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Is Corrections, Work Peace Work?
By Joe W. Hatcher, Ph.D., Professor of Psychology
Published: 08/03/2009

Dove peace Editors Note: Corrections.com author Joe Hatcher, Ph.D. is a Professor of Psychology spending a year in the Wisconsin DOC as a Psychology Intern.

I have been teaching Psychology at Ripon College for twenty-three years, and am spending this year as a Psychology Intern in the Wisconsin Department of Corrections, working with both male and female inmates. My interest in working in Corrections came from my exposure to the field of Peace Studies, which is the interdisciplinary study of the factors that lead to war and peace at all levels of human experience. The “onion” of war and peace, shown below, gives an idea of the many levels at which war and peace can operate. My question here is the following. Is Corrections work a type of Peace Work? And if so, what does that mean, and what does that require from those who work in this field?

I believe that Corrections work is indeed Peace Work, as it works at several different levels of the “onion”. First of all, inmates are in prison because they have been “unpeaceful” in our communities, and the word “corrections” implies that our correctional institutions are supposed to improve that behavior. Thus, our communities are made safer by incarceration at least by the temporary absence of inmates from our communities, and hopefully from the lower chance of criminality after incarceration.

Because of the close continuous contact that we have with inmates, corrections staff also work at the group level, helping to ensure peace among groups of inmates, and at the next level as well, trying to help cellmates live together peacefully. Finally, we deal with inmates who are very likely not at peace with themselves, and our actions directly affect that level as well. Thus, Corrections work deals with at least four different levels at which war and peace can occur, and I can think of few other professions that operate at so many levels. This makes our work very meaningful, I believe, and we can justifiably be proud of what we do.

At the same time, I believe that viewing what we do as Peace Work highlights certain responsibilities that come with that type of work. I believe that each interaction we have with inmates has the potential of affecting their personal level of peace, and each interaction gives us the chance to model peaceful, respectful behavior for them. Our tone of voice, our level of patience, our willingness to listen to their concerns and their side of the story, and our general patience are all on display to inmates. We have a great deal of power and they have very little, and this is a situation in which it can be easy not to be concerned about how we treat them.

In my one year in Corrections, I have seen staff interact with inmates in many ways. Most interactions have been well within the bounds of professional and respectful behavior. However, it will come as no surprise that, in my experience, not all staff have always modeled peaceful, respectful behavior. Perhaps a first step is for each of us to identify the area that gives us the most trouble, such as tone of voice, or patience, and try to improve in that one category. Tell other staff what you are trying to do and ask for feedback. In that way, you are also modeling peaceful behavior for them.

This is not easy. Inmates can be difficult, and security is always the first concern. Treating inmates as peacefully as is possible under the circumstances requires, for many of us, extraordinary effort, and corrections staff may argue, with some truth, that this is not the job they signed up for. At the same time, if we agree that we are doing Peace Work, then we deserve both the credit and the responsibility.


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  6. warden on 08/12/2009:

    As commented on by previous Corrections professionals, applying one discipline (psychology) to another (Corrections)can be like comparing apples to oranges. After 34 years as a Corrections professional, I believe that I can, without much debate, state that "firm, fair, and consistent" is the approach to be taught and followed throughout one's career. If you TREAT AN INMATE AS YOU WOULD EXPECT TO BE TREATED were you in his/her position, you shouldn't have to worry about figuring out a way to become a role model - you ARE one.

  7. Best Jail.com on 08/07/2009:

    Just the idea of you saying "PEACE" is offensive to me. Maybe you need to be a victim or someone close to you one, and you will have a different opinion of inmates. You are a intern and you are caught up in your new field of study "Pyschology" where you think you can help everyone. I am a Psycohlogy major also and believe me listening to a person tell their life story amd feeling sorry for them don't make them change it only makes you weak. I know Psychologist that have worked in this setting for years would disagree with you because they themselves have been manipulated by inmates.Inmates feel that its their job to try an manipulate us and its our job to stop them. When you've walked in our shoes who have been in Corrections for 15 years or more then you can talk about the "Peace" that you think we should restore to inmates. Try telling the "VICTIMS" about this peace you think we owe these inmates. Everybody is responsible for their own actions and decisions "GOD" gave us all free will and its your choice to make what you want to do with it. I really don't see how they allowed you to post this article. A year as a intern does not give you the experience to make these assumptions about our job and how we should do it. Make sure you get you a job in a nice little office because in Corrections the inmates will eat you alive......

  8. Neal on 08/06/2009:

    Job 1 is to model every day, in every work setting, the kind of thinking and behavior you want from others. They then either choose to emmulate that modeling or reject it. They either reap the rewards of making good choices, or suffer the sanctions that accompany bad choices.

  9. Kellie on 08/05/2009:

    While I see your point of view.....Your point is very dangerous!!! I am sorry to say this but here it is - I am paid to distrust everything that an inmate does or says. There you go......fight amongst yourselves on that one. It is their job to manipulate and my job to stop the manipulation. With all due respect....one year in corrections is not enough to make these statements. Give me 10 years in the pits and then tell me about inmates that are not at peace with themselves. I would never and I mean never tell anyone to see inmates as their peers. Social workers, Mental Health workers, and a few other groups that I can think of may very well feel that is the best way to deal with inmates. However, this is a very deadly mind set for Corrections staff. I have no peer relationship with any inmate in my facility and never will. I may appear to have ongoing relationships of that type with inmates, but that is how I get my job done. I am not unfriendly, rude, cruel or unprofessional. I am sure of my place at work. There is a food chain that is (to be simple here)in working order in my head. I am at the top (of course my bosses are on the top) of the food chain and is rolls down from there. I know this may sound totally non-PC of me, but you don't last over 20 years in this field by making inmates your peers for the sake of peace. I expect that each inmate will be responsible for their behavior and I hold them to that standard. Just because you are in jail does not mean you can behave any way you want. It is pretty cut and dry. While there are always gray areas and I allow for those, if you want to dance, you must pay the band.....period!!!! I don't think that staff should be tasked with teaching adults how to behave. I am not any inmates mommy and I treat each inmate as if they have the ability to be a decent individual. If they show me that this concept is beyond them, then I deal with them accordingly. I don't have time to be "Emily Post" or "Miss Manners" for them. Just like school teachers should not be tasked with raising your children because the parents are to busy......sorry it is not my top concern. Making sure they do not kill another staff or inmate and going home are my concerns. Firm/Fair/Consistent - the role model that I project is the one that comes to work everyday, pays my bills, behaves professionally. I have no other responsibility to the inmates. Off my soap box! You caught me on one of those days in which I just cannot tolerate the attempted "softening" of my job. It is deadly to those of us in the trenches. I cannot afford to do my job with rose colored glasses.

  10. vividemarko on 08/05/2009:

    I agree with Chuck. We must remain firm, fair and consistant. It is too much to listen to. Treat everyone with respect and be consistant.

  11. john on 08/04/2009:

    I like the image of the onion with the person in the middle. It all begins and ends with the individual. If an individual does not have peace then there will be no peace in the family and so on. But the real question that is not asked or answered in this article is, what kind of peace are we talking about? My view is that if an individual does not know who he or she is and what life is about, real peace is not possible. Statistically we know that around 95% of violent offenders were abused as children in some way. For many of the returning veterans who have been used to violence and war, it is proving hard to adjust to civilian life and we hear that many of them are ending up in prisons around the country. So what I am saying is that violence is something that is actually encouraged in some areas, and of course in some sports too. I heard someone say recently that a 'civilized person would never harm another person'. So what does that say about the kind of society we live in? Are we in fact "civilized"? What does it say about us when we incarcerate thousands of non-violent offenders and warehouse them for long periods with little or no opportunity for rehabilitation or even meaningful work? Are we really civilized? Real peace can only be experienced as a feeling by an individual. When someone feels peace, everything is put into its rightful place and harmony and balance ensue.. Even if someone in the past committed a horrible crime, they still have the ability to feel real peace. Isn't that amazing! and thank God for that. There's always hope! So in the context I have described above, individuals have the responsibility to find peace within themselves. That kind of peace automatically emanates out to the rest of the world. That is the real peace. Keeping dangerous people locked up is of course an important responsibility but does it have anything to do with the real peace I have attempted to describe? No, I don't think so. You can try and fake peace and act the way you believe a peaceful person is supposed to act, but on any given day that mask is going to slip, and that is why some people lose it and get angry and frustrated. Let's face it, if you work in a prison, you are in prison! The main difference between you and the offenders is that you get to go home each day and they don't. It is not a nice environment and being in it is going to take its toll on your health even if you are the most thick skinned of people. Please take care of yourselves folks. It is important to have fun and enjoy your life, and of course find real peace.

  12. Chuck on 07/29/2009:

    I am the Fire and Safety Manager and Department head over Sanitation at a Correctional Facility. I have been here about a year and a half and I find myself repeating the mantra they taught us in the beginning: "Be firm, fair and consistent." I have seen what can happen to those that forget that adage and try to be friends, mentors or pals with inmates. My best friend cannot work in a correctional setting again because she lost sight of the responsibility inherent in that saying. For those that are on the front lines day after day, it is sometimes too much to listen to "their (inmates) concerns and their side of the story." That entails two things: 1)Believing what they say, and 2) seeing or treating them as peers. I feel that you can do neither and maintain the proper relationship between staff and offender. Staying firm, fair and consistent entails the respect that you talk about and respect is a necessity for dealing with inmates. However, once you try to view the world through an offender's eyes, you lose the objectivity that is necessary to survive in the real world of Corrections.

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