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Crisis and Risk Offenders
By Terry Campbell, Professor, Purdue University Global
Published: 03/30/2015

Riot police Our topic for this month is “Crisis and High Risk Offenders.” We will look at a variety of issues related to this topic. Our correctional systems continue to try and manage any crisis situations and provide adequate supervision of offenders. I broke ‘High Risk Offenders’ down to those offenders incarcerated and those released to community supervision. The first area I will discuss is incarcerated high-risk offenders.

High risk offenders and crisis situations distract from the overall safety and security of facilities. Something I need to mention right away; the terminology and information I provide will vary from state-to-state. Crisis and high-risk offenders can be a result of inmate litigation, prison overcrowding, failure to protect, safety and security concerns, and other. In efforts to help control this on-going dilemma, corrections looked at revising classification action to adequately address and attempt to identify high-risk offenders. This category of inmates refers to the ‘potential for serious misconduct within the prison setting, escape attempts, and recidivism and the level of threat the inmate poses to public safety.’ The classification process is not an exact science and attempts to identify those offenders with special programming needs, intervention strategies, correct custody levels, housing assignment, and other related areas.

There are a variety of classification systems and processes utilized by corrections. Some areas often identified pertain to High Risk and Special Management. This area may consist of the following and is certainly not conclusive:
  • disruptive behavior
  • aggressive inmates (assaults staff and inmates)
  • sexual predators
  • gang members/security threat groups (STGs)
  • mentally and medically challenged
  • protective custody
  • administrative segregation
  • close custody
  • type of sentence received
  • crime notoriety
  • sufficient resources available
  • other
These types of offenders identified create safety and security concerns for prison staff and administration. Once these offenders are identified, a whole new set of questions and issues arises.

What type of prison layout is available? Is this an older type of prison with open dormitories? Are there limited space requirements? Are other prisons available to administratively transfer the inmates? What will be any resource concerns? If there are sufficient beds available, are there any empty beds? What mechanisms and processes are in place to evaluate inmates from high-risk categories to less restrictive status and possible transfer back to general population? Are staff adequately trained to recognize any potential crisis situation? What other type of management concerns are there? I only provided some areas for additional consideration. As you know this is only the ‘tip of the iceberg.’

Crisis situations in prison settings can occur anytime. Even more so than before, correctional staff must be aware of the prison environment and culture within the prison. The staff must communicate with each other and also effectively communicate with the inmate population. Staff and inmates must understand their roles. There are training issues that must be addressed as well as inmates understanding the potential for classification action and change in custody status. Along with this, inmates must understand there is a process in place to control for the safety and security of the prison. Also, there is a process for them to be considered for release/transfer back to general population.

Corrections administrators must ensure there are ample beds available when high risk inmates are identified and being considered for transfer to an administrative setting. This will be based upon the threat the inmate poses to the overall safety and security of the prison. Once inmates are identified as high-risk, properly assigned, and custody level adjusted; we must look at programming needs to assist these offenders. We also must recognize we are dealing with a more aggressive type of inmate and special needs then we are used to. It is obvious, corrections has limited resources available. However, we cannot afford to build unlimited facilities and beds to house high-risk offenders. Classification becomes an even more important tool to identify and assess those inmates eligible for transfer back to a less secure prison setting. The second application of high-risk offenders involves parole supervision in the community. The risk assessment ‘indicates that offenders should be provided with supervision and treatment levels that are commensurate with their risk levels.’ When an offender is identified as high-risk, there will be more ‘intense services and supervision’ provided. Remember the terminology and supervision level components and other requirements will vary from state-to-state.

Prior to release consideration there are a variety of variables for the parole board and/or releasing authority to review. (Note, not all states have parole boards). The level of supervision and programming will be determined. You may ask why are some offenders determined to be high-risk? This may consist of offenders who were released previously and encountered difficulties with supervision. Often times supervising agencies will use the term intensive supervision. The offender will be supervised on a more frequent basis during initial release. Initially the thought was an offender will violate release conditions soon after release. The officers will use a variety of methods to ensure the offender obeys their release conditions and provide positive efforts to assist the offender with programming and other needs. After a high-risk offender proves himself worthy, they can be considered for a lesser security supervision level. At the same time, if an offender is doing fine and all of a sudden begins to demonstrate poor judgment and/or other negative characteristics, the supervising officer can make a recommendation for high-risk supervision.

Other areas to consider for high-risk supervision may consist of the following: Some inmates have been incarcerated for a long period of time and will be released. High-risk supervision is not meant to be punitive, just a way to provide additional assistance and supervision during an initial period of time. Also some offenders are sexual offenders and this level of supervision will be in place. We must remember there are a wide-range of characteristics to consider when determining supervision levels and how long to keep this person on this type of supervision. One other area to consider; when offenders are placed on high-risk/intensive supervision, this offender is aware of this, knows the consequences if they violate, and are also aware of the process and determining factors for a lesser supervision level.

Hopefully, you will find some of this information useful. You may be interested in further researching this topic.

Good luck with your career and stay safe.

Terry Campbell is a criminal justice professor at Kaplan University, School of Public Safety and has more than 20 years of experience in corrections and policing. He has served in various roles, including prison warden and parole administrator, for the Arkansas Department of Corrections. Terry may be reached at tcampbell@kaplan.edu.

Other articles by Campbell


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