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Stopping the Private Prison Pendulum
By Carl ToersBijns, former deputy warden, ASPC Eyman, Florence AZ
Published: 01/28/2013

Pendulum For the past several decades, the prison management pendulum has swung prison operations into two main categories. The first is a strict authoritarian type or style / approach with rule enforcement and zero tolerance to misconduct. The focus is on corporal punishment and severe behavioral modification models that may be harmful if imposed for prolonged periods of time. Work is mandatory and much of the work is not compensated but rather done to avoid idleness and boredom as well as wearing them down with fatigue to avoid problems during the off-work times inside prisons.

The second category has been often criticized as it has been labeled to be a “hug a thug” methodology unacceptable by hard core prison officials and government agents stressing that doing time is not to resemble country clubs and college campuses. This concept focuses on inmate incentive programs, liberal good time awards, educational and vocational opportunities and liberal wages for work performed.

The pendulum rarely swings to the middle and it usually lands either on one extreme or the other. Technology has developed a third category – a hybrid governance model that competes with those already established and opens the door to future strategies that may improve the way prisons are being operated. It really depends on the structure and how it is laid out in order for it to be successful and acceptable to all those who run prisons including the officers who will be responsible for implementing the core structure of such a concept.

Restructuring and developing a new governance model adds new value to the prison industry and makes it stress the importance of strong leadership and soundness of all working relationships in such a venture. Needless to say, all three categories have strengths and weaknesses. One method may be efficient in one field and be lacking in another leaving the strategic plan unbalanced and difficult to run or operate. Ultimately, staff and inmates suffer the most when the prison system is operated unbalanced and without stabilization.

However, don’t expect the third concept to be readily acceptable by those die-hards that expect to run prisons their way or the highway. It won’t matter that the third hybrid concept will be more cost effective and receptive to universal standardization of policies and procedures, practices and standards. The controversy centers around the lack of transparency and accountability for services rendered and time computed for timely releases.

While accepting there are limitations [such as specific custody levels] to such a concept and that risks must not be taken to jeopardize the public safety or the safety of those who work there, it is important that constant levels of vigilance is maintained.

In order for a hybrid model to work or be successful, there must be clear and documented contractual conditions specific to the nature of the business and without compromising public trust and public information transparency provisions.

The outline must be approved through statutory agreements and liabilities must be clearly delineated to avoid misunderstandings related to specific business expectations and costs. It must be clear how the relationship between government and private business is to be handled on a daily basis and how fiscal and logistical shortcuts are unacceptable in any form whatsoever.

It must outline working relationships between individuals, applications and networks and provide a statutory authority for such daily tasks and business matters as well as how to handle disputes and conflicts related to the contract and performance expectations as well as meeting outlined outcomes. Best correctional practices is a must as previous analysis of such enterprises have demonstrated major failures and critical weaknesses that allowed the infrastructure and systems to fail and create hazards to the public, staff and prisoners.

Focus must be maintained through awareness and frequent audits. It seems appropriate that government and private business engage in a relationship that can and does benefit the taxpayers. In reality, there are many similarities already established between the two partners and focus should be on accountability and transparency of all services rendered by all involved. One caution must be made and that is to ensure the hybrid model is flexible enough to allow local customization and management while ensuring non-political standardized functions are in order and maintained appropriately.

This is important as the sole purpose of a hybrid model in prison management is to ensure cost effectiveness while keeping the best performances available through the administrative / maintenance component at a centralized location to monitor and provide strict oversight of all public responsibilities, functions and services. Therefore don’t expect a decentralized model to respond well to standardization or cost-effectiveness as it has been proven in the past such practices just doesn’t work.

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. Car’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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