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My first day with the Kansas Department of Corrections (KDOC) was October 4, 1999. I started what I thought would be a temporary job at Lansing Correctional Facility. Twelve years later, I transitioned from my ‘temporary’ job in Lansing to the central office in Topeka where I took the position of interim Chief Information Officer (CIO) before becoming the official CIO. This October I’ll celebrate 22 years of employment with KDOC.
In my almost 22years of service, I have seen almost everything when it comes to information technology (IT) as it relates to corrections. The challenges Kansas faces aren’t unique. Across the country, Corrections agencies must make-do with the resources that legislatures appropriate to meet their current and future needs. Eventually, though, this lack of resources can prove dangerous. Mistakes happen and those mistakes can prove fatal to staff, victims and residents. This is why it is critical for Corrections agencies to be judicious with their taxpayer dollars, and to make every dollar go as far possible.
Working in Corrections means that you must be able to react quickly to circumstances as they come up. We are focused on solving present day challenges and meeting needs as they occur. However, in the IT Department, our goals must be more proactive—and we must be able to anticipate needs and stay on the leading edge of technology.
Regardless of the challenges, there have been great strides forward in the IT Department at KDOC. In recent years, Kansas began transitioning away from creating custom applications that quickly become outdated to utilizing a platform that can easily be updated to keep pace with the changes in technology. This new platform will better serve our state, agency, residents and legislature. KDOC is currently working on a platform we project to be operational by mid-April. The platform focuses on the bookends of corrections: the intake of residents and the release of residents both adult and juvenile. In employing a platform as a solution, KDOC provides opportunities for other entities to easily integrate. The solution simplifies the task of data collection and entry for staff in day-to-day operations. Looking ahead, the use of this platform offers the possibility to use the data assets to tailor treatment and help make changes to residents lives.
I see endless possibilities for how we can deploy IT for KDOC in the future. Setting residents up for success after they’re released requires a multi-prong approach that includes navigating the court system, equipping residents with job skills and providing emotional support systems. Through IT, we can increase accessibility to ‘attend’ court online and provide online trainings in technical and soft skills. We envision providing emotional support through multi-disciplinary teams. These teams consist of faith leaders, family members, parole officers and mental health experts connecting in one environment to communicate and bring a deeper level of support to residents. Corrections isn’t about containing people. It’s about how many people we can return to their communities.
I am optimistic for what the future has in store for KDOC and Corrections agencies nationwide. Corrections professionals work in an environment where we rely on one another for safety and security which fosters a culture unlike any other. Through the use of video conferencing for programming for residents, webinars for things such as public comments for parole board meetings and embracing the use of tools available to the agency such as SharePoint to offer collaboration opportunities, KDOC has made 20 years-worth of IT improvements in a 9-month period. As long as we maintain that spirit of teamwork and keeping our focus on residents and the resources they need to be successful, then we will also be successful.