I'm not a big football fan but I do catch a game every now and then. I know who won and who lost because they keep score. Broadcasters have a team of statisticians that analyze the performance of all players and quote interesting facts as the game unfolds. They endlessly compare and contrast players and determine who is "best" based on stats. "Good" teams move onto the playoffs and the winners are awarded trophies and rings. Players and coaches are paid according to how they perform, all based on stats. When teams are victorious, players, coaches and even owners often point to the slogans, or the "culture" as the competitive advantage over their opponents. The losing side reviews game film, analyzes the strengths of the winners and makes personnel changes based on stats. This process is all an effort to improve the team and increase odds of winning. It is as it should be.
Now imagine a world where we don't keep score. The claims would make for interesting talk radio but wouldn't do much to elevate the game. What happens when you don't know who won or lost, which players performed and which were lacking? A scoreless season would allow any team or individual player to claim that they were better than any other. Fair compensation becomes nearly impossible as performance measures are eliminated. Verification or repudiation of any claim becomes futile. Chaos reigns.
Reintroduce data, and the entire picture changes. Order is restored. Players are priced accordingly. Tactics of the "winners" are copied and mimicked. Successful skillsets are sought out and winning cultures imitated. In order to increase their value, players and coaches study their opponents and up their game while the industry evolves to suit the tastes of consumers.
Many jails today operate much like a scoreless NFL season. They operate in the dark. They assume they KNOW because, after all, "I'm a professional…I've being doing this a long time…I know what I am doing."
But they don't know. Without data, they can't know. And without knowledge, they are robbed of their ability to compare themselves to others, to themselves or to manage effectively. They don't know what they don't know and they don't know what they are missing. New jail management systems will forever change the way jails operate. Well-designed software electronically captures vital information previously stored on a paper-based log. Task lists remind employees to perform necessary duties and capture the information in a permanent log. Power Business Intelligence and Analytics tells jail managers about trends in jail populations and available bed space. Real-time monitors push booking data out to staff, showing workflow backlogs, which booking tasks have been completed and which need to be done. Dashboards provide high level reviews of all your jail functions.
Data will create awareness, drive decisions and reorder an area of law enforcement that has been largely reactionary. Mobile devices have already allowed officers to pre-book in the field and analysis of jail populations has spawned "pretrial" services. Without data, it is impossible to prove the effectiveness of such programs. Organized correctly, data will finally give some true insight into the management of a jail. Data driven processes will improve the working conditions of those assigned to the jail. It will cause thoughtful leaders to analyze processes and question long held beliefs. A whole new generation of employees, attuned and accustomed to the benefits of data, will finds ways to apply solutions not previously thought of. We are at the forefront of this change and have only scratched the surface of the solutions that will follow. Jails are late to the data/information party. But they are here now. And the change is both heartening and exciting.