When Pendleton Correctional Facility Superintendent Keith Butts looks out over his prison yard on a rainy weekday, it looks much the same as it did before the recession struck. Inside, there are now a couple hundred cameras and a few new doors, but most entrances are still guarded by the imposing iron lattice originals from the prison’s 1923 construction, these days painted burnt orange.
Even the number of staff Butts supervises hasn’t changed much. While the Indiana Department of Corrections employs about 2,100 fewer people today than five years ago, Pendleton has largely received a stay of that sentence, keeping its employment around 1,900. But look closely at who does what job, and it’s clear state budget cuts and staffing shortages have changed the way the prison operates.
“They used to just throw you a set of keys when you walked in and say ‘Here you go, have fun.’ Now they’re much more trained,” Butts says.
When the IDOC outsourced its educational services to Ivy Tech a couple years ago, it took 250 jobs off the rolls. But despite the department’s contract with Ivy Tech, the community college’s educators don’t teach at all prisons. At Pendleton, inmates and prison employees are the educators.
And when the prison needs someone to watch over a patient who might hurt themselves, it’s not a guard who does that job, but another inmate. In fact, prison officials say they now scrutinize daily duty rosters and move personnel only to areas where they’re needed most. That increases efficiency and cuts down on overtime pay, but Butts admits it leaves some areas not critical to prisoner oversight unmanned from time to time.
“It’s more like that post is no longer needed at that particular point in time, therefore staff can go off to do another job,” he says.
The prison system isn’t the only state agency dealing with state cutbacks. According to numbers from the Indiana Personnel Department, since the nationwide recession began in 2008, the State of Indiana has shed more than 11 percent of its workforce.
Some agencies within the state – including a number tasked with public safety — have seen job cuts far in excess of the state average. Leaders are quick to say they’ve “modernized”, “right-sized” or “streamlined” their operations, but layoffs and attrition have led to delays in service delivery and a statewide game of catch-up.
Department Heads Say Efficiency Is The Key
Jim Payne directs of the Department of Child Services, which is tasked with monitoring child welfare. His agency has added more than 270 employees since 2007, but he says a simultaneous push to be more efficient as the recession took a chunk out of the state’s finances hampered his operation.
“It was finding ways to be more efficient, be effective, use training, use technology, communication a little bit better, support each other a little bit better,” Payne says. “All of that had to take place in terms of training to make sure we became efficient. But in that transition, there is some lag time in that efficiency.”
The Indiana Department of Transportation has lost nearly a fifth of its workforce in the last five years. Spokesman Will Wingfield says there are now fewer dedicated snowplow drivers and road construction specialists, but he insists that doesn’t mean snow sits on roadways or infrastructure is left to decay.
“Manpower isn’t the only point of resource that we need for snow removal. It’s salt, it’s diesel fuel, it’s the number of trucks,” he says. “With Major Moves, the state has never spent more on infrastructure, never spent more on roads and bridges, and despite that we’re doing that with fewer employees.”
Does fewer staff and less money necessarily mean public safety is hampered? IUPUI professor Tom Stucky studies the issue, especially as it relates to criminal justice, and says it may not be soon enough to tell.
“If there are cuts that have to be made, then you have to make painful choices,” he says. “But what I would say is that the consequences of those choices for corrections are not always immediately obvious.”
More Manpower May Not Solve The Problems
Back at Pendleton, Superintendent Keith Butts –a slender, positive man in a bright white shirt who’s made a career out of corrections work in Indiana — says he’s unconvinced that simply adding manpower would solve a prison’s problems, because complications vary between facilities.
“Nobody has been able to prove to this old dog that you can sit there and say, across the board, an inmate is an inmate is an inmate,” he says.
But IUPUI’s Tom Stucky says it may make a difference whether Ivy Tech educators or prison officials run classes behind bars.
“If you have an otherwise good external resource, but you don’t have enough money to pay them to meet the needs of the offenders, then it doesn’t matter how good they are, you’re not able to take advantage,” he says.
An Associated Press report released in December shows Indiana has one of the lowest ratios of state workers per capita of any state in the nation. In fact, more than two-thirds of all state agencies now have fewer employees than they did in 2007.