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Posts Tagged ‘Terrorist /Prisoner’

Can America Continue to Operate Its Prisons

February 21st, 2011

Can America Continue to Operate Its Prisons


A 1990’s Speech Comes True

In the 1990’s I was asked to give a speech at the Mid-Atlantic Correctional Association’s Annual Conference. For those of you who remember the late 1980’s and 1990’s, new prisons (jails) were being built all over the country. We were in the middle of the correctional industrial revolution.

As I prepared my speech, I began thinking about the high cost of building all of these new prisons (jails), not to mention how costly it was going to be to operate them.

Also, I was concerned about the way prisons were being used. The number of people with mental illnesses coming into the prisons (jails) was growing every year.

Politicians were looking at prisons (jails) as employment opportunities for their constituents without realizing the future costs. I really do not think they could have imagined the high cost of operating prisons (jails).

I believed then, (and we are experiencing it now) that he high costs associated with operating prisons (jails) would have such a negative affect on state budgets. The cost today associated with operating prisons (jails) is preventing the states from spending money on schools, roads, bridges, other infrastructure projects, university systems, etc.

California is by far the most publicized, but certainly not the only state having challenging problems paying for its correctional system. As with most state correctional systems, the California system is overcrowded with no real operational plan to resolve its overcrowding and other operational problems. Building new prisons is out of the question.

The nation’s correctional systems have for the past two plus decades seen a continuous flow of prisoners going in, and nothing more than a trickling stream of prisoners coming out. One must also mention the unbelievable recidivism rate of 70%.

The “3 Strikes and You Are Out Law”, “Rockefeller Drug Laws”, mandated sentencing, and numerous other laws that were once heralded as being tough on crime, I believe, are major contributing factors to the overcrowding of American prisons, and thereby increasing the operational costs.

Having the “Three Strikes and You’re Out” turned on the field of corrections.

The joke was on the system Strike One: The building of new prisons in the last century rather than examining and implementing ways to reduce crime.  Also, those involved in building these new prisons (jails) appeared not to comprehend that the building of these prisons was the only fixed cost, which was in the millions. They could not have understood that operational costs would continue to increase every year.

Strike Two: The enactment of the laws with no regard for what the cost of these laws would be to enforce and what would these laws would resolve.

Strike Three: Not having the foresight to understand that they could not build their way out of criminal/social/mental health /addiction problems that are part of society.

The Time Has Come To Act. The time has come to act. I believe that as a nation we have to initiate a “Think Tank” to start to answer the many questions confronting the field of corrections. This “Think Tank” should:

– Consist of experts from various fields of study: business, criminal justice, mental health, additions, medical, social and psychological, etc.

 State Departments of Corrections should conduct detailed analysis of the following:

  • Look at what assets the department of corrections has now (buildings, programs, personnel, recidivism rates, etc.)
  • Determine what is working and what is not working (This determination should be done using scientifically sound evaluation methods. There cannot be any sacred cows.)
  • Reexamine the rationale of keeping people with moderate to severe mental health issues in prisons where they do not receive the care, compassion, life skills, or rehabilitation that they need. There are agencies than can confine and treat people with mental health issues better than most prisons (jails).
  • Reexamine the way the nation treats drug addicts and alcoholics. Determine whether keeping them locked-up in high cost prisons (jails), with little to no programming for their problems, is the most efficient way of dealing with them. There are agencies than can confine and treat addicts and alcoholics better than most prisons (jails).
  • Examine the concept of closing down out of date, energy inefficient prisons and constructing “temporary” energy efficient prisons. I say “temporary” because the ultimate goal is to reduce inmate populations nationwide.
  • Examine how many inmates could be released to less expensive halfway houses, pre-release and/or rehabilitation centers, parole, or some new approach that has yet to be discovered, etc. Corrections continues to use methods and programs that do not work – have not worked for years. There are those who believe that these ineffective programs are better than nothing.
  • Discontinue programs that are not achieving predetermined goals (Anyone who has worked in corrections for a few years knows that there are programs that just are not working and that the personnel and funding for the non-performing or underperforming programs could be put to a better use.)
  • Reinstitute vocational training programs for inmates who demonstrate an aptitude and interest for such training. Some of the funding for these programs could come from programs that were eliminated
  • Reinstitute educational classes for inmates who demonstrate an ability and interest.
  • Carefully develop well designed, energy and operationally efficient prisons to replace the old inefficient prisons which are costing millions of dollars to operate and maintain.

(Architects in the past have designed the prison (jail) versions of the Taj Mahal, thereby driving up costs of   new prison projects. During the boom, architects were hired to design prisons (jails) that have had zero experience in designing prisons). I remember interviewing an architectural firm who said to me, “we have built dozens of motels what is the difference?”

I have articulated the above observations, comments and suggestions as a means of starting a dialogue before the time comes when states can no longer afford to keep offenders in prisons (jails) and are forced to release them.

The nation’s recidivism rate is around 70%, so obviously the nation’s prison systems are broken, yet the states continue to pump millions of dollars into them. One has to ask, what if a significant portion of the money spent to build new prisons (jails) was spent to develop more efficient and productive correctional systems?

If the real truth were known, the majority of  America’s prisons (jails) are nothing more than warehouses for criminals. An extremely dangerous sub-culture has developed over the years. This subculture consists of gangs, violent young offenders many of whom have been groomed in juvenile corrections and on the streets. There are also older seasoned offenders who orchestrate criminal initiatives and other nefarious activities.   

While amazing people, including administrators and staff, work to maintain order and keep the lid on, the time is quickly approaching when all the negatives reach a critical mass. Overcrowding, staff to inmate ratio, lack of offender programming, deteriorating prisons (jails), and lack of funding will meet and create a perfect storm.

The solutions to the problems facing corrections will not be easy nor will the answers to the multitude of questions that will bombard those brave enough and thoughtful enough to work on them. We arrived here, I believe, because rather than confront the real issues facing the field of corrections back in the 1970’s, 80’s, and 90’s, we took the path of least resistance and built more prisons, hired more correctional officers and other staff, and passed more senseless laws without giving any thought to the long range implications of these solutions of least resistance.

I know that much of what I have written in this article will be disputed and corrected by those who are entrenched in the various systems, or who have some financial interest in the current way corrections is being done. I, however, stand by what I have written and believe it to be correct. The time will come when the cost of operating prisons will become so overwhelming that that states’ will have to release prisoners.

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The Holiday Season – A Challenging Time of the Year in Correctional Facilities

November 19th, 2010

As the Holiday Season approaches, it is once again time to get ready for what can be the most challenging time for correctional facilities. It is challenging because the offenders are away from home during the Holiday Season, emotions run high, and at times logic is not present. How the facility is managed throughout this period of the year is crucial.

Positive /Proactive management will help diminish the Holiday doldrums experienced by the offenders and some staff. What does Positive/Proactive management mean? It means putting in place programmatic activities so that offenders may experience, as much as possible; a positive way of celebrating the holidays while not sacrificing the security of the facility

Holiday Season Programmatic Activities

Ø Establish a list of items that could be given to the offender population as gifts.

Ø Solicit from volunteer groups Holiday Cards for the offenders to send to their loved ones (to include postage). I have found that the religious groups are very willing to donate cards to the offenders.

Ø Have specialized programming during the Holiday Season for the offenders.

         Invite Civilian Choral Groups to come into the facility to perform.

         Develop an Offender Choral Group and/or Band that can perform for other offenders.

         Establish Special visitation hours throughout the Holiday Season, etc.

Ø Remind staff to be on the watch for offenders exhibiting the signs and symptoms of suicide.

Ø Remind staff to be on the watch for other staff members who may be having difficulties getting through the Holiday Season.

Ø Remind staff that offenders may be more reactive (violent) than normal – Nerves on edge.

Holiday Season Security Activities

Ø Conduct numerous targeted shakedowns

Ø Conduct a mini- security audit of the entire facility, paying special attention to the following areas:

¨ Kitchen

¨ Industrial Area (Shops)

¨ Offender Living Areas

Ø Remind staff to use all their senses of sight, hearing (listening), smell.

Ø Insist on strict accountability of all materials that can be used to make (hooch, pruno) jailhouse booze.  

Ø Carefully observe of the offender population.

¨ Gang activities increase (Introduction of contraband –drugs, alcohol, cell phones, debt collections/assaults, etc.)

¨ The older offender population remain in their cells if they believe that there is going to be trouble.

Ø Strict enforcement of contraband policies and procedures is essential

¨ Start random pat down searches

¨ Thoroughly search  all incoming packages


¨ Use drug sniffing dogs

o   In offender living areas

o   In the visitor reception area

o   In the kitchen

o   In the shops

o   In common areas

o   In the outside recreation yards

Ø There should be enhanced perimeter security and increased outside patrol activities

¨ Have security officers and drug dogs search all outside areas prior to the offenders having access to them.

¨ Increase Outside Patrol Activities

o   Check perimeter fencing for materials stuck in fences

o   Check perimeter fencing for cuts in the materials

o   Insure that patrols are not routine – In fact, have the outside patrol become erratic so that no one will ever be able to determine where and when the patrol will be in one place.

o   Add additional patrols periodically

Ø Strictly enforce all disciplinary rules. Take the “bad actors” off the street if they are acting out.


One last caution! Carefully observe offenders after telephone calls and/or visits. I have experienced situations when offenders “went off” or became “seriously depressed” after having a troublesome telephone call or visits. 


The Holiday Season has always been a challenging time for correctional facilities. Understanding that this season can be difficult, it is incumbent for correctional administrators and staff to take steps to prevent, if possible, or mitigate any issues that may arise. As Benjamin Franklin said, An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”


Now I have to sign off and think of ways to avoid putting up the Christmas decorations.


 Merry Christmas, Happy New Year and Seasons Greetings

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The First Line Supervisor: Where the Rubber Meets the Road

July 3rd, 2010

In the field of criminal justice, there is a group of dedicated men and women who receive very little recognition for their hard work – and they are The First Line Supervisors. The first line supervisor is the first rung on the supervisory ladder and most often leads to management positions in the future. It is the first line supervisors who ensure that the agency’s policies are followed by their subordinates and that the agency’s procedures for conducting business are adhered to by everyone working in the field.

The first line supervisor is the bridge between the line staff and management. The first line supervisor is the person who communicates with both of these groups on a continuous basis. It is the first line supervisor who is first to be able to sense the morale of the line staff, find a policy or procedure that is not working as written, improve incorrect staffing patterns, or to observe changes in the make-up of the offenders, etc.

In the majority of emergency situations, it is the first line supervisor who is first on the scene and the one who has to take immediate action. While these incidents are taking place, the first line supervisors will need to depend on their training, education, and experience.  Whether it is a law enforcement or correctional situation it is the first line supervisor who must direct his/her subordinates as to what actions they should take. For a period of time, the weight and future implication of the incidents fall upon the shoulders of the first line supervisors. Read more…

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President Declares the H1N1 Flu a National Emergency

October 24th, 2009

On Saturday, October 24, 2009, President Obama declared that the H1N1 Flu is a National Emergency. It appears that the H1N1 flu is  spreading faster than anticipateded and projected. I wrote about the H1n1 Flu in a blog titled  [H1N1 Virus (Pandemic) Planning: Play-It-Safe-“Over-Plan”]. When I wrote this article, [September 17, 2009] we were led to believe by the Center for Disease Control and others than they had everything under control and not to worry. They said that there would be an ample supply of vaccines available.  Well, I guess those planners did not  “Over-Plan”, and now the spread of the H1N1 Flu has surpassed the planners’ expectations and estimates and the entire nation is playing catch-up. Read more…

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H1N1 Virus (Pandemic) Planning: Play It Safe-Over-Plan

September 17th, 2009

H1N1 Virus (Pandemic) Planning: Play It Safe-Over-Plan

Wm. Bill McNeice Sturgeon

There has been a great deal written about the H1N1 virus (aka Swine Flu). There are articles spanning the medical gamut from who should be immunized to when schools should be closed. Everything that I have read has beeninsightful and useful. I will incorporate much of the  information that gleaned from my research into this article. This article is being written as a WARNING for correctional facilities and/or places where people live in close contact with each other (juvenile facilities, college dormitories.) H1N1 virus may, like the Y2K alarm, turn out to be a big bust, or it may turn out to be the most significant medical event in recent memory. It is better to be prepared than to be caught unprepared. Read more…

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From Gitmo To A Place Near YOU!: All That Glitters Is Not Gold

August 25th, 2009

It appears that the “powers-to-be” cannot find countries (allies) who are willing to take the remainder of the terrorist/prisoners currently being held at the Military Base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. So, they, the “powers-to-be”, are looking at prisons here in the Continental United States (CONUS) where they can incarcerate these troublesome terrorist/prisoners.  Read more…

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Is Your Contingency Plan “Operationally Realistic, Part 1

July 1st, 2009

Over the years, I have reviewed numerous emergency/contingency plans. The majority of them looked good on paper, they were well written, numbered appropriately, covered all of the applicable industry standards, etc., yet they left me with the feeling that, if needed, they would be “operationally” impractical. So I started using the following matrix.

The matrix that I use, requires the reviewer to closely examine every element of the plan. Since the events of September 11, 2001, emergency plans have taken (or should have taken) on several new dimensions, which will be discussed indepth in Part II of this article.

The matrix that I use can be applied to  new plans expand existing plans, or can be used to review current plans. It is composed of four major sections and they are:

Read more…

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