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Managing Cultural Diversity Inside Prisons
By Carl ToersBijns, former deputy warden, ASPC Eyman, Florence AZ
Published: 02/27/2012

Diversity g Only the ill-advised person would not admit that cultures, no matter whether acceptable [to their own existence] or on a course of collision with others, shape the identities of political principles and practices within our correctional systems. It would also take a foolish person to say that culture does not shape our uniqueness, creativity, vision and personal development in the course of sound prison management. Today, more so than ever, we have to respect and manage our cultural diversity in order to complete those tasks, duties and responsibilities assigned to us. If left out of the big picture it creates more conflicts between ethnical, political or other human related concerns thus destabilizing and hindering the progress of sound correctional practices and compliance with all laws within such a domain or setting.

Cultural diversity should be shared with cultural sensitivity training related to people issues such as team building, working and coping with difficult people and addressing the special needs of others [that includes staff, the public and the prison population] that may require specific knowledge and training related to healthcare [including the mentally ill], disability assistance or food related issues. The training should include a focus on the avoidance of using stereotypes or stigmas and assumptions and maintained with the strictest professionals standards imposed in such training environments.

These concerns will quickly eliminate obstacles that often lead to stress and frustration as well as misunderstandings if they are not addressed appropriately. One should identify and work in close collaboration with others to address staff's ability to adapt or overcome these needs to working effectively with others different from their own. Cultural diversity is pushed by the constant influence and influx of an international migration of people from dissimilar parts of the world, different races and diverse ethnic backgrounds. Traditionally, we try to face each challenge logically and take the time to learn more about other people's customs, beliefs, and traditions before imposing or integrating our own to stabilize the workforce and the workplace.

This task is a serious concern for many agencies both nationally and internationally. The constant struggles, conflicts, negative encounters can be diminished or avoided through opening your eyes to see the big picture and find the root of each cultural belief so that there is a more satisfaction intellectually & emotionally, and accomplishing the moral means to embrace its existence. Corrections and law enforcement share an international focus group and shares its ideas, theories and concepts willingly with many so that a satisfactorily level of understanding and compliance is development world-wide. Thus in this area of concern, we have the greatest interest in managing cultural diversity effectively and according to all applicable laws written to fulfill such statutory duties while we continue to incarcerate human beings for violating our laws.

Making this a priority within a correctional setting must be mandated by those at the top. We must recognize there are no longer traditional borders that in the past have divided us geographically along with foreign language barriers. In order to build cohesiveness and unity within an organizational concept, these barriers must be removed and allow operational concerns to work seamless and without borders or territorial disputes. Executive staff and managers have the responsibility to address this difficulty of globalized cultural diversity and set a priority on breaking down these barriers and allow free flow of ideas and creativity to intensify their workforce into one group focused on bringing success within their span of control and grasp this responsibility with intensity bringing with them the seeds, the resolutions and the answers to ending this conflict, tension and stress among all that work there and make the job as well as the workplace more sustainable than ever before.

CEO's and upper as well as middle executive staff should incorporate conceptions of cultural diversity in order to improve the harmony and spirit of the workplace. However, the development and implementation of such training is not sufficient to meet this challenge of change in our world. This concept must be delivered with the intensity it deserves and with the credibility desired to improve work conditions everywhere. This challenge should also include a history lessons of the past as well as the future for it can enhance the cultural heritage and competitiveness of those who work there while maintaining a respectful and dignified identification stressing cultural sensitivity and purpose.

Editor’s note: Carl ToersBijns (retired), worked in corrections for over 25 yrs He held positions of a Correctional Officer I, II, III [Captain] Chief of Security Mental Health Treatment Center – Program Director – Associate Warden - Deputy Warden of Administration & Operations. Carl’s prison philosophy is all about the safety of the public, staff and inmates, "I believe my strongest quality is that I create strategies that are practical, functional and cost effective."

Other articles by ToersBijns:


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