the way we did our work to great effect, in a systematic way. It was a boon for the paper manufacturers, but it certainly had an impact on the structure of organizations.

A second feature was the changing nature of the workforce. Once we started moving in the direction of standardizing work, we had a huge cadre of relatively low-paid employees to do clerical support work, a huge cultural shift. It was a major contributor to bringing women into the workplace. It was subtle, it changed the dynamics, and it also changed the size of the workplace that was not related to actual production. In earlier times, workers were actually producing things or doing specific activities related to the goals and roles of an organization. We now created large administrative bureaucracies of white-collar workers to manage production. It all seemed to come to a head as automation and technology began to take hold, particularly in the 1950s.

For the first time, we saw the study of organization as an important area, particularly in schools of business and in the academic expansion of the social sciences. The issues of how man organizes himself, how business conducts itself and the nature and effectiveness of organizations now became of major interest. Some of the earlier academics like Warren Bennis and Peter Drucker led the way — and continue to lead the way even today — in analysing the structure of human organizations, especially the organization of private and public bureaucracies.

The shift from authority to power

Corrections was part of the first dynamic shift, although — probably because of the nature of our work — we were much slower in moving than other parts of our society. In the 1970s and 1980s, we got caught up in it with great speed, and the criminal justice system was by then clearly part of the process. The way we ordered ourselves and the way we conducted business changed fairly dramatically.

Basically, what happened is that organizations shifted from an authority model to a power model. By "authority model" I mean an organization that defines who had control and who had the authority to do what. People acted within those authorities without much regard to the impact of their decisions or concern with the influence they would have. But as we generated much more complex organizations, the authority model simply became ineffective, and we moved to a power model. What I mean by "power" is the ability to influence. In the management of organizations, there has been an increasing disrespect for or lack of interest in authority as a way of changing, organizing, shifting and motivating behaviour towards meeting organizational goals. The goal now is to develop the credibility and accountability by which you are able to influence changes in the organization.

One of the by-products is the current interest in the whole subject of leadership. It has become a very significant part of business-school training, and it's certainly part of most management and professional-school training these days. It's the ability to lead using influence, as opposed to authority. The process of changing its forms of management and leadership was difficult for the criminal-justice system, because it was such a strongly entrenched authority model.

Managing competing interests

A second shift was the need to manage competing interests: to move away from a single-focus objective to managing a whole complexity of interests, often competing in nature, and trying to bring balance and resolve conflicts. As our organizations became more complex, they no longer had some simple little goal for which they were responsible, such as producing electric shavers or incarcerating offenders.

In the old models under the authority structure, conflicts were usually generated by persons who resisted the authority, for whatever reason. You had to use all kinds of disciplinary measures to ensure that people adhered to authority. Now, the skill is to manage conflict in a way that people can actually get together, agree and bring things to a middle ground. Of course, this involves a wholly different set of skills. It was often difficult for managers who had their training in the 1930s and 1940s to adapt to the new models. It is a significant trend, and it is increasing at an exponential rate. Young people coming into the workforce rarely have regard for anything authoritarian. They have been trained that way; the school system has reshaped their thinking to be able to cope with modern and postmodern society. Your credibility is based only on your competence as a person to address these issues.

From tactics to strategy

A third trend is the shift from tactics to strategy. In some organizations, managers are more interested in tactical solutions: "How do I improve my product and service delivery? How do I improve the way my organization runs, in very specific terms?" In complex organizations with competing interests, the shift becomes much more strategic: trying to think of game-plan strategies, future thinking, and looking at the economic and demographic environment we're living in to see what it is we should be doing, and how we should be shaping the broad principles of our organizations. It is hard to operate tactically, because the rules we are assuming on one day are changed in months or even weeks, and the tactics we thought to be so appropriate at that moment are no longer appropriate.

From process to productivity

A fourth change is the increasing move from process to productivity and bottom-line thinking. Historically, organizations were much more interested in making sure that things ran smoothly and were well-ordered, and the processes were well in place. If you had good processes, the organization could ramble on forever. That doesn't happen any more. Every organization has to pay attention to its productivity and delivering the goods on time, and to being marketed well and presented in a way that will keep the organization alive. One mistake in its strategy could bring a large organization to ruin.

From stability to change

Another shift is the whole move away from organizations existing to promote equilibrium and stability to facilitating change. That's a dramatically different way of viewing the world, and it changes the way we structure ourselves, the way we set our goals, the way we organize and manage, and the way we work with unions. Management change is still the most difficult aspect of working in any large organization: all the different variables with which we are confronted in a high-tech, multimedia, high-speed environment, including a demanding public.

Corporate culture

The shift towards developing corporate attitudes, values and cultures has become increasingly important. People working in an organization are not necessarily committed to the values and goals of that organization. Training and orientation are often much more focussed on enhancing the corporate culture of the organization than on developing specific skills. Specific requirements change, and may not have a long-term benefit. Any good organization now has a very clear mission statement, principles and values that management hopes will guide the organization, rather than relying on the hierarchy to enforce them.

Parts of the traditional organization no longer work. Many of our traditional personnel practices, how we staff people and how we compensate them are areas that need review, because our models were designed in the 1950s for quite a different organization. As we try to work in a high-speed world, our current ways of hiring and staffing have become problematic, particularly in a government bureaucracy that is committed to strong principles about merit, and ensuring that fairness and the rights of workers are well protected.

We are always struggling with antiquated parts of our organization when we are dealing with environments that are different. We have seen it recently as we negotiate collective agreements with our employee organizations. It's hard to negotiate competing values. Looking at a specific example in corrections, we are not necessarily able to do effective correctional work based on the regular clock. Programs may well be more effective if they are offered to offenders in the off hours or in the evening, allowing offenders to carry on during normal days and work assignments like everybody else.

In their wish to protect employees and their working lives, however, the unions concern themselves with working conditions. They are obviously not all that thrilled with having people working strange hours, and having their family and social lives disrupted because of the requirements of the workplace. It's a major concern and a legitimate concern.

There are many studies about the impact of shift work on employees, stress in the workplace, and the importance of creating a workplace that reduces the amount of anxiety that employees face. It's very clear that employee organizations such as unions have every right to want to ensure that the employees' side of the equation is properly addressed. Very quickly there is conflict. This may be a simple example, but it points out some of the dynamics of facing a new economy and a new organizational world and trying to keep all these things in balance. I suspect that this is not going to be the end of the line. There will be continuing debate and mutual discussion on how we resolve a competing interest between the effective delivery of a program and ensuring that employee rights and working conditions are secure and well maintained.


A further trend is the emergence of re-engineering. It started in the late 1980s and early 1990s in the private sector, and caught on in the public sector much later — interestingly, about the time the private sector was abandoning it. Re-engineering came about at a time when it was clear that old organizational structures were simply not being effective and companies would have to look at new ways to conduct business.

The idea behind re-engineering is to examine work, and restructure it in different models and different ways. The classic job description was of little merit, because as soon as a description was formulated it was by definition obsolete the next day. It became difficult to describe in traditional ways the duties and functions that we might have had under stable bureaucracies. Now, the emphasis had to be much more on describing the skill sets and the knowledge that we want people to bring to the workplace. How they use their skills may go through a number of changes. Although we still are beholden to job descriptions to help determine the pay level and the value of a particular job, it is nevertheless problematic because the chances of the person ever meeting the full requirements for that job description a year later are often remote. I call it the tyranny of job description, which means that you are locked into doing work in a particular way without allowance for flexibility or adjustment to changing forces. It's just one example of the difficulties you face in a changing organizational environment.

The term "re-engineering" has fallen into disfavour because it became another word for downsizing. Although the original re-engineering was never conceived as a process to eliminate jobs, it quickly came to be viewed as that. For many middle managers, in particular, it became a way of kicking someone out of the organization. It has caused a number of concerns in some large organizations because the net result was a number of people losing their jobs or being forced into early retirement. In many cases, it actually threw organizations into mayhem, because in doing what they thought was a good thing and becoming much more bottom-line-oriented and efficient in their structures, they lost their corporate memories. Case studies in the Harvard Business Review and other journals document how companies actually did themselves enormous damage by being too enthusiastic about using re-engineering, and losing chunks of the organization that they didn't think were of merit at the time.

One of the strongest interests now is leadership, and how you get an organization to rethink itself and to use its existing talents to adjust and restructure itself continuously, without necessarily threatening the livelihoods of the employees.

New views of corrections: the living unit model

We need a new view of corrections, because we are really a service to the community. We should be part of a whole continuum of community organizations that address issues of public safety and social control. We're dealing with the worst-case scenarios, the hardest cases our society has produced, but nevertheless true intervention and true corrections can happen within the context of community participation and involvement. It should be a priority for us to maintain our contacts and to develop strong ties with the community in everything we do. That includes our business relationships, which I found extremely helpful in developing our industrial programs and working with the private sector. They bring to us knowledge of the business community and things that we as bureaucrats are not good at. In return, we bring to them knowledge about behaviour and some of the issues about social control. Often, people think that somehow we manufacture criminals and release them on an unsuspecting public. That is not what happens.

Something happened in the late 1960s that changed the organization. Part of it had to do with some of the organizational issues I have just discussed. It was clear that we were no longer a solitary, insulated, punitive arm of the government of Canada. Now, we were a full-blown department that was expected to perform as the Canadian public wanted us to perform, and holding us much more to account than we may have been accustomed to. The early leaders who were hired to bring about this change were visionaries, struggling with the question of how to bring about the kind of shift in the organization that was inevitable, but needed careful thought. Their initial efforts were to address the old security-custody model that formed the basis of corrections, and to introduce more programming ideas that actually focussed on the corrections aspect of our work.

The most significant accomplishment in this early innovation period was the introduction of the living unit model in the federal system. Similar variations were introduced in provincial correctional organizations. The living unit model was an attempt to bring in a staff with a much broader set of skills in working with people, in addition to their normal custodial duties. They were there to help offenders to change. The only problem at the time was that there were no resources for the programs that existed. We were still in the era of numerous theories, ideas, wild dreams and schemes by people who thought that they may have some idea of how to contribute. We were overly tolerant in allowing some of the initiatives to go forward, without having any clear sense of their downstream impact. The research capacity we needed just did not exist. At the same time the living unit model was transitory, because we were still holding on to the security model.

It was a two-part organization. One part was committed to ensuring a high level of security and control to prevent inmates from escaping or engaging in illegal activities while in prison. Another part of the organization was trying to be more effective in working with people, and less concerned with the security dimensions of the work. So it was a somewhat clumsy model, although its intentions were great in that it brought into the organization a different kind of thinking and a different kind of employee. It was fraught with difficulties right from the beginning. Over the next six or seven years of operation, that model did go some way toward changing the face of the organization. But it wasn't able to integrate everything as it should have done.

The unit management model

The unit management model was established to try to achieve those results. It was the model we currently operate by, although it has undergone a number of changes since. The unit management model restructured the whole organization so that we are all committed to common goals and responsibilities, whether case worker, parole officer, corrections officer, or health-care worker. It also broke the organization down into smaller teams and workers. The shift came under the Commissionership of Don Yeomans. He began to recognize that the change had to impact the whole organization. We were still having a number of problems, such as releasing inmates who were a risk to the community, and there were still problems inside the management of our facilities. It was clear that we needed a much more integrated approach.

We had learned that big, monolithic structures don't work. We become much more effective when we can delegate as much responsibility and power to the lowest level of the organization. This was a step in the right direction: to try to build smaller work teams that had clear areas of responsibility cutting across professions, so that it wasn't just a single group of people involved. Our case-management and unit teams consisted of a good cross-section of people.

Like everything else, it's a work in progress. We've worked with the unit management model now for close to 15 years, and it's starting to look different than in the beginning. That's the nature of the work. It allowed us to think about ordering ourselves into much smaller, more effective work teams and enhanced the whole concept of teamwork. There is still a long way to go. We are debating the division of responsibilities, and who does what. As we speak, a number of projects are under way to look at our processes and procedures within that model to make them more effective, and to deal with the expectations of the public, the government and the organization itself. It is a model that works.

The postmodern organization

Another organizational shift goes back to our fairly recent encounter with the whole re-engineering process. As recently as three or four years ago, we started to look very seriously at a number of things we did, and asked whether there are better ways of doing them. Did the traditional departments that we had structured to carry out certain functions still work? Who do these organizations report to, and is there value in centralizing some functions and decentralizing others? Most of it had to do with common functions. For example, an organization like ours is regionally based, managed by a particular group. Is there something we can do as managers of this regional group to look at the way we do business? Are the ways we handle regional food services and manage the organization's technology better served by more centralized ways, and through teams that work for all of us, rather than each of us having our own little empires?

We undertook a number of initiatives to see if there were ways that we could become more efficient in how we manage our affairs. Some things worked and some didn't. Some of our re-engineering initiatives fell flat on their face, and it became clear that they were just not as effective as we thought. On the other hand, certain initiatives worked much better than expected, and actually improved the quality of service that we were able to achieve. In other words, we have evolved into a postmodern organization. There is less concern with changing the organization every time we get a new goal or the circumstances external to us change. There is probably more willingness to work with the existing organization: to adapt and adjust in a way that avoids the trauma of the huge organizational changes we've experienced in the last 20 years. We have realized that in postmodern organizations we have to be a learning organization: that we can build on our experiences and continue to adjust and improve. We have to be able to try things and not feel that it's the end of our lives if we don't continue following them slavishly.

We now focus much more on having some clear understanding of what we mean when we say that we are productive. What is it that we do and how do we make sure we are accountable to the public and to others? We spend a large amount of effort defining what we should be accomplishing, and what would look like quality service to the Canadian public. Our primary goal is public safety and the reduction of crime. At the same time, the way we accomplish it must be consistent with the overall goals of government for treating people with respect and dignity all the way through the process. That means everyone: employees, the public and offenders as well.

There has probably been some confusion along the way as to whom we serve. We often refer to the clients as the offenders. That's never been quite my view. In my view, the clients are those who pay. That's an important concept, because it gives us a better focus on where our priorities should be. In this case, it's clearly my view that the clients are the taxpayers. We serve them. That has been a focus I've tried to attach to our work. When we set our priorities and goals and targets, it is ultimately the taxpayer who is the beneficiary of our work. Not only do we want to do our work effectively in terms of changing peoples' behaviour, we also want to do it in a cost-effective way. We want to do it in a way that is less — rather than more — burdensome to the public, and in a way that is clearly understood by the public. We are trying to provide better public accountability.

The future organizational directions are not entirely clear. We are still going to see models that will allow us to rethink public policy, and probably move toward models that are more decentralized on one side, but more centralized on the other. I know that those things sound competing. The structure of prisons as we have historically known them are going to continue to change, more slowly than other parts of society, but we are going to have to look at models now that are more easily managed and led given the complexities of change. We are going to be a much more value-driven and principle-driven organization. The various correctional facilities or parole units will be much more accountable for how they are going to achieve organizational goals and objectives.