Philadelphia’s leadership needs to adopt a culture of continuous improvement

Article originally published in the Philadelphia Business Journal on August 19, 2019

The Philadelphia Inquirer published an article on August 12 by columnist Pranshu
Verma headlined, “Each night, Philly jails release scores of inmates without
returning their IDs, cash or phones.” Verma shows the statistics that in the year
ending April 15, 2018, 16,800 inmates – 73% of the total released from the six
Philadelphia prisons, were during the hours that the prison cashier’s office was
closed, delaying inmate’s access to their personal possessions.

Identification, cash and cell phones are critical enablers to these released inmates
to allow them to successfully reenter the community. Verma’s article quotes Tom
Innes, director of prison services for the Defender Association of Philadelphia,
saying, “You’re almost begging them to get into some kind of trouble.” Ann Jacobs,
the director of the Prisoner Reentry Institute at the John Jay College of Criminal
Justice said, “This is a humanitarian disaster. You’re screaming to them they don’t
matter, you don’t care, and you just expect to have them come back anyway.” According to Shawn Hawes of the Philadelphia Department of Prisons,
“We cannot legally hold anyone beyond a court-ordered release.”

The obvious solution is to keep the cashier’s office open 24 hours a day as is done at
Rikers Island prison in New York City.

So, why has no one who works within the Philadelphia prison system suggested this
intuitively obvious solution? Why does it take a newspaper article to effect change?
After the Inquirer article was published, the bureau of prisons announced that it
would extend the hours of the cashier’s office until 7 pm. This would only make a
negligible improvement.

Companies would not remain in business very long if its leadership and employees
didn’t exercise common sense and good critical judgment and embrace continuous
improvement. Why is this so rare within segments of the public sector? In many
cases, it just is not part of their mind-set or organizational culture. Public sector
organizations face no competition, so earning a return on investment or survival of
the organization is not a driving force.

Many public employees go to work each day with the mentality to do the best job
they can do. Unfortunately, in too many cases, public sector managers and
employees are not held accountable for continuous improvement.

Philadelphia’s leadership needs to use the example of the prison system failing the
needs of released inmates to initiate a change in mentality. The incentive to
continuously improve and establish a culture where management welcomes
improvement initiatives should be driven by an innate personal desire to do so, and
the personal satisfaction one receives from making life better for Philadelphia’s

Anything less, the taxpayers of Philadelphia and those receiving services from the
city get short-changed.

Stan Silverman is founder and CEO of Silverman Leadership. He is a speaker,
advisor and nationally syndicated columnist on leadership, entrepreneurship and
corporate governance. Silverman earned a Bachelor of Science degree in
chemical engineering and an MBA degree from Drexel University. He is also an
alumnus of the Advanced Management Program at the Harvard Business School.
He can be reached at Follow Silverman on
LinkedIn here and on Twitter, @StanSilverman.

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