From the article: “All 17 prisons are now measured on their performance against each other in a range of areas including security, assaults, drug tests and rehabilitation programmes. They are then categorised in four performance grades, with the resulting tables released quarterly.”
I am always interested in prison oversight and find the different methods to be fascinating. The UK has an extensive prison inspectorate, which uses several teams of expert inspectors to evaluate a prison. It then gives a rating (good, reasonably good, not reasonably good, or poor) in each of four areas (safety, purposeful activities, respect and dignity, and resettlement/reentry). Unsurprisingly, I believe Australia has picked this method up and I know that Canada, which does not currently have an inspectorate (it has a large ombudsman office), is considering it.
NZ DOC’s website provides the following “three steps to determining a prison’s overall rating:”
- At the first level key security measures like escapes and unnatural deaths will be checked. If any of these occur the prison will be classified as needing improvement, no matter how well it’s doing in the next two measures.
- At the next level internal prison issues like the number of complaints, drug testing results, assaults etc are measured. If these are not up to standard the prison will be classified as needing improvement.
- The third level measures some aspects of our ultimate goal of reducing re-offending, by increasing participation in programmes allowing prisoners to gain job skills and real jobs.
They then use rankings of “Exceptional, Exceeding, Effective, and Needs Improvement.” You can see an example of their ranking of the prisons here.
To me, this seems like a good start, but perhaps too superficial. There’s a big push in the US to have “data-driven” corrections – let’s boil everything down to a number, assign a weight, multiply, and boom, you have an effective evaluation of the prison. Of course, it doesn’t really work like that. You do need to use metrics (and I object to any prison inspection or evaluation system that is based purely on an inspector’s “feeling” about a prison), but prisons are complex and just looking at the numbers without further investigation often misses the contributing causes and connections between the numbers. It also opens the door for the prison to manipulate the numbers in order to appear better or simply under-report.
Still, I’m all for public scrutiny and if this brings additional attention to important data such as assault rates, then that’s great.