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What tasks occupy community corrections staff’s day?

Evaluating Washington State's community corrections staff workload

Challenge

In the early 2000s, the Washington State Department of Corrections (WADOC) engaged in 2 workload evaluations with the aim of identifying key tasks associated with community corrections work and the time to complete such tasks and used these data to inform the amount of resources needed to carry out the responsibilities of the Community Corrections Division (CCD).

Over 15 years later, the WADOC sought to replicate this research to update and consider advancements in practice, including those implemented and pending from the Individualized Community Oriented Accountability Collaborative Help (iCoach) model, to reevaluate staffing need. To facilitate this process, WADOC chose Westat to conduct an updated, full-scale workload assessment of staff members who conduct the responsibilities of CCD. The project team used the following research questions to help guide the overall workload assessment:

  • What are the most common tasks/activities performed by staff?
  • How much time is associated with these tasks/activities?
  • Are there identifiable tasks in which staff report sacrificing quality for timeliness?
  • Are the current staffing levels sufficient given the changes in practice in recent years?
  • What are the facilitators for staff to complete tasks?

Solution

The Westat team used a methodology consistent with the literature to conduct the comprehensive workload assessment, and it can be summarized into 5 key stages.

  1. An advisory committee and various subcommittees were formed at the beginning of the project to drive staffing allocation decisions. Ten subcommittees were formed, each representing a specific staffing type. The research team met with the subcommittees over several weeks in order to understand the various work activities across all occupational groups.
  2. A task analysis was completed to identify an exhaustive list of activities performed by staff that impact the CCD workload. This was a crucial step in order to develop the study instrument used to collect data from staff participants.
  3. A time-and-motion study was then conducted over a 4-week period in which the staff participants documented their workdays according to the amount of time spent on activities. Other contextual factors about the activities were also collected in the web-based instrument. The Westat team developed a unique web-based instrument primarily used to collect data as part of the time-and-motion study, but it also kept other resources about the overall assessment for staff participants to access at any point. Staff participants used an exclusive study ID and password to access the instrument.
  4. An adequacy-of-time web survey was administered to staff participants to help provide additional insight into systemic organizational shortfalls. This survey was administered to only staff who participated in the time-and-motion study. It allowed staff to provide their perceptions on various matters, including whether they had enough time to complete daily work activities, challenges associated with completing those activities, role strain, job satisfaction, and occupational climate.
  5. Workload models were produced from the input data derived from the time-and-motion study to compute staffing need estimates across the various occupational groups. The Westat team customized these models based on the preferences of WADOC. Other administrative data provided by CCD were included in the models as well to determine staffing need estimates.

Results

The 2 most common categorical activities for all staff were administrative and casework. On average, each occurrence of an administrative or casework activity took 40 to 45 minutes altogether, with about 25 minutes of that time spent actually performing the activity.

Nearly half of the activities related to the risk-to-reoffend levels of supervised individuals involved persons assessed at the 2 highest levels—high, violent felony; and high, violent, property and drug felony. Activities involving those supervised individuals also took the most time to perform, on average.

Staff participants did not perceive any challenges for 70% of all documented activities. Of those that were noted, the most common challenges were competing responsibilities, miscellaneous interruptions, and inadequate staffing. What remains to be seen is whether the occurrence of these challenges is disproportional to certain physical areas of the state or involving specific types of supervised individuals.

There were not any statistically differences between CCD Sections among Community Corrections Officers (CCOs) attitudes toward these scales on the adequacy-of-time survey. However, there were statistically significant differences between attitudes of CCOs, supervisors, support staff, and records staff toward these scales. Overall, CCOs and supervisors were often significantly more likely to possess more negative attitudes than records or support staff in terms of stress, job satisfaction, role conflict, role ambiguity, and work overload.

Finally, staffing need estimates generated from the workload models indicated nearly 200 additional staff are needed across the occupational groups to meet the CCD workload. Nearly 2/3 (65%) of the additional staff are needed between the 3 case management groups, which primarily deal with activities associated with supervised individuals. It is important to recognize that the models are estimates based on a variety of inputs, such as population counts of supervised individuals, and the estimates have included practical adjustments to ensure their accuracy.

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