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The many roles of programmers: The corrections grid
By Joe Bouchard
Published: 03/22/2010

Inmate lawyer Custody staff comprises the largest segment of correction land. Typically, when one is asked to identify a job done in corrections, usually the first answer offered is the corrections officer. Of course, while very crucial, it takes much more than custody staff to run a modern prison. There are clerical staff, supervisors, administrative staff, food service workers, and health care staff. Yet, a significant group is often overlooked. They are the programmers.

Are programmers forgotten in the scheme of things? Perhaps this is so. Yet, the impact of those who run our prisons’ and jails’ classrooms, libraries, athletic facilities, and vocational education centers should not be underestimated.

Often we hear such phrases from colleagues and the media that do not understand the multi-functionality of programs. “You’re just in programs. Your function is not important. It would not matter if your job were eliminated. This prison would run well enough without your job.” This may be a composite of a few voices. But, it is a harsh attitude. And it exists to a degree everywhere. In fact, some programmers are also guilty of promoting this attitude self-abusive stance. Never the less, the fully functional programs professional provides many useful capacities for the facility.

Corrections programs professionals must awaken to their many utilities. All too often, they listen to doubters and consider themselves solely as those who work in a narrowly defined niche. But, it is much more than just performing a confined specialty. All corrections professionals perform in many different areas outside the traditional sub-profession. This is usually done without considering the conceptual depth of each of our labors.

Programmers who are successful in the industry are aware that there are two sides of the vocation. They are the custody side and the specialty area. The task grid explains the four basic areas in which all corrections professionals work. The corrections and specialty areas are also divided into theory and practice. (Please see figure 1) Quadrants A and B apply to all work areas within corrections. Quadrants C and D are reserved for specialty areas.

So, there are four major areas for the corrections professional to know. They are:
  • corrections theory (A)
  • corrections practice (B)
  • specialty theory (C)
  • and specialty practice (D).


Corrections expertise

Specialty expertise

Roles of corrections tasks grid

Working both sides of the hyphen is illustrated here. For example, look at the hyphenated profession of corrections-librarianship. The prison librarian has a bilateral job. It is certainly important to be proficient in the specialty area of librarianship. But, the position is completed with thorough knowledge and practice of corrections. For example, there are two separate (though often complementary) areas on either side of the hyphen in the title corrections-librarian. So, the successful corrections librarian will do well to master both areas. Bearing in mind the wide applicability to all areas within corrections, let us now apply it to the job of corrections-librarian.

Quadrant A: Corrections expertise - theory
  • Outreach to correctional entities
  • Corrections committee work
  • Production and consumption of professional literature
  • Participation in corrections conferences
  • Forecasting coming trends in corrections
  • Planning for imminent change in the industry
  • Preparing contingency plans

Quadrant B: Corrections expertise - practice
  • Liaison to officers
  • Contraband control
  • Proper application of policy and procedures
  • Intelligence gathering
  • Physical plant management for safety
  • Prisoner management

Quadrant C: Specialty - theory.
  • Performing library oriented committee work
  • Writing or consuming library profession literature
  • Forecasting uses of library technology
  • Drafting or redrafting a library mission statement

Quadrant D: Specialty - practice
  • Collection development
  • Delivery coordination of books
  • Staff management
  • Prisoner clerk management
  • Collection maintenance
  • Proper application of library policies and procedures

Why study this at all? These concepts are applicable any job in the industry. This is not just for programmers. And this sort of discussion opens the door for reasonable professional empathy.

All corrections professionals must work well on both sides of the hyphen. Those new to the profession and corrections managers will find this particularly useful so that they might discern roles and styles of operation of colleagues. Those in the vocation who seek to expand their proficiency will benefit from this work by developing professional understanding of other areas. The industry can become more efficient through this sort of vocational reflection. From there, the taxpayer benefits from a workforce that is considerate and more competent.

Visit the Joe Bouchard page


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