How the Kansas State Department of Corrections Leverages Zoom to Support Justice Delivery
The COVID-19 pandemic posed new challenges to government agencies, businesses, and people everywhere. The Kansas State Department of Corrections is no exception, navigating uncertain times to fulfill a vital mission: supporting a safer Kansas and improving outcomes for incarcerated people.
Rather than maintain the status quo — which would still have been remarkable — the Kansas State Department of Corrections was able to optimize operations and drive positive outcomes across its operating mission through its use of the Zoom platform. This included:
- Augmenting a constructive culture for incarcerated persons
- Expanding representation and access across communities to public outreach activities
- Enabling the justice-centered mission to continue without disorganization
Addressing key objectives
Harold Sass, CIO of Kansas State Department of Corrections, leads the dedicated team supporting the technology needs of Kansas’ criminal justice services — his vision allowed the team to not only meet their mission objectives, but improve outcomes when compared to pre-pandemic levels.
When Sass approached Zoom in the first days of the pandemic, he was strategizing to revolutionize his team’s technology vision. “The collaboration had to support three mission-imperatives: improve outcomes for incarcerated people, democratize access to the Kansas State Department of Corrections’s public outreach efforts, and ensure a safe and effective operational cadence for the agency staff,” said Sass.
The Kansas State Department of Corrections strives to lead its justice-involved population to safe and productive reintegration. Sass and team saw the Zoom platform as the perfect solution to help them accomplish exactly that.
“Zoom Meetings and Zoom Phone allowed for resident professional development opportunities for inmates, including advanced data science roles for those in the Topeka Women’s Prison,” Sass stated. In these instances, residents were able to work alongside the Kansas State Department of Corrections staff in a remote work context. “They communicated during their work shifts with the same type of professional environment as their department colleagues, only located within the structure of their residential facility,” he added.
Zoom Meetings and Zoom Webinars also allowed the Kansas State Department of Corrections to expand its offering of job skills training programs, resident career fairs, and other educational programs. “The Zoom interface helped residents feel a greater sense of professionalism,” Sass noted.
Sass felt strongly that his department’s work for constructive resident culture must “prioritize familial, social, and health-oriented scenarios.” Leveraging CARES Act funding, he deployed over 60 Zoom Rooms to create learning spaces and help foster digital connections. Zoom Rooms allowed mothers to see their children more frequently, even as in-person visits had to be stopped. The team also used Zoom Rooms to support remote substance abuse treatment, create cross-facility resident communities of interest, and sustain telemedicine through a partnership with Centurion Health.
Democratizing access to the Kansas State Department of Corrections’s public outreach efforts
Focused on sustaining public outreach amid the pandemic, the Kansas State Department of Corrections’s IT team soon realized transforming their approach via Zoom would open up new dialogues. Prior to using Zoom, engagement was solely in-person. This posed access challenges to lower-income populations with reduced transportation options.
“By leveraging Zoom [Meetings and Webinar], staff didn’t have to travel across the state for multi-day sessions, and this resulted in unexpected cost savings that were invested back into technology improvements for the state residential correctional facilities,” said Sass. With Zoom Meetings and Zoom Webinars, the Kansas State Department of Corrections conducted public outreach sessions in a safe and fair manner as well – with greater than normal turn-out.
Supporting a safe and effective operational cadence for the agency staff
Sass wanted to ensure that employees maintained productivity and felt like they could achieve effective remote work – his vision was proven right. “In one instance, the Kansas State Department of Corrections’s telework capabilities even allowed a warden, who had to be quarantined for health reasons, to continue running the prison remotely,” Sass said. Additionally, the Kansas State Department of Corrections turned to Zoom for remote court hearings and other judicial sessions, helping mitigate exposure to residents and facility staff, as well as reduce the public security risks involved in transporting residents to off-site sessions.
Creating better outcomes
Through the purposeful IT transformation with Zoom, the Kansas State Department of Corrections was able to improve outcomes across the board. “The pandemic drove 20 years of IT transformation in six months,” Sass claimed.
Beyond helping the Kansas State Department of Corrections navigate the pandemic, Zoom technology has helped Sass and team build a new operational paradigm. He remarked, “Zoom has allowed us to improve outcomes for our residents, better engage our communities, and build a more technology-forward department. We aren’t looking to go back to normal – we’re looking to do even more with technology than before.”