|Focus on the Extremes of the Programs Perspective Continuum|
|By Joe Bouchard|
In corrections we do not always understand our colleagues’ perspectives. We may ask ourselves a series of questions: Are we well understood by others? Do we understand ourselves? Why don’t professionals in the same vocational niche operate uniformly to our personal standards? Why do corrections professionals, seemingly performing the same tasks, have different working relationships with their administrations?
Add to this mix the many lives that we impact as a profession. Between state and federal prison, there are around 1,650 correctional facilities in the United States.(i) In addition, there are over 3,300 locally operated jails and nearly 3,000 juvenile facilities.(ii) Programs are provided in some form for many of the approximately 2,000,000 inmates in the United States.(iii)
With the variety of sizes, locations, levels of confinement and local variances of what programs shall be provided, naturally there are many different perspectives that program staff have concerning their place in the institution. Consider how corrections program professionals view their goals as measured with the facility’s goals. Conceptually, there are only three outlooks. Two of them are diametrically opposed extremes on the programs perspective continuum. They are the Nested Perspective and the Separatist Perspective. The third group is the largest. It consists of anything between the Nested and Separatist poles. By analyzing those extremes, we can better understand the many in the middle.
The intent of the following article is to facilitate cooperation between all work areas in correctional facilities. This is meant as a springboard for discussion into understanding programming perspectives in your institution. It does not matter if you are employed to perform your professional duties in housing, custody, administration, program or any other area. Through a larger perspective, the occasional contention between areas can be lessened. Therefore, the awareness that one can gain from analyzing perspectives of programming is useful to all.
This article will examine:
The utility of programming in correctional facilities has been stated numerous times and in many forums in various manners. Very few corrections professionals would seriously doubt the many benefits of well-conceived diversion and education programs for prisoners. Meaningful programs in prisons are a crucial part of successful facility management. At the optimum, security is enhanced through a less restive and more manageable client population for institutional and public safety. This generally leads to lower complaints about other areas to administrators. The grievances become dispersed and in some cases lessened. And, fiscal responsibility through efficiency increases, alleviating some of the public burden of financing the industry. The taxpayer and society ultimately benefit from a healthier, more stable work force in the institutions. The public also wants that programming to transform prisoners into skilled and productive citizens. Pre-release and life skills can be offered for prisoners to aim for a more successful reintegration. Society’s most direct benefit comes through the potential of lowered recidivism. Programming allows prisoners to find intellectual, spiritual, physical and introspective spots within themselves. That places everyone at an advantage. Put simply, prisoners that participate in programming are the true candidates for successful reintegration.
Programmers’ perceptions of themselves in the framework of the whole institution
Certainly, jail and prison programming offers benefits to all groups. But, do all program staff operate with the same philosophical approach? Are you aware of the many places on the continuum of programming framework? I have considered the many outlooks of program staff. One should consider how programmers see themselves fitting into (or even at odds with) the overall facility operation. It seems to me that there are two extremes in this. The opposing ends of the programming perspective continuum are the Nested perspective and the Separatist perspective.
The extremes are highlighted to better illustrate that there are elements of both camps in all programming perspectives. Between the two is a wide array of work styles. But, the extremes suggest exaggerated possibilities so that we can understand the more common realities within.
The ( in the Nested camp represents all of the goals of the institution. The c on the Nested side represents the goals of the individual program. Note how the programs component is nested in the overall goals of the institution. It is a smaller version of it. Both sets of goals, like the figure that symbolize them, are formed in the same way and facing the same direction.
The ) on the Separatist side represents the programmer’s perception of the direction and size of the program in the prison. The c on the Separatist side is how the programmer views the prison goals. In this extreme, programs and administration face in different directions. There is no nesting here, but rather separation. The programmer sees the administration as smaller and opposed to its objectives.
The Nested programming perspective
The Separatist perspective
In the extreme, the Separatist programmer considers its goals as separate from the administration. This kind considers its objectives to be of more importance than the goals of the administration. That often leads to antagonisms inherent between programming and the rest of the institution.
The separatist perspective in the extreme - The Strengths
Impacting factors on perspectives
No matter where any given programmer is found on the continuum, there are many influencing factors to consider. So many forces shape the face of corrections and the perspectives of those working in the industry. Perhaps the most potent mover is the culture of the institution. The overall culture of the facility is important in how each perspective can develop and perpetuate. What is culture? It is the road map of the institution that is not published. It is a guide that staff members learn through traversing the thoroughfares. The most successful staff understand this unwritten map.
In other words, ‘…culture is the personality of the organization. Culture is comprised of the assumptions, values, norms and tangible signs (artifacts) of organization members and their behaviors. Members of an organization soon come to sense the particular culture of an organization. Culture is one of those terms that’s difficult to express distinctly, but everyone knows it when they sense it.’ (iv)
Furthermore, in many organizations, ‘Those people who violate cultural norms are quickly reminded of the error, and are watched to make sure it is not repeated. Those who continue to violate norms are never allowed to become full participants in the culture.”(v)
But, even if the program professional feels exempt from the potency of culture, there are other impacting factors. Consider these questions:
Though obviously not as important in the minds of many as are security issues, programming is a complex concept that needs addressing. Corrections would be different without the impact of programs professionals. A big step in understanding programming is to know where it fits into the facility and how staff feel about that. Where is your programming perspective?
i Bureau of Justice Statistics. Census of State and Federal Adult Correctional facilities 2000. Washington, DC, Bureau of Justice Statistics.
ii Bureau of Justice Statistics. Census of Jails 1999. Washington, DC, Bureau of Justice Statistics.
iii Bureau of Justice Statistics. Census of Jails 1999. Washington, DC, Bureau of Justice Statistics.
iv McNamara, Ph.D., Carter. ‘ Organizational Culture’ May 31, 2002.
v Sannwald, William. ‘Understanding Organizational Culture.’ Library Administration & Management 14.1 (2000): 12.
vi Bouchard, Joseph. ‘The Many Obligations of Programs Staff: From Concept to Practice.’ The Corrections Professional 5.21 (2000): 3.
vii Bouchard, Joseph. ‘Solutions to staff division: Seek Shelter Under Corrections Umbrella.’ The Corrections Professional 7.1 (2001): 3.
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