The Advantages of a Modern OMS System During a Pandemic: CORIS®’ impact in fighting COVID-19
- By Benjamin Wright
- July 6, 2020
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The coronavirus disease (COVID-19) has had an unprecedented impact on correctional agencies across the globe. To successfully facilitate operations during such a pandemic, correctional administrators must be able to manage numerous complex processes, and delays in minor procedures can have significant consequences. Correctional administrators are tasked with keeping staff and offenders safe, mitigating infections to levels at or below community levels. Although correctional agencies have developed plans for addressing pandemics, COVID-19 has challenged administrators in unanticipated ways. The coronavirus disease is highly contagious with a long incubation period. Additionally, the disease can be transmitted by asymptomatic individuals. Such factors make addressing the coronavirus even more challenging than expected in confined populations.
Correctional facilities face many unique challenges when confronted with a pandemic. Offenders spend most of their time near others, frequently in locations that exceed maximum capacity. Offenders are also often required to share showers, bathrooms, and sleeping areas. In overcrowded prisons, practicing social distancing is impossible. The only recourse in such situations is to mask offenders and staff, limit movement within the facility, and restrict the number of individuals entering the facility. However, placing facilities on “lockdown” can have negative impacts on both staff and offender mental health. Facilities that have dormitories are also unable to effectively “lockdown.” Administrators also find it challenging to locate areas where infected or vulnerable offenders can be isolated for facilities that are already at or above capacity. Additionally, staff resources that are already challenged are exacerbated as staff becomes ill. Offenders who are admitted to hospitals also present staffing challenges.
Despite all of these efforts by correctional administrators, the number of COVID-19 cases in prisons continues to rise. Much of this increase is because prisons, where offenders were symptomatic, began to test their populations aggressively. Such findings suggest that coronavirus was prevalent in prisons to a much greater extent than known early in the pandemic. In the United States, more than 46,000 cases of coronavirus have been reported among prisoners with more than 540 deaths (themarshallproject.com, 2020). Staff members are also at risk in correctional facilities. While more than 9,665 prison staff members have tested positive, only 41 deaths have been publicly reported (themarshallproject.com, 2020). Because of these challenges, many governments are seeking ways to reduce offender populations. The focus of release efforts has been on those who are at lower risk of re-offending and higher chances of successful re-entry. Prison administrators have also been asked to release offenders who are particularly vulnerable to COVID-19. Due to increases in “truth-in-sentencing” laws and the abolition of parole in many locations, the number of vulnerable offenders in prison is more extensive than ever. Between 2000 and 2016, the percentage of individuals in state prison in the U.S. age 55 and older more than tripled (themarshallproject.com, 2020). In 2016, the number of offenders age 55 or older in state facilities reached nearly 150,000. Additionally, 11 percent of federal prisoners (more than 20,000 individuals) were at or above the age of 56 (themarshallproject.com, 2020). These populations are particularly vulnerable to the effects of coronavirus.
Another way some correctional agencies address the coronavirus pandemic is with a robust offender management system (OMS). An offender management system allows correctional administrators to access and analyze data from all business processes to identify and mitigate risks. During a pandemic, a robust OMS allows correctional agencies to share important information with other justice and public safety agencies.
I recently had the opportunity to discuss the advantages of a modern OMS system during a pandemic with Tom Sawyer, one of the Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) with Abilis. Our conversation centered around the utilization of CORIS® to address a pandemic such as COVID-19. Tom served in a variety of roles for the Virginia Department of Corrections (VADOC) over a 25 -year career. Tom was also noted as one of the most proficient users of CORIS® in the VADOC.
Benjamin Wright (BW): One of the areas that CORIS® can be beneficial is during the intake phase. Tom, please advise how CORIS® could be utilized to monitor jail intake.
Tom Sawyer (TS): One of the things that happens in the process of the jail intake is the fact that the jail is in communication with the agency about those offenders who are essentially ready to be transferred into the facility. For this, CORIS® has a Pending Intake feature that allows agencies to have at their disposal a list of offenders who are DOC responsible, and that can be prioritized with regards to the COVID-19 outbreak. Unique about CORIS® is the data aspect: with the Pending Intake comes a feature that shows for how long the offenders were waiting, and when they were admitted into the DOC facility. Agencies could go back and look over the pandemic period and extract the data describing for how long the pandemic experience set them back: for example if we look over the last 3 months, the agency would be able to compare this data with the one of the previous 3 months, or the same 3 months the year before, and show the difference in the pandemic pending time. Additionally, this will also allow them to hold those who are in a risk group, or who have been possibly exposed, and change their priority.
BW: How would you utilize CORIS® to monitor the impact of COVID 19?
TS: I am going to detail a few areas I can think of:
- Incident reporting. CORIS® has the flexibility to maintain incident types, which means that an incident type related to the coronavirus could be created and, as incidents occur, the agency (whether it’s a facility or district office) can write a report about it; they could also utilize CORIS® Lockdown module to document the point prevalent testing, and/or any other kind of related incidents.
- Transports associated to the coronavirus could also be tracked; treatments or hospitalizations using the transport feature can track the man-hours, the vehicles used to transport infected offenders, which additionally could also be used for contact tracing.
- In the community, CORIS® has the ability to track different types of due dates for the offenders who are under supervision, and contact frequency, or change or revise contact frequency based on the pandemic. Any of the data captured like this can be used for analysis.
- Facilities. Our housing module can monitor bed types as they are maintainable and configurable. As such, a pod or dormitory could be converted into quarantine, while the number of available beds, the number of offenders using those beds and the time could be additionally tracked. With any of these instances, the demographic information captured as part of our basic OMS could be further utilized to look at the age group of the offenders, and to determine if there is any correlation between the age group and quarantine duration. All these investigations could be done using CORIS® BI analytic tool.
We also know that across the country, and all over the globe, there were calls for early releases. As such, the agencies need to be able to look at their population and identify those who were eligible for early release. CORIS® allows our customers to quickly go through the information and make those decisions. For example, in many instances the criteria for early release is less than a year or less than two years remaining to serve. CORIS® lets you quickly run a report of the release dates and add any additional criterion such as a risk group, or even a disqualifier (e.g.: sex offender) to identify the offenders who would be eligible.
BW: With regards to offenders in community settings, how can CORIS® mobile be utilized during the pandemic?
TS: The first one is probably the most obvious and that’s not having to be in an office, in front of a PC. A P&P officer or a P&P district chief can immediately access and conduct offender checks remotely, look at their caseload, check when their contacts are due, and make waiver requests. If there is a high-risk offender, they can obviously use CORIS® mobile for social distancing, meet them at an appropriate location, and document the check. Our CORIS® Mobile has the ability to take pictures, add them to a case note, or record a video or audio. It gives the officer the flexibility not to be tethered to a PC.
BW: How could CORIS® help prison administrators track coronavirus cases both within the facility and across the agency?
TS: We already talked about some of them: creating incident reporting, incident types, quarantine beds. We also have a physical health page, which doesn’t duplicate the health record. CORIS® health page is intended to capture some quick data, for example if an offender has been identified with symptoms related to the pandemic. The agency headquarters could send out a set of instructions on how to use this CORIS® health page, and how to document all the encounters when a person is suspected of being infected with the coronavirus, and report on how many were screened. We can also track any kind of inoculation; obviously for COVID-19 there is no inoculation, but we are able to go back into that page for example and track if there was any inoculation, and draw any correlation associated with that.
I touched on some other points earlier: on point prevalence testing through the CORIS® lockdown module, offenders’ hospitalizations via transports feature. But I will tell you something else I didn’t think about before: home planning. I mentioned earlier the call of the governments for early releases. A big part of releasing offenders is the home plan. It’s of upmost importance to have the ability to expedite home plan investigation from the facility into the P&P districts in this case, and you are able to do that with CORIS® mobile.
I also want to mention all the analytical opportunities available through the CORIS® BI (Business Intelligence) tool using the data captured in the OMS. For example, you can compare how many symptomatic offenders, how many quarantines, what period of time they were showing symptoms, and cases within age demographic groups. CORIS® BI allows for geographic tracking as well. Certain areas in the US were hit particularly hard with the coronavirus, and the DOC agencies obviously have their facilities spread-out within their jurisdictions; so if there were geographic areas or a particular facility with a unusually higher number of cases, an investigation could reveal, based on the data captured by CORIS®, a causal factor for that.
BW: How can CORIS® help protect staff during the pandemic?
TS: One way to protect the staff is by limiting contact; obviously correction officers and some of the essential workers will have to come to work, but CORIS® OMS could be utilized to help minimalize some other contacts. For example, non-custodial staff who are involved in process hearings for offenders: using CORIS® they are able to document the hearing outcomes and rather than have the offender come to a hearing, they could use the technology available at the facility (audio-video) to conduct those hearings. Likewise, the case manager would be able to continue to do classifications and different due process hearings without having the offender physically present in front of them.
The visitation module also helps protecting staff: CORIS® has a feature where visits could be scheduled, and this could be used for scheduling video visitation.
During a pandemic, and particularity with COVID-19, there’s an increased need to take extraordinary sanitation measures throughout the facility. Creating in the OMS new jobs that are associated with the sanitation efforts for the pandemic is another way that staff can be protected. Using Jobs module, you can create jobs and track the number of hours an offender is working, and even link that to the financial
module for payroll purposes.
Another way to protect staff is through Programs. Using the Programs module in CORIS®, our customers can document when a program is occurring, who attends it, and its duration, all geared at reducing outbreaks in the facilities and subsequently keeping staff safe by limiting the amount of contact or the amount of appointments. Another important thing to mention here: we have our Internal Movements feature which allows the agency to go back and help do contact tracing. So if you have someone who’s displaying symptoms and ends up testing positive, you can go back and look in CORIS® to check if they went to work or an appointment, and who facilitated the movement.
In prisons there are issues with safeguards compliance as unfortunately not everybody follows the rules, so using the Discipline module our customers can track offenders who may be non-complaint with, for example, protective gear, and raise the level of disciplinary actions and associated sanctions.
Another important KPI in the corrections business is grievance. In CORIS®, an agency has the ability to set up a grievance type and category. Agencies monitor grievances closely because they are good indicators of what could be hotspots in their operations. For example, if you have a high number of complaints about sanitation or welfare in an agency, that allows the management to investigate why is the population raising their hands about it. This module helps agencies to investigate different issues raised by the offenders and become more proactive.
So those are some of the ways I think that CORIS® has helped keeping staff safe in agencies.
BW: You touched on this earlier, but how can CORIS® application be utilized to assist identify potential offenders for earlier release, and how can CORIS® assist in the release processing as well?
TS: It’s all about the ability to create a release report: to identify a group of offenders (community or facility) and look into the time left to serve and apply on top of that all the other required criteria. Part of our CORIS® OMS is the Sentencing module which safeguards offenders’ criminal history, and this could be used to determine if an offender is going to be exclusionary for early release (e.g.: either politically not savvy to release or have high probability to recidivate). CORIS® has an Assessments module as well, and some of our customers interface with different professional services to make determination about their risk to recidivate and obviously, this information could be extracted from our OMS within seconds. This, in correlation with the case notes in Discipline, could quickly help you make the determination about those most suitable for an early release. Also, CORIS® allows for home planning and anything else that require the community and facility to communicate with one another. CORIS® is a one stop OMS, not a separate system for community or facility, so everybody who works in the agency uses the OMS and has access to all that important information, which could be sliced and diced in so many different ways as to help preventing the spread of the pandemic, as well as to help protecting the offenders and the staff during a pandemic.
BW: Excellent overview Tom, thank you!
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