|Corrections: A High Calling - Part III|
|By Mike Raneses, Parole Agent, California Department of Corrections & Rehabilitation|
We began our three-part series by laying the foundation for the case that working in Corrections, because it is a vital component of the criminal justice system, is more than work, but it is a calling, a High Calling. We then focused on the specific High Calling of working in the criminal justice system as an integral component of the governmental structure God created. This week, we conclude our series by examining the vital role of Corrections in society.
The Role of Corrections in Society
When I teach Corrections classes, I often pose this question to students, “How many of you, when you were first planning your career, planned to work in Corrections?” As you might imagine, not many of the students had Corrections as a career goal. Most of us working in Corrections, myself included, never thought we would be walking the Toughest Beat. But, whatever path led us to Corrections, we can be proud of our profession for it serves a vital role in our society.
What is the role of Corrections in society? Is it retribution, is it rehabilitation, is it punishment, or is it community protection? Actually, Corrections serves all of these purposes. And, while we could cite numerous references on this topic, I commend to you the work, research and philosophy of the American Correctional Association (ACA).
For more than 125 years, the American Correctional Association has championed the cause of Corrections and correctional effectiveness. Founded in 1870 as the National Prison Association, ACA is the oldest association developed specifically for practitioners in the Correctional profession. During the first organizational meeting in Cincinnati, Ohio, the assembly elected then-Ohio Governor and future President Rutherford B. Hayes as the first President of the Association.
More than a century ago, the National Prison Association, first developed principles stating the beliefs and values underlying the practice of their profession. Here is an excerpt from one of their early documents:
"The treatment of criminals by society is for the protection of society. But since such treatment is directed to the criminal rather than the crime, its great object should be his moral regeneration. The state has not discharged its whole duty to the criminal when it has punished him, nor even when it has reformed him. Having raised him up, it has further duty to aid in holding him up. In vain shall we have given the convict an improved mind and heart, in vain shall we have imparted to him the capacity for industrial labor and the desire to advance himself by worthy means, if, on his discharge, he finds the world in arms against him, with none to trust him, none to meet him kindly, none to give him the opportunity of earning honest bread."
While the language may be antiquated, the message is contemporary. The role of Corrections is to assist in the prevention and control of delinquency and crime, but as the ACA puts it, “ultimately the prevention of criminal and delinquent behavior depends on the will of the individual and the constructive qualities of society and its basic entities: family, community, school, religion, and government.”
Underlying Principles of the Corrections Profession
The ACA believes that the principles of Humanity, Justice, Protection, Opportunity, Knowledge, Competence, and Accountability are essential to the foundation of sound Corrections policy and effective public protection. Here is an overview of these principles:
Humanity: The dignity of individuals, the rights of all people and the potential for human growth and development must be respected.
Social order in a democratic society depends upon full recognition of individual worth and respect for the dignity of all its members; therefore, laws, administrative policies and corrections practices must be governed by this principle and measured against standards of fairness and decency, whether applied to those under corrections care and control, its staff, crime victims, or the general public.
Justice: Corrections must demonstrate integrity, respect, dignity, fairness, and pursue a balanced program of humaneness, restoration, rehabilitation and the most appropriate sanctions consistent with public safety.
Unwarranted disparity in sentencing, undue length of sentences, and rigid sentencing structures are an injustice to society and the offender and create circumstances that are not in the best interest of justice, mercy, or public protection and must be resisted whenever possible.
Protection: Corrections has a duty to ensure the protection of the public, offenders under corrections supervision, corrections workers, and victims and survivors of crime.
People have the right to be protected from personal and/or psychological harm, loss of property and abuse of power. The overall protection of society is best enhanced through effective corrections community and institutional supervision, rehabilitation and training programs, compliance with legal mandates, offender and staff accountability, and meeting the basic needs of offenders.
Corrections has a special responsibility to protect from harm those who are involuntarily under its care and control; therefore, contemporary standards for health care, offender classification, due process, fire and building safety, nutrition, personal well-being, and clothing and shelter must be observed.
Opportunity: Corrections is responsible for providing programs and constructive activities that promote positive change for responsible citizenship.
Opportunity for positive change or "reformation" is basic to the concept of Corrections because punishment without the opportunity for redemption is unjust and ineffective. Hope is a prerequisite for the offender's restoration to responsible membership in society.
Knowledge: Corrections must be committed to pursuing a continual search for new knowledge, technological advances, and effective practices that strive toward excellence and positive change.
Effective programs, policies, and practices are based on accurate information, applied and theoretical research, and are guided by professional standards and outcome measures of performance.
Competence: Corrections administrators, supervisors, and line employees must be professionally competent and committed to conducting their responsibilities in accordance with professional standards.
Selection, retention and promotion of all corrections staff and the selection and training of volunteers must be based on merit, without regard to political affiliation, race, gender or religion.
Staff, contract employees and volunteers must be well trained to understand the mission of the agency and to conduct themselves according to the agency's rules and professional standards.
Accountability: Corrections officials shall ensure accountability in regard to the treatment and management of offenders, selection and performance of staff, and the interface with the community and victims.
Accountability is a keystone of sound Corrections practice; therefore, all those engaged in Corrections activity should be held responsible for their actions and behavior.
Corrections administrators must be accountable for assuring the humane treatment of offenders, the support and empowerment of staff and adherence to the stated principles.
Staff must be accountable for advancing and implementing the goals and principles of Corrections.
Offenders must be accountable for their actions, including making amends and restitution where practical.
A Renewed Perspective
Corrections is a challenging, often stressful, and a seemingly thankless profession. It may be that you have become a bit cynical, not sure if you are making a positive difference in society. Our purpose in presenting this series of articles is to suggest that a “paradigm shift”, or a new way of looking at your profession may be in order. My Corrections colleagues, please know that what you are doing is important, and that Corrections is a noble profession, a High Calling.
Corrections: A High Calling - Part I
Corrections: A High Calling - Part II
Corrections.com author, Mike Raneses, is a 40-year criminal justice veteran with service as a Deputy Sheriff, Probation Officer, and most currently as a Parole Agent with the California Department of Corrections & Rehabilitation. Also serving as a Professor of Criminal Justice with the University of Phoenix, he resides in Tustin, CA with his wife Ruth where they lead Corrections Staff Fellowship, an organization designed to help staff maintain their faith and values while walking “The Toughest Beat in the Nation.”
Other articles by Mike Raneses
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