|Tales From the Local Jail: Partnerships|
|By Gary F. Cornelius, First Lt. (Retired)|
Recently, I visited the Charles County (Maryland) Jail in La Plata Maryland. I was there taking photos for the third edition of my book, Stressed Out: Strategies for Living and Working in Corrections. I wanted to get photos of staff at work, and they were very cooperative. It is a well-run, efficient and professional facility, and any corrections professional needing assistance would be well served by contacting them.
I especially wanted to take photos of civilians in corrections. There is a lot of material in print and on line about improving the job performances and stress management of uniformed staff. Too often, the non-sworn staff are overlooked. The probation/parole officers, teachers, mental health personnel, medical staff, substance abuse counselors, records personnel and maintenance staff undergo stress as well. They need a partnership with the sworn staff. Partnership can mean friendship, concern and a belief in what the other is trying to do- a reciprocation.
I met a very nice substance abuse counselor at the Charles County Jail. Being a former jail programs director, we talked for a few minutes about inmates, and how some want to change. There are some that want to get out and stay out, and others do not. We agreed that trying to help inmates can be a frustrating job-but we still try.
As I was leaving this area, a uniformed jail deputy entered on his rounds. He warmly greeted the substance abuse counselor and what struck me immediately is that they were not just fellow staff members, they were friends. We all know what the ‘gut’ is-and my ‘gut’ told me that the deputy respected the counselor and vice versa. They were glad to see each other, and were engaged in a nice conversation as I left the area.
Correctional sworn staff should realize that the term ‘corrections’ is not just a job description or words on a shoulder patch. It means to change behavior. While I think that there will always be a need for correctional facilities, corrections in its true sense means that inmates can be provided the tools to change-but only if they want to.
There are ‘unsung heroes’ in the criminal justice field-from the court security deputies keeping our courthouses safe to the patrol police officers that lock up the ‘bad guys’. Finally, there are the jail deputies and prison officers that patrol cellblocks, enforce the institutional rules and deal with mentally ill and violent inmates. However, there is another group of unsung heroes-the civilians who work inside juvenile detention centers and adult facilities. They conduct rehabilitation programs, teach inmates and counsel them. This group includes the volunteers from the outside who come inside our correctional facilities to try to make a difference. It is frustrating-sometimes they succeed, and sometimes they do not.
As a jail corrections veteran, I recall seeing many inmates, both male and female, many of them young, displaying the signs of alcohol and drug abuse. We see the delirium tremens, the shakes, the sickness from withdrawals and the tracks on the arms from needles-just to name a few. We see ruined lives, poor health and neglected families. We see mental health issues resulting from drugs and drinking. We see lives wasted from doing ‘life on the installment plan’. In addition, we see inmates go to a program, be released, be rearrested and continue the cycle. We know that many inmates who come into jails display the acute symptoms of substance abuse-right off the street. According to a 2010 Center on Addiction study, an estimated 85 percent of inmates or 1.5 million out of 2.3 million incarcerated inmates, in our nation’s jails and prisons meet the criteria in the DSM-IV for substance abuse and addiction. Almost a half million (458,000) had histories of substance abuse and were under the influence of drugs or alcohol when committing their crimes. This group also included offenders who committed crimes to buy drugs, violated an alcohol or drug law, or were involved in a combination of both. Illegal drugs were implicated in about three fourths of incarcerations in correctional facilities, and alcohol at an estimated 50 percent (Center for Addiction, 2018). The bottom line-drugs and drinking are serious problems.
Correctional systems will always have programs and people willing to work in them. Inmates will say that they want to change-but they have to prove it in actions. Completing a program, doing the hard work, looking hard at one’s self, paying all the court costs and fines, staying clean and sober-these actions say that an offender has changed. Combine these actions with completing probation or parole, getting and keeping a good job, meeting family obligations and staying out of involvement with the criminal justice system (in other words-not being re-arrested), an offender can then say with all honesty: “I’ve changed”.
Partnerships are important. The correctional officer/deputy must be a positive role model for inmates-and must encourage them to get involved in programs. They must provide a safe and secure environment for the non-sworn staff. The non-sworn staff must see through the inmate’s bravado, ‘BS’, manipulations, lies, and steer the offenders the right way. Both the CO and the civilian will see the benefits of change through programs-offenders will live longer, more productive lives-and will not be a threat to our communities. Regrettably, this is not the case with many inmates-but we still must try. Non-sworn staff must let COs know if there is a serious problem with an inmate-such as depression or anger. The COs, though classification and observations, ‘weed’ out problem inmates, who have shown through negative behavior that they should not be in programs. Plus-COs must get around into the areas where civilians work and maintain an atmosphere of security.
In closing-partnerships are what makes corrections-corrections. This is not a cliché-COs and the civilians, from the teacher to the volunteers to the substance abuse counselors, must look out for each other. Moreover-they must appreciate each other. This is a core principle of corrections.
I would like to thank the staff of the Charles County, Maryland Jail in La Plata Maryland. In addition, I would like to thank both sworn and non-sworn staff, who work with offenders every day-a tough job, but a noble one.
Behind Bars II: Substance Abuse and America’s Prison Population, February 2010, Center on Addiction, www.centeronadiction.org
Lt. Gary F. Cornelius retired in 2005 from the Fairfax County (VA) Office of the Sheriff, after serving over 27 years in the Fairfax County Adult Detention Center. His prior service in law enforcement included service in the United States Secret Service Uniformed Division. His jail career included assignments in confinement, work release, programs and classification.
He has been an adjunct faculty member of the Criminology, Law and Society Department at George Mason University since 1986, where he has taught four corrections courses. He also teaches corrections in service sessions throughout Virginia, and has performed training and consulting for the American Correctional Association, the American Jail Association and the National Institute of Justice. His latest book, The Correctional Officer: A Practical Guide: Third Edition was published in April 2017 by Carolina Academic Press. He has authored several other books in corrections. Gary has received a Distinguished Alumnus Award in Social Science from his alma mater, Edinboro University of Pennsylvania and an Instructor Appreciation Award from George Mason University.
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