The CSG Southern Office recognizes that state employees work hard, not only to provide outstanding services to their citizens, but also by striving to develop and adapt new and improved programs to make their states a better place to live. Such efforts should be recognized and rewarded, and innovative ideas should be shared among colleagues.
The STAR award represents an opportunity to highlight successful programs implemented within your state, especially those that can be replicated across state lines to improve the region as a whole.
Nick Bowman, Research & Publications Associate
Virginia Department of Corrections, Division of Education | American Council on Education Accreditation Project
In order to reduce recidivism, the Virginia Department of Corrections, Division of Education (VDOC, DOE) offers career and technical education (CTE) courses to inmates. These courses are designed to provide inmates with the skills required to succeed in today’s workforce. ln 2014, the VDOC, DOE received college accreditation for five CTE courses through the American Council on Education (ACE). For more than 30 years, colleges and universities have trusted ACE to provide reliable course equivalency information to facilitate credit award decisions. Virginia is the only state in the nation to offer college accredited courses to its inmates. Research shows that ex-offenders who have acquired college credit while incarcerated have lower recidivism rates.
The ACE-accredited courses offered are business software applications, computer aided drafting, computer graphics and design, introduction to computers and print production. Upon release, ex-offenders may submit an accredited transcript to higher education institutions for potential transfer credit in a degree program. Based upon the initial success of the program, the VDOC, DOE plans to seek ACE accreditation for additional courses, including welding, HVAC, plumbing and masonry.
Virginia Department of Transportation and Department of Rail and Public Transportation | Smart Scale Program
In 2014, Virginia became the first state to pass legislation establishing a scored ranking system to evaluate transportation projects based on project outcomes and across modes with their Smart Scale program legislation, which established a statewide prioritization process for transportation projects that improve the efficiency of the commonwealth’s transportation network.
The Smart Scale legislation addressed concerns that the selection of transportation projects was based on politics, not objective data. Projects now are evaluated based on their benefits-relative costs, specifically the ease of congestion, improved accessibility to jobs, improved safety and economic development, transportation-efficient land use and impact on the environment.
In June 2016, the Commonwealth Transportation Board approved $1.7 billion in funding to build 163 transportation projects that were selected through the Smart Scale process. These projects are fully funded through all phases of project development and construction. The Virginia Department of Transportation has been working with other states that wish to replicate their success.
Georgia | Cyber Forensics Division, Armstrong State University
Cyber forensics labs retrieve deleted or corrupted data from digital devices such as computers, cell phones, tablets, and vehicle GPS. Due to the increased prevalence of cybercrime and digital evidence, however, most cyber forensic labs have backlogs of seven to 19 months, by which time criminal cases may be dismissed. In order to reduce this backlog, the Cyber Forensics Division at Armstrong State University opened its doors to state and federal law enforcement. All campus police are certified in digital forensics and, using the University’s three Forensic Evidence Recovery Devices, Cellebrite machine, and digital forensics software, the police examine evidence during uncommitted time. Relating this work to the University mission, the campus police also train students in the criminal justice program through internships. Using the same laboratory equipment, students learn how to retrieve digital evidence in a real-world setting through labwork modeled after actual cases. The Division has reduced Georgia’s cyber forensics backlog from seven to 12 months to 30 days or less, and has achieved high placement rates for its interns post-graduation.
Virginia | Vital Records at DMV
In 2013, the Virginia General Assembly passed legislation requiring a streamlined system for the retrieval of vital records by March 1, 2014. In response, the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) and the Department of Health (VDH) integrated systems, controls, policies and procedures, and developed a web portal to connect the DMV customer service application with the VDH vital records application. Prior to the implementation of the Vital Records at DMV program, residents and Virginia natives had to go to the Division of Vital Records in Richmond to obtain copies of certificates of birth, death, marriage and divorce, or contact the Division to have the records mailed. To make these records more accessible, the DMV and VDH collaborated to offer print copies at any of the DMV’s 75 fixed locations and five mobile offices.
Virginia | DMV Connect
In May 2012, the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) and Department of Corrections (DOC) launched the DMV Connect program, an innovative, low-cost approach to reducing criminal recidivism rates in the commonwealth. The program was designed to smooth prisoners’ transition back into society by ensuring they have valid state identification upon release — a necessity for finding employment, opening a bank account, obtaining housing, and applying for benefits and services. The program has since expanded and the DMV now offers similar services to other populations of limited mobility, including the elderly and disabled.
This low-cost service provides immediate benefit to populations in need and long-term benefit to society. Recidivism rates in Virginia have dropped to their lowest levels on record. Although ongoing evaluation by the DMV and DOC will determine the exact effect the DMV Connect has on recidivism, the program has proven successful.
West Virginia | Feed to Achieve
Through the Feed to Achieve Act signed into law in April 2013, West Virginia’s Feed to Achieve program addresses the three-fold problem of food insecurity as it relates to child poverty, health and education. Implemented by the Office of Child Nutrition and building on existing state and federal nutrition programs, the Feed to Achieve program seeks to provide a minimum of two nutritious meals a day to schoolchildren in West Virginia by way of innovative meal delivery systems. The program also incorporates innovative funding mechanisms, including directed donations and targeted federal grants, that enable the program to operate with negligible administrative cost, providing children with free meals.
By building on existing state and federal nutrition programs and looking to the community for support, the Feed to Achieve program provides a creative and flexible solution to a multifaceted problem. While each community is able to shape their program to suit local resources and needs, continuous data collection and evaluation by the Office of Child Nutrition shows that the program has successfully increased availability of healthy meals to children statewide.
Kentucky | Veterans’ Connect Program
During its 2010 regular session, the Kentucky General Assembly passed House Bill 377 and, in conjunction with the Administrative Offices of the Courts, established the Kentucky Veterans' Connect program. The program requires pretrial investigations and services to ask whether an individual has been in combat and, if so, provide contact information to services available for combat veterans. Vets are connected to a wide range of services available to veterans through the United States Veterans Administration, the state Department of Veterans Affairs and other sources.
The program only required amendment of the form used by Pretrial Services Officers during their initial interview; no additional equipment or software was needed. What was required was the willingness of the Pretrial Services Officers to do the extra work to identify and assist veterans. The Pretrial Services Officers' supervisors also conducted training for the new program online at no or minimal cost. Kentucky Pretrial Services Officers have displayed a willingness and enthusiasm to perform this service for those who have served our nation.
Virginia | Step Down program for Administrative Segregation
The Virginia Department of Corrections’ (DOC) Segregation Step Down program utilizes evidence-based practices (EBP) to provide a safe and secure way for offenders in Administrative Segregation to earn their return to the general population. The Virginia DOC is the first state correctional agency to apply the principles and practices of EBP research to an Administrative Segregation super-max prison population, and the program has significantly reduced the number of offenders in Administrative Segregation by 53 percent; increased safety by reducing prison incidents by 56 percent; and reduced staff stress and improved morale as evidenced by a decrease in use of sick leave.
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