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Going to the Next Level
By Steven C. Kelly, Director Jail and Court Services Bureau (Ret)
Published: 02/17/2014

Nextlevel We live in a world that is constantly evolving and in the corrections business this is true as well. New devices and equipment are constantly being produced that are designed to make our work easier, safer, and more efficient – but, what about the primary point of our business? And what do we think that is? I will argue that, at the very core, there is an expectation that we are to change criminals, and their behavior, so that he or she does not commit future criminal acts. By keeping offenders in jail or prison, there are some who will say that we are providing an acceptable level of service, that incarceration is a deterrent against future criminal behavior, or we are at least keeping the streets safer while the criminal is incarcerated; but, at the end of the day is that all that society expects? I think the people want more.

We know that crime comprises much of what the news reports every night; the reporters will get into the shocking details of the crime and quite often there will be some mention of the accused’s prior history. It’s all very sensational. We know that the majority of those that we incarcerate have offended time after time; and yet, we keep applying the same measures with the hope that they will not come back again. When possible the system will apply a longer term for those who meet the repeat offender standard, and yes, this does appear to reduce crime because the offender is not on the street as much; but, it is a costly way to solve the problem. In fact, it has become so costly, that California is struggling to meet the minimum standards of confinement because they have so many in their prison system and are under Federal Court intervention to reduce their population. So, the challenge for us is in corrections is to find an effective way to change the behavior of these people that so often lands these people in the system. The argument I am about to make is not about some feel good idea for a social agenda, it is about economics. The simple fact is that incarceration is the most expensive solution to the problem, and with that, one would think that it would also be the most effective; however, the recidivism rate does not seem to indicate that it is.

We are making some progress in this direction. Boot camps, Drug Courts, behavior programs such as “Thinking for a Change” are all steps or at least attempts to move in the right direction. Reno, NV and Memphis, TN have made strides to address the homeless populations who seem to be “frequent flyers” in the jails and hospitals. The Veterans Administration is becoming involved in intervention strategies and participating in Veterans Courts. There is no doubt that this problem is complex and there is no simple solution that will change every offender. We will always need jails and prisons. But, what we need to create or discover is the recipe that will have the most effective long term impact on the greatest number of those who enter the system. The innovation that needs to occur in this area should be an all-inclusive approach. What I mean by this is that it cannot just be the educators, psychologists, and social workers who continue to devise new strategies to address this problem. It can’t just be the judges, lawyers and politicians dictating what they think the solution is. Each area presents one view of the problem and may only be tailored to meet their needs or perceptions. There should be involvement from the field with the patrolmen and detectives reporting what is happening at the community level so that information can be used to enhance the strategies used in the supervision and programming of the inmate. Remember the Community Oriented Policing programs in the 90’s? These programs had a positive impact on problems in the local neighborhoods because they looked at the specific issues and developed a targeted approach. What if we collaborated with the field officers to continue the focus on those who are on the inside? The approach must include correctional officers, who spend every day watching and supervising those incarcerated. We see the games and manipulation first hand and if there is a uniform front on how we move toward creating the change, then it will have a greater chance of success. The strategy should be coordinated from entry to exit and be flexible to address the complex variable issues that impact our charges who come from a multitude of cultures and demographics. I have participated in multi-disciplinary efforts at improving these outcomes and I have seen success when all parties are committed to the success of the mission.

Corrections is a profession that has the ability to have a significant impact on our society if we will seek the opportunities to improve our outcomes. Commitment to seeking evidence based solutions and using all players who have a vested interest in improving the results must be direction that we move in. If we make this choice we will take Corrections to the next level.

Corrections.com author, Steven C. Kelly served 25 years at Washoe County Sheriff’s Office retiring as a captain. His last post was as the Jail Director for the Ada County Sheriff's office in Boise, ID. He holds a master degree in Management from the University of Phoenix and attended the FBI National Academy in 2009.

Other articles by Kelly:



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