In the last two decades, the prison population in the United States has grown dramatically as cities and states have sought to reduce crime through the expanded use of incarceration. As prisons grew more and more crowded, conditions took a drastic turn for the worse; in the early 1990s there were more than 100 inmate stabbings in New York City's prison system, leading to outraged headlines, disgruntled staff, and abused inmates. It became clear that there was a systemic problem with the New York City prison system, one that needed a bold overhaul.
In 1995, Bernard Kerik, the newly appointed First Deputy Commissioner of the NYC Department of Correction held his first meeting with all the city's prison wardens. At the meeting, two wardens could not answer the simple, but crucial, question: "what's your count?" (i.e. how many inmates are in your custody?). Upon further scrutiny, it became apparent that many wardens were fundamentally detached from the operations of their prisons, lacking the reliable and up-to-date information about the system necessary to improve conditions.
In an effort to stem the violence and return responsible management to the prison system, the Department implemented a new initiative in 1996, the Total Efficiency Accountability Management System (TEAMS). The TEAMS Field Unit is the analytical arm of the program, collecting valuable data throughout the prison system on a variety of statistical indicators, which include: incidences of force by prison staff, religious service attendance, number of environmental health violations, food service violations, inmates reporting sick, maintenance projects completed, and inmate grievances filed.
The Department's executive staff run monthly TEAMS meetings in which they reinforce operational goals and make sure that senior management at the different prisons are working towards them. As the group met, discussing various security procedures and their effectiveness in improving the workings of the prison system, a remarkable statistical change occurred. Since the implementation of TEAMS, inmate-on-inmate stabbings have been reduced from 1093 incidents in 1995 to 102 incidents in 1999, due to coordinated strategy and oversight across facilities. With less violence, staff absenteeism and forced overtime are both down by over 25%, morale is high, and jails are cleaner, safer, and more orderly.
In developing TEAMS, the Department took inspiration from the New York City Police Department's COMPSTAT program, which uses crime and arrest statistics to plan and evaluate crime reduction efforts, with each unit being held accountable for their performance. Unlike that program, however, TEAMS is a general-purpose management model, not a strategy targeted at a single issue.
While much of the program's success at first was in reductions of violence and force incidents, more recently the program has tackled more sophisticated approaches to jail administration, in an effort to meet shifting inmate needs. This flexibility of purpose can be seen in the way in which the program has caught on in other jurisdictions; corrections departments in New Jersey and Hawaii have modeled programs on TEAMS, as has the Inspector General's Office at the U.S. Department of Justice.