Cover: Fostering Innovation in Community and Institutional Corrections

Fostering Innovation in Community and Institutional Corrections

Identifying High-Priority Technology and Other Needs for the U.S. Corrections Sector

Published Jan 6, 2015

by Brian A. Jackson, Joe Russo, John S. Hollywood, Dulani Woods, Richard Silberglitt, George B. Drake, John S. Shaffer, Mikhail Zaydman, Brian G. Chow


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Appendix Figure 1

Technology and Practice Taxonomy — Institutional Corrections

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Appendix Figure 2

Technology and Practice Taxonomy — Community Corrections

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Research Questions

  1. What is the current state of the art for corrections technology and practice?
  2. What are the opportunities where changes in tools, practices, or approaches could improve performance in the correctional system, and what are the highest-priority needs?
  3. Based on the needs, priorities, and objectives of the corrections sector, what is the innovation agenda for corrections in the United States?

The agencies of the U.S. corrections enterprise manage offenders confined in prisons and jails and those who have been released into the community on probation and parole. The enterprise is one of the three central pillars of the criminal justice system, along with police and the courts. Corrections agencies face major challenges from declining budgets, increasing populations under supervision, problems of equity and fairness in administrating justice, and other concerns. To better achieve its objectives and play its role within the criminal justice enterprise, the sector needs innovation in corrections technology, policy, and practice. This report draws on published literature and new structured deliberations of a practitioner Corrections Advisory Panel to frame an innovation agenda. It identifies and prioritizes potential improvements in technology, policy, and practice in both community and institutional corrections. Some of the top-tier needs identified by the panel and researchers include adapting transcription and translation tools for the corrections environment, developing training for officers on best practices for managing offenders with mental health needs, and changing visitation policies (for example, using video visitation) to reduce opportunities for visitors to bring contraband into jails and prisons. Such high-priority needs provide a menu of innovation options for addressing key problems or capitalizing on emerging opportunities in the corrections sector. This report is part of a larger effort to assess and prioritize technology and related needs across the criminal justice community for the National Institute of Justice's National Law Enforcement and Corrections Technology Center system.

Key Findings

Corrections Technology and Practice Can Be Represented as Five Main Categories

  • Facility operations and population services
  • Person-worn equipment and weapons/force
  • Information and communications
  • Vehicles
  • Doctrine, tactics, management, and behavioral knowledge development and training

The Corrections Advisory Panel Identified 19 High-Priority Needs for Community Corrections and 29 for Institutional Corrections

  • Most of the top-tier needs fell under one of two main taxonomy categories: (1) information and communications, and (2) doctrine, tactics, management, and behavioral knowledge development and training.
  • Examples of high-priority technology needs included deception detection, new illegal drug detection tools, automated translation tools, various scanners and detectors for detecting weapons and other contraband materials, and policies for analyzing offender social media use.

The Elements of the Innovation Agenda — and the Requirements to Meet Them — Vary Considerably

  • Develop and improve technology. The corrections enterprise needs some new technologies to meet its specialized needs.
  • Adapt technology to the corrections environment. Though some existing technologies can meet corrections needs, tools must address the complexities of community and institutional settings, as well as sensitivities and legal concerns.
  • Perform research and analysis. Some needs from both working groups require developing new knowledge to guide practice.
  • Validate tools. There was a clear call for assistance in demonstrating that some existing tools actually do what they say they do.
  • Change organizations' policies and practices. Policymakers and decisionmakers can build incentives into grant and other mechanisms to shape behavior, but outside forces can only facilitate — not execute — new innovations.


  • Though institutional and community corrections each have their own particular requirements, innovation in a number of areas could contribute to improving performance across the sector. Examples include improvements in information-sharing, automated translation tools, staff training, and social media monitoring.
  • The advisory panel identified some needs with much broader implications — including questioning how requirements for restitution affect the ability of offenders to successfully reintegrate into society and not return to prison (in the community working group) and the need to develop much broader alternatives to incarceration for categories of offenses or offenders (in the institutional working group). While some such changes made it into the top-tier needs, others did not, in part because of concerns about the likelihood of making such fundamental changes successfully.
  • The innovation agenda presented here, capturing both high-priority needs specific to one part of the corrections sector and those reaching across it, represents a starting point for developing new technology, policy, and practice to improve corrections performance. Rooted in present problems and current technology opportunities, the agenda represents a snapshot in time, one that should be revisited both as technology and society change and as it becomes possible to elaborate on and expand the agenda. These evolutions will enable us to explore more-transformational change in corrections, making it possible to pursue more effectively and efficiently the objectives that society counts on the sector to achieve.

The research reported here was conducted in the RAND Safety and Justice Program, a part of RAND Justice, Infrastructure, and Environment.

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