|By Terry Campbell, Professor, Kaplan University, School of Public Safety|
Corrections’ populations continue to spiral and costs continue to soar. There are many challenges faced by corrections and each challenge could be an article topic. However, from research I selected only some of the challenges and/or dilemmas. I will discuss some of these areas.
A broken system in many aspects that will require additional resources. We have a revolving door and continue to funnel money in areas that are counterproductive. At some point and time, we must recognize we need to narrow down the challenges and put forth more positive efforts in attempts to change. When we budget and make requests for additional resources, are we being realistic? Legislators are wanting to see results and with current recidivism rates, many questions are still unanswered. So much of what corrections does is based upon effectiveness and accountability. Many of the areas I identified above are costly to implement. At the same time, we need to ask the question: Are our prison systems on the same level of fairness and allocation of funds? No! Some states are in financial disarray and corrections is only one piece of the state budget. Yet, our share is continually increasing. There are some states that will have an easier time of obtaining resources than others. Corrections also needs to see what grant monies are available and not be totally dependent on the state and/or county.
Corrections stresses the safety and security of our facilities, yet in some areas federal court intervention is necessary for some changes. You know what the current ongoing litigation and court rulings are. We have been aware of inmate mental health issues for years. Yet we still have to catch up and ensure our officers working under the corrections umbrella are properly trained to deal with the mental health offenders. This includes incarceration and supervision in the community. Our officers need the support, training, use of technology, and security equipment to perform their duties on a daily basis. All officers face extra stress from the job itself. Yet, due to staff shortages we require overtime and this is becoming the norm instead of the exception. How much down time are we allowing our officers? Administration and management need to take proactive approaches to retain officers and reverse this trend. We have to recognize security and use of technology is only as effective as the people who use it. Not all contraband is brought in from visitors. Unfortunately, some of our officers and staff are involved in this as well. This is ongoing and efforts must be put forth to control. One example is the continued distribution of cell phones inside our jails and prisons. This is illegal, yet in some areas continues to be a security concern.
I found one article that looked at inmate visitation and some innovative ideas to use video and avoid contact visits. Again, costs are involved and can trigger some adverse results if we are not careful. Along with this we continue to look at ways to improve security. Due to the changing culture and language barriers we find ourselves with a problem, not being prepared. Use of monitoring inmate telephone calls when no staff speak a particular language. Devices are available to translate and other technological advances available. Yet, once again, costs are involved.
Inmates are incarcerated and a large percentage will be eligible for release under supervision. While incarcerated, inmates have the opportunity to complete their education. However, the GED alone is not sufficient. Does the inmate have any marketable job skills? If not, does the system have vocational programs available? Sounds good, yet a small percentage of the inmate population will refuse to learn a trade. Now what? I mentioned earlier some security issues and concerns. I would be remiss if I did not include the following: emergency plans and preparedness. Do any of our systems have these plans in place? When were they last updated and implemented? I think we will find this is not a practice and occurs more than likely when there is a true emergency. Let’s become proactive instead of reactive.
There are many programs in place, do we have a clear understanding of what works and is effective. A tremendous amount of resources is earmarked for programs. Should we continue to spend money on programs that are not effective? Do we have assessment tools and strategies in place to determine program effectiveness? Are we using research data to see what innovative ideas and programs are working across the country? We do not have to reinvent the wheel? There is a need to improve communications among all sectors. The possibility exists that some partnerships and exchange of ideas can be utilized. This day and age, the information highway is at our finger tips. Are we utilizing all available resources other than monetary?
Often some of our best ideas come from staff. All employees have an interest and should have input into submitting suggestions for improvements. Do not be silent, take the next step and generate some ideas. Change has to come from within, yet there is trial and error. We have to be innovative to bring corrections into future years. Even though we have many correctional systems, we can continue to improve and communicate. Let’s come together and help each other. Stay safe out there, Best regards, Terry
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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