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Jon and Kate, plus 800?
By Joe Bouchard
Published: 11/24/2008

Regular Corrections.com columnist Joe Bouchard is a librarian at Baraga Maximum Correctional Facility within the Michigan Department of Corrections. He also is a member of the Board of Experts for “The Corrections Professional” and an instructor of Corrections and Psychology for Gogebic Community College. You can reach him at (906) 353-7070 ext 1321.

Imagine the stress of caring for a large number of people. You have to distribute resources equally, sustain interlocking systems, and maintain order. Does this sound like your institution?

This example comes to mind not from an 800-bed correctional facility, but from a documentary about a family in Pennsylvania. This young married couple, through the course of two multiple-birth pregnancies, produced eight children. Each television episode explores the complexities of caring for such a large household.

On the face of it, the life of a large family may not seem like a significant point of consideration for corrections professionals. However, it is worth a look at that program in order to see the similarities to the operation of a facility.

First, a few disclaimers. This is no way to suggest that inmates and children are the same. Nor is this article about the popular cable show that I alluded to earlier. Rather, this is yet another example of how our professional lives can be reflected in the least likely sources.

So, what are some of these parallels between life behind the walls and life with eight kids?

Structure is key. In order to use available resources optimally, there is a need for coordination and waste assessment.

This requires planning, interlocking schedules, and constant movement. Whether in a household or in an institution, people are better managed and served when they can depend upon a schedule. Communication, teamwork, and a division of labor help smooth the road of daily operations within this structure.

Activities en masse make sense; otherwise, those in charge are taxed with replicating tasks when providing necessities and services. Meals for eight people or eight hundred are better executed when they are planned en masse.

This is a wise use of resources, which is derived from the notion that structure is key. And in any paradigm, this just makes sense.

Population increases must be addressed. In a family or in the criminal justice system, unanticipated, additional people must be cared for. Services must continue, sometimes modified, even if projected numbers do not match the current reality.

Mission statements are useful. In the television show about the Pennsylvania family, the parents developed a mission statement that clarified the direction they would take. Agencies that use conceptual frameworks like mission statements are better positioned to perform better for the stakeholders.

Calamities happen – electricity fails, equipment breaks down, supplies run out. In any big household or (sorry) in any big house, unforeseen events are always around the corner. In the interest of safety and an uninterrupted flow of services, contingency plans are crucial.

Leadership is essential. In a large family, and in the institutional setting, a presence of honest leadership is necessary. Those in the care of the leaders come to depend on their presence and authority. Demonstrated leadership brings the ideal of smooth operations closer to reality.

It may seem strange that I compared a television show about raising a large family to corrections operations. Yet, our work life sometimes enters into our leisure time activities.

Often, we draw professional parallels while engaged in non-professional activities. It is interesting how evident corrections lessons can be once they are pointed out.

These are the opinions of Joe Bouchard, a librarian employed with the Michigan Department of Corrections. These are not necessarily the opinions of the Department. The MIDOC is not responsible for the content or its accuracy.

Other articles by Bouchard:

Eek! It's the B.A.T.

Mentors hold the future of corrections


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