By Alex and Dorothy Fox
When it comes to introducing technology, every correctional agency has its own method for making decisions on what to purchase. We’ve long advocated that the most effective method for making those decisions is through a formalized product evaluation process and multidisciplinary committee. The New York State Department of Corrections (DOC) and Community Supervision was the first to recognize this need and is widely considered the grandfather of the Product Evaluation Committee (PEC) process. We recently interviewed Commissioner Anthony J. Annucci and Associate Commissioner/Executive Assistant to the Commissioner, Robert J. Kennedy to discuss how this process came about and why it benefits their agency.
Commissioner Annucci began his career with the New York DOC in 1984 as deputy counsel and was appointed commissioner in 2013. Associate Commissioner Kennedy has served with the New York DOC for 36 years. Both provided valuable insight on the issue.
The PEC process began in the early 1980s when the DOC was expanding, according to Associate Commissioner Kennedy. The committee was implemented to assist with the high volume of purchasing needed to keep up with the rapid pace of building. The formalized process and standardization also helped staff as they transferred throughout the system. Deputy Commissioner Clair Bee, a security and technical expert, later assumed leadership and incorporated security technologies such as perimeter fencing, phones and weapons. Additionally, material evaluation became part of the specifications for all new building construction. The past several years have been quite active in terms of introducing new products, including tablets and staff technology.
Commissioner Annucci believes technology is essential to the agency. It adds value by providing tools to deliver programming, provide economic benefits and help the agency accomplish its mission. The process helps ensure all equipment is operational, and the latest technology is used to ensure staff safety. This includes building materials, equipment accessories, radios, chemical agents, restraint equipment and staff technology. Staff often identify the need for a technology and submit a formal request for the committee to evaluate it.
Commissioner Annucci brings a unique perspective and sees the value from an executive and legal point of view. He learned as a lawyer that everything is intertwined and nothing in corrections is compartmentalized. This philosophy has carried over to the PEC. It brings staff together from all backgrounds and who have different opinions and knowledge. One person may understand the capability and benefits of a technology, but another may see an impact on medical, security or maintenance.
The role of the committee is to determine if a product or vendor meets the agency’s needs and mission. Assistant Commissioner Kennedy indicated the department is proactive and constantly evaluating new products. The PEC meets monthly to vet products to ensure they meet standards and that staff is comfortable with utilization. The committee has expanded over time and includes representatives from departments including, Security, Legal, Programs, Planning, Parole, and others. The committee also regularly solicits input from the union. Additionally, they collaborate with the Law Enforcement and Corrections Technology Advisory Council (NLECTC) and other DOCs. The National Institute of Justice (NIJ) reaches out to other agencies, which has proven to be the most effective way to share information and get input.
Potential technologies are identified through conferences, trade shows, vendors and other avenues. The committee prescreens the product(s) and then invites the vendor to a meeting to provide a 30- to 60-minute demonstration and answer questions. If the committee decides to pursue further evaluation, they request a 30- to 60-day trial. The product is tested on multiple shifts, and staff is asked for honest feedback. The vendor may subsequently be given feedback for improvements. If the agency determines it meets their needs, the information is useful for procurement.
The PEC was key in addressing a problem in a vocational shop at a New York DOC facility. Inmates were getting injured on table saws, which resulted in financial loss for the agency. The committee identified saws with airbags and sensors that automatically shut it off and replaced the existing saws. The department is now able to continue teaching inmates a trade while increasing safety and decreasing legal costs.
Assistant Commissioner Kennedy indicated there have been other tangible results and numerous projects are in progress. Cameras and monitoring equipment are being installed in new locations. Attica now has full coverage, which has decreased the rate of incidents. All maximum-security facilities are slated for expansion in the next few years. Heartbeat detection technology has been implemented in all maximum-security facilities. When funding allows, the department is planning to expand that technology to other facilities. Parole is also currently testing ELSA technology, which uses cell phone signals to connect with a language translation service.
To read the entire article, check out the July/August issue of Correctional News.
Alex and Dorothy Fox are owners of ADF Consulting LLC, based in Prescott, Ariz.