Department of Corrections

Implementing measures to reduce re-offending rates and cut costs are made feasible, thanks to a comprehensive expenditure review.

Turning the tables

Department of Corrections logoThe Department of Corrections (Corrections) used a government-mandated expenditure review to do more than extract money out of the organisation – it used it as an opportunity to improve its services. From 1 July 2012, Corrections is aiming to reduce re-offending by 25% by 2017 and its operating budget by about 10% each year.

For Corrections, the bottom line is ensuring public safety and reducing the likelihood of offenders causing any more harm. “We had a choice,” says Deputy Chief Executive, Christine Stevenson. “We could sit back and let someone else come up with expenditure cuts, or we could take control and transform our organisation to deliver better outcomes for the New Zealand public and still cut costs.”

The senior leadership team realised that, for any cost savings to be durable, to retain staff morale, and to still deliver quality services, any changes needed to come from within. “We chose to see it as an opportunity to stand back and take a look ... Everything was up for grabs so it needed to be broad and deep,” says Ms Stevenson. But the review had to be done quickly and also deliver service improvements.

Informed of the Cabinet-mandated review in mid-2011, the terms of reference and governance structure were set up within weeks. After 11 work streams were reviewed, the implementation programme received Cabinet sign-off in June 2012.

Although the review was led by the Chief Executive and senior management, a project team reported to a steering committee that was made up of key internal leaders and advisors from external agencies.

All up, the review identified $1 billion in savings by 2019/20. These savings will be used to self-fund all of Corrections’ major forecast cost pressures, and contribute a total of $780 million to Crown savings in eight years. Some $20 million a year will be reinvested into reducing re-offending initiatives, and $87 million over the next three years will help fund wider justice sector cost pressures.

Effectiveness means knowing what you’re doing and lining up the organisation to deliver it. Efficiency is to treat the taxpayer’s money as if it was yours.

Brendan Anstiss, Expenditure Review Director, says the savings will be made by working smarter, making best use of departmental resources, and focusing time and effort where it has most effect.

Achieving this requires working even more closely with others in Corrections and the wider justice sector. Corrections also intends tapping into local employment opportunities and social support networks to better rehabilitate and reintegrate offenders into their communities.

“Stronger case management and support from across the department will empower our front line staff to make realistic, innovative interventions at the most critical times of an offender’s contact with us,” says Mr Anstiss. Longer-term initiatives include improving prison security and decommissioning older facilities.

To support new and innovative ways of working, a new organisation structure has been implemented. The new structure will transform Corrections into one unified and cohesive team with strengthened regional leadership. Although a significant change, the transition has been as swift as possible to avoid a drawn-out process. Operation under the new structure began in September 2012.

Corrections has also focused on making some easier changes, such as reducing contracting and travel costs, by sharing resources with the justice sector and using “all of government” contracts.

Several review findings have been implemented as “business as usual”. However, large (often facility and IT-related) changes are being run as stand-alone projects, or have been included in the new programme to reduce re-offending by 25% by 2017. To keep momentum, a new Reducing Re-offending governance committee has been established with cross-sector and central agency representation, a communication plan has been developed, and performance measures refined. Important metrics will be presented to all staff as a monthly “dashboard”, including site-specific reductions in re-offending.

Mr Anstiss says that the experience has taught him how important it is for an organisation to own any change and that this be based on genuine business need. “For change to be sustainable, it needs to be about more than just finances,” he says.

He suggests “leaping to the end first” to figure out what result you want for the organisation and using that to guide all other decisions. However, he warns that “you need to be conscious of the big picture but [not] lose sight of the detail”.

He also recommends “starting strong” because ramping up a change programme half-way through is difficult and “prolongs the pain”. “We were fortunate in a way in that we were under a lot of pressure to deliver so had imperatives to make some of the hard decisions quickly.”

Ms Stevenson believes that the $900,000 it cost to conduct the review – most of it the internal cost of having six staff on the project team – was well worth it and that the team had a good mix of commercial and programme management skills. “They also had a good way of working with the general managers to figure out the best solutions,” she says. “Having a senior and credible steering committee was [also] invaluable in making it a swift, high-standard review.”

The outcomes of the review are aligned with the Better Public Services Advisory Group Report, which was published in November 2011.

Based on interviews with Christine Stevenson, Deputy Chief Executive, and Brendan Anstiss, Expenditure Review Director, on 26 June 2012.

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