|Coping with Poor Prison Management - Part I|
|By Carl ToersBijns, former deputy warden, ASPC Eyman, Florence AZ|
The coping mechanisms of managing prisons has reached a new high level of complexity and increased frequency of challenges that must be addressed immediately. There appears to be a great acceleration of events that seem to produce negative and demographic turbulence inside prisons making the predicted apocalypse a reality in the near future.
Although it is government’s aim to provide positive outcomes for taxpayers and constituents around the state, their “best intentions” can be derailed by deliberate indifferences and cancerous ideologies that triumph common sense and defeat logical and rational problem solving techniques.
This should not come to such a shock to those paying attention to the occurring or re-occurring mishaps inside our prisons and criminal justice system today. What is happening now can best be described as a “great acceleration” of a most urgent matter and catastrophic situation that may create a negative change unprecedented since the Lewis hostage situation almost a decade ago.
Prison population growth has surged in the last five years beyond projected numbers and more beds are being purchased with taxpayers’ money for the anticipation of a renewed growth after a short lull in bed space availability plans.
The tremendous growth in fiscal allocations in the state budget has risen to a new global scale in the sense it is now approximately 12 % [and growing yearly] of the entire budget and robbing funding from school and other economic support programs within the communities.
The efforts to meet these demands through privatization [medical and other vendor services] and increased bed production methods has imposed a great and unpredictable impact on our ability to control the prison environment from internal disruptions as well as damaging our ecosystem that impact the quality of air, water and other environmental elements in our prisons and those surrounding communities.
Inside prisons, events and trends frequently interact with each other and our natural elements resulting in mystifying situations that are not so easily resolved or taken care of appropriately. In fact, they could be explosive in nature and extremely hard to handle once it breaks loose.
Because of the aging facilities throughout the state and the severe shortage of having the right tools, staffing and other resources, we stand to be unable to meet emergent and difficult threats or challenges with even less resources to provide reasonable opportunities to deal and manage such a complex environment and contain and control the environment satisfactorily and safely.
The short term solution is to reduce the frequency of emerging threats and challenges. The message should be clear and sudden disruptions such as escapes, riots, assaultive behaviors, gang activity, food strikes, work stoppages, willful damage to state property etc. are possible and that the real danger is the failure to manage such events as they occur.
These concerns should not be ignored by government as it has a legal and moral responsibility to protect the citizens from harm and protect society from danger. Today policymakers are facing this problem with no political expediency, no cognitive realization of potential failures and unprepared with the proper tools to deal with this complex situation effectively.
The mindset appears to be ignorant of these problems and instead focuses on unsustainable development or expansion of existing facilities ill prepared to handle such a task or assignment as they are poorly maintained, understaffed, exposed to pandemic medical conditions and unable to meet intractable challenges with any effectiveness.
Change is not easily achieved and must be incremental in style and implementation. Governments are large and tend to optimize departments rather than at local organizational levels. This could be a flaw in design but stresses the importance of communication between people and their chain of command.
In order to change the mindset it requires emphasis and support to resolve problems with constant attention from the top to ensure compliance with all expectations and discussed strategies. Government should be adaptive when operating in such a complex and grave situation. It must not turn to a turnkey provider / solution e.g. handing over resources to a private contractor at the first sign of distress but rather navigate and operate carefully to meet emergent threats and challenges through practical and adaptive management skills that may in fact provide the reasonable and common sense approach to make the right decisions.
In this manner, the organization can also develop plans and policies with complete confidence and accurate information gathering to control certain desired outcomes. In other words, implement a decision making process that observes, orientates, decides and acts to remove any uncertainty in any situation and acts appropriately to remove the threat with just cause and reason.
This scenario planning is beneficial to policy making and systematically addresses best practices and handle such threats with predicable outcomes. It is also beneficial for risk management to begin risk identification and assessments at the strategic and institutional levels to monitor risk indicators and recommend or deliver a suggestion for resource mobilization (shared activity) and behavioral changes to prepare for anticipated or identified risks.
Resilience is the key for government to maintain the ability to cope with strategic shock by adapting or even transforming existing resources to face turbulent environmental changes or challenges.
Lean systems must learn how to focus on efficiency and rapid deployment of resources including shared resources within the communities. It is likely to be more successful in operating effectively while dealing with unexpected or volatile situations while having the capacity to make plans to deal with these uncertain problems.
The avoidance of making government bigger is important thus it is suggested that in order to be resilient in manner, every organization within government dedicate a representative possessed with strong adaptability skills for the participation of a small group of people to perform problem solving tasks and think about the future and its challenges as well as short term volatility and impending crisis thus serving as an early warning system or oversight capacity.
This will keep government well informed of their findings e.g. challenges and predicted outcomes as well as serving or being active members of an oversight committee to study internal environmental changes and risks associated with such risks or changes within our criminal justice system.
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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