GO-TIME: Department of Corrections Unveils First-of-Its-Kind Management System

Harrisburg, PA — A new management tool, developed in partnership with the P.C. Rossin School of Engineering and Applied Science at Lehigh University, is revolutionizing the way the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections assigns inmates in its 25 institutions.

The Inmate Assignment Decision Support System (IADSS) is streamlining the assignment of tens of thousands of inmates within the DOC and has so far saved the state $2.9 million in staff time and other costs. But the application also has provided a far more efficient way to assign the roughly 10,000 new inmates entering the system each year and the 50,000 currently incarcerated inmates who seek prison transfers.

“This application has transformed the way we assign inmates throughout our system,” said Corrections Secretary John Wetzel. “Not only is it saving a significant amount of money, but we believe by better managing the population we can improve outcomes for inmates.”

“In a big prison system like ours, being able to optimize decision-making around where to place inmates brings incredible gains in efficiency,” said Bret Bucklen, director of the Bureau of Research and Planning. “Already this model has saved the Department of Corrections in lower staff costs, fewer inmate assaults, less transportation and streamlining of treatment waiting lists and prison releases.”

All inmates are eligible to be released based on the discretion of the Parole Board no earlier than their minimum sentence date. Before the IADSS was in place, inefficiencies in inmate assignments and transfers led to significant delays in release times, which came at a substantial cost to taxpayers and held up an inmate’s transition back to the community.

The application, developed over five years by a team of Lehigh University industrial engineering students, was recently awarded the prestigious Daniel H. Wagner Prize for Excellence in Operations Research Practice for 2017. This international prize is awarded by the Institute for Operations Research and Management Sciences (INFORMS), the world’s premier professional association for analysts and operations research.

“This award is a tremendous accomplishment for the Lehigh University team and their work has led to a vast improvement in a key facet of DOC operations,” said Bucklen. “We see this as a model for other states and other countries.”

The IADSS has led to cost savings in four specific areas:

  • Reduced wait lists for programming, which shortens the length of stay for inmates past their minimum sentence date.
  • Fewer prison assaults, based on more properly assigning the right combination of inmates to the right prisons.
  • Staff savings, by requiring fewer staff in the Office of Population Management to oversee inmate assignments and transfers.
  • Transportation savings, by placing inmates in the most appropriate prison the first time and thus requiring fewer transfers between prisons later.

The IADSS has saved the commonwealth approximately $2.9 million during the first year. The projected savings over the next five years is approximately $19.2 million.

In 2016-17, state agencies achieved over $217 million in savings while also improving efficiency and customer service as part of the Governor’s Office of Transformation, Innovation, Management and Efficiency (GO-TIME). To learn more about GO-TIME, visit https://www.governor.pa.gov/go-time/.