|By Ann Coppola, News Reporter|
Recently, U.S. corrections departments have been opening their doors to prison officials from around the world. The visitors, often facing deep challenges within their own country’s correctional systems, have come to learn everything they could, from facilities management to innovative offender rehabilitative programs. But the exchange of culture, experience and advice hasn’t been all business – participants on both sides have been discovering a sort of “universal corrections pride.”
The New York State Department of Correctional Services has been at the forefront of this trend, mostly because of its proximity to the international crossroads of New York City. In June, three senior Rwandan prison directors traveled to the state to attend a training session normally held for incoming New York superintendents. Facility tours and roundtable discussions covered a wide range of topics, including mental health issues, reentry, diversity management, ethics, legal issues and leadership.
“Youth rehabilitation, skills development, reentry programs could all be things we borrow from New York,” observed Rukundo Emamuel, a commander of one of the five prison regions in his country. “We are learning about educational programs, vocational training. You are creating human beings; it’s different from the old system.”
The “old system” is a more punitive corrections model followed by many of the world’s systems. Some of these countries are looking to shift from a punitive to a rehabilitative approach and are looking to the U.S. for guidance.
“We’re happy to open our doors to corrections officials from other countries and other states,” says NYDOCS spokesman Erik Kriss. “With Rwanda, they’ve had a colonial prison system with an emphasis on punishment for a long time and they’re trying to change that. So they recognize, like we do, that most people who go to prison get back out into society.”
Last summer, prison officials from Singapore came to New York to study general and clinical supervision. Nine executive leaders from several Australian non-profit disability group organizations also visited to learn about the department’s “Inmate to Citizen” project, which helps developmentally disabled inmates prepare for life after prison.
These international visits have not been limited to New York. The Suffolk County Sheriff’s Department in Massachusetts welcomed a delegation of jail administrators from Ireland this year.
Since 2007, the South Carolina Department of Corrections has hosted officials from Iraq, Kurdistan, and Afghanistan. Most recently, Afghani officials visited with and facilities management and toured maximum-security male and female prisons, a processing facility, and a transportation and bus terminal.
These were arranged by the State Department of Justice to help Afghanistan rebuild its infrastructure. According to SCDC, the war-torn country deals with a “lean flow of cash” similar to the budget restraints faced by their own department.
“With our ability to run effectively with less funding than almost any other state in the U.S., South Carolina is a good model for Afghanistan,” says department spokesman Josh Gelinas. “We were definitely honored as a corrections system to have them come in. And we were proud that our federal government recognized the good job we were doing. In some way we felt like we were helping with the rebuilding process.”
The Afghani officials brought beaded jewelry from their home country for their hosts, and United States and Afghani corrections officials exchanged patches.
Even though U.S. state correctional systems are often much more advanced than those of their visiting counterparts, those involved say they find them mutually beneficial.
“There’s a lot of cultural differences to learn from and appreciate,” Gelinas adds.
“We’re learning too, learning how other countries do things,” Kriss says.
Just as importantly, it is an experience and opportunity for both sides to truly strengthen an international corrections community.
Related Resources: .
Facts on Rwanda .
More on rebuilding in Afghanistan
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