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Quality practices can work in correctional industries.

Over the last decade, correctional industries programs have tried to provide meaningful work experience to inmates by mirroring the business practices of private corporations. These practices include a full work day, the authority to hire and fire, and setting production goals. By setting high standards, correctional industries prepares inmates to handle the demands of private sector employment.

However, these demands are changing as markets shrink and whole industries become more competitive. One of the most significant changes is a world-wide trend toward total quality in all aspects of operations. The private sector has been forced to make major changes in work and management practices to keep pace with competitors. Major corporations have adopted a variety of quality management systems in an effort to produce higher quality products.

Quality Demands of Correctional Industries

The impact of the quality movement was first felt by CORCAN, the correctional industry agency of the Correctional Service of Canada, in the fall of 1990, Canada's Department of Supply and Services indicated that suppliers of office furniture would have to be certified to meet either ISO 9002 international quality standards or OASIS (Office Automation Systems and Information Services) quality standards. As a major producer of modular office furniture systems, CORCAN had to meet the same standards for quality as the private sector. To comply with the standards and remain competitive, CORCAN immediately began implementing quality management programs in several of its manufacturing operations.

Quality Management At Warkworth

A quality management program was implemented at Warkworth Institution in 1991 to meet OASIS product standards. Warkworth is a medium security institution in central Ontario about 120 miles southwest of Ottawa. Warkworth's Correctional Industry program has had a reputation for manufacturing high quality products. Modern production facilities include shops for cabinetry, painting, sheet metal work, welding and upholstery. Approximately 65 inmates working in the facility produce many of the components for CORCAN's line of modular office furniture.

Inmates employed by CORCAN are expected to work a full day and are paid only for the hours they put in. Inmate workers at Warkworth also are on an incentive plan that pays a bonus based on productivity and can earn up to three times more working in the factories than in other jobs in the institution. Understandably, working for CORCAN has become the employment of choice among many Warkworth inmates.

Making the Transition To Quality Management

Implementing a total quality management program is a daunting task, especially in a correctional setting. The change to a quality management process was administered in-house, with the full involvement of inmates, staff and management. This required extensive documentation of all work processes and establishing strict manufacturing standards.

For example, process sheets were developed that documented work procedures used at every stage of production. These sheets were developed within each shop by those involved in the manufacturing process and can be changed only with the approval of the shop supervisor.

Meeting quality standards also required changes in the work process. Each inmate certifies that products meet quality standards by signing off before an item is passed on to the next stage of production. Inmates also are expected to stop production when products fail to meet quality standards and identify problems affecting the production process.

Quality work practices have become the standard at Warkworth since CORCAN operations received OASIS quality accreditation in the spring of 1991. Furniture manufacturing at Warkworth has since passed several quality standard audits by the Canadian government's Standards Board. The dedication to quality work practices was reaffirmed in July of this year when Warkworth received ISO 9002 international quality standards certification.

A case study was recently conducted of the CORCAN manufacturing operation at Warkworth to document the impact of quality management practices on correctional industries. The case study revealed that quality management systems affect correctional industries in several ways. The predominant theme that arose from the case study was that changes made to the technological aspects of the organization, such as implementing a quality management system, bring about changes in social aspects of the organization.

All organizations consist of both a technological system and a social system. The technological system encompasses machinery, tools, methods and production processes. The social system includes such factors as organizational rules, employees and jobs. Each system has its own goals and objectives, yet both systems are intertwined. As a result, changes to one system usually result in changes to the other system.

The driving force for change at Warkworth was external--the Canadian government was demanding that furniture manufacturers meet certain quality standards. CORCAN responded by developing a quality management program that focused on the technological system at Warkworth. The research revealed that the new program had a profound effect on an inmate's relation to work. Under the new system, inmates are directly responsible for their work and are held accountable for the quality of the products they produce. Although inmates have always been responsible for their work to some degree, the extent of that responsibility often depended on the judgment of each shop supervisor.

Now, each inmate makes key decisions concerning product quality. When an inmate signs off on a batch of products, he signifies that he is directly accountable for the quality of those goods. As a result, inmates take greater care and are more involved in each process. This creates a greater sense of ownership, pride in workmanship and attention to detail, all of which are highly valued in the private sector.

Keys to Success

The Warkworth case study suggested that several informal organizational practices helped ensure successful implementation of a quality management program. For example, staff and inmates have access to all production and financial information. This information is especially relevant to inmates because it helps put the incentive plan in context. In addition, the open book policy enhances the credibility of CORCAN among inmates.

The success of the program also can be attributed to flexible and consultative supervision. The traditional chain-of-command approach found in most correctional settings is not particularly effective in a quality control program where the emphasis is on teamwork.

Since managers are an integral part of the team, it is critical that they are accessible, which means they are on the factory floor, consulting with workers and supervisors and getting involved in work issues and problems. This atmosphere bears little resemblance to most correctional institutions. As one inmate put it, "I'm not in jail when I'm at work."

Maury Getkate, Ph.D., is an Ottawa consultant researching correctional industries issues for CORCAN.


Flanagan, T. J. 1989. Prison labor and industry. In Goodstein, L. and D. L. MacKenzie (Eds.), The American prison: Issues in research and policy. New York, N.Y.: Plenum Press.

Getkate, M. 1993. Insights into innovative correctional industry: A case study of CORCAN at Warkworth institution. Technical Report No. 32. Ottawa, Ontario: Research and Statistics Branch, Correctional Service of Canada.
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Author:Getkate, Maury
Publication:Corrections Today
Date:Oct 1, 1994
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