|Is Corrections, Work Peace Work?|
|By Joe W. Hatcher, Ph.D., Professor of Psychology|
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.