N.C. Department of Correction--Correction News--September 1998

Division of Prisons begins conversion to region structure
All five regions should be operational by year's end

As the division of prisons begins its reorganization under the region concept, prison superintendents are pulling out their policy and procedure manuals, making sure they know exactly what’s inside. For many, this is the first time as superintendents that they have been charged with making final decisions on what happens at their facilities. And for some, that’s a real challenge.

"I’ve been a recommender for so long, that I wasn’t real sure that I knew how to make decisions," said Robert Elliott, superintendent of the Caldwell Correctional Center. "Regionalism has caused senior staff to dig deeply into their policy and procedure manuals. We thought we knew what they said, but now that we’re responsible for the final decisions being made, we needed to make sure."

Elliott and 23 other superintendents in the western part of the state are the first to experience the new region concept firsthand. The western region opened May 1, and the remaining four regions should be up and running by the end of the year.

Under the region concept, the superintendents and prison staff are having to learn how to operate without the assistance of an area office. So far, things seem to be going well.

"I’m past the 30-year mark, so for me, it’s a little bit of a challenge to change, but I’m having a good time doing it," Elliott said. "So far, we’ve had a lot of positive changes. This is something that was long overdue."

William "Corky" Anderson, superintendent of Craggy Correctional Center, said he believes the region structure is going to improve the way business is done at the prisons.

"I think anytime that decisions can be made as close to the local level as they can by the people actually involved in the hands-on, day-to-day dealings with the inmates and citizens, it has to work much better," he said.

With the closing of the area offices, Secretary Mack Jarvis said the region structure should push decisions down to the lowest possible level, eliminate unnecessary bureaucracy and develop an efficient and effective organizational structure. Under the region concept, all facilities in a specific geographic area will fall under the supervision of a region director whose office will be centrally located within the region.

Western Region Director Steve Bailey said the region structure makes it much easier for managers to visit all the units under their supervision compared with the command structure that encompassed prisons spread all across the state.

"Now, within a couple of days, I could, conceivably, drive to every prison in my region," he said. "That was part of the rationale - pull the units together so they have more support within a region. In the west, we had female, youth, large institutions and number of geographic units all doing their own thing. There was not a lot of interaction. Now, we are seeing the benefits of everyone in a region coming together, being a team. They still have specialized missions, but they all work together."

Under the new setup, the region director and a small, specialized staff provide guidance, consultation, and oversight to the superintendents and staff at the various facilities within a region. In general, region offices will have a director, an operations manager who will oversee operational and security issues, a programs coordinator, an administrative services coordinator and various clerical staff.

Despite the absence of the assistance from an area office, superintendents are finding that regionalization does not necessarily mean more work.

"With regionalization we probably have less work, because, now, we don’t have to fill out the extra papers and take the extra steps of sending things into someone else," Anderson said. "Now, we know what money we can spend. If we need something, then we get it. Before, we had to ask permission, because we didn’t have control of the money. That slowed the process down."

Elliott said having good staff is one way his unit has survived the transition.

"It’s an absolute necessity to have staff at the local unit willing to take on new duties," he said. "This is the first time that superintendents are entirely responsible for their budgets, and I am fortunate in that I have a good accounting clerk who is good in budgetary issues. Regionalization is helping to make staff more accountable for their actions."

In addition to the regionalization of the Division of Prisons, the department has also regionalized several support sections by putting personnel, MIS and OSDT offices in each region. u

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