The seismic challenges corrections faced in 2017
It was a tumultuous year in corrections as prison riots threatened facility security, and correctional officers were seriously assaulted and murdered
2017 hit corrections hard. It was a year that devastated the field as facilities struggled with understaffing, inmate riots destroyed safety and security, and correctional officers were assaulted and murdered.
I hope that corrections will rise from the ashes in 2018, but in order for this to occur, the profession needs to see some serious changes.
The current focus on inmate rehabilitation has blinded lawmakers into creating an unbalanced system.
Recently, the Michigan Legislature voted to let prison agencies hire felons. The legislation was headed by Michigan’s Governor Rick Snyder. Officials were quick to point out that those being hired would go through an extensive background check (never mentioning what they are looking for) and, at no time, would the public be at risk. Each hire would also need the approval from the department director (hate to be them).
With the push for better job opportunities for felons, the reasoning behind this new policy is simple: the Corrections Department wants to lead by example. It goes without doubt that many are worried this new move will open the door to convicted felons landing high-level positions.
Assaults on correctional officers
At the beginning of the year, national attention was given to a prison riot at James T. Vaughn Correctional Institution in Delaware in which Sgt. Steven Floyd was murdered.
For once, the nation witnessed the dangers of working in corrections. Questions surfaced, including the most critical one: “Could this riot have been avoided?” As management scrambled to provide an answer, frontline staff stepped up and said, with valid proof, “Yes.”
Concerns like understaffing, poor equipment, poor classification methods and lack of training (to name a few), became the focus of attention as frontline staff opened up and stated how these concerns were ignored by management.
As correctional leadership saw that they could no longer use their ignorance of problems as an excuse for inaction, they sold out their frontline by stating that they were not responsible for the safety of their staff.
Corrections in North Carolina took a serious hit when five of their own were murdered by inmates.
In April, Sgt. Meggan Callahan (Bertie Correctional Institution) was murdered by an inmate during Callahan’s effort to save lives. After a successful attempt to draw Callahan into a housing dorm, an inmate set fire in the dorm and the life-saving tool Callahan was going to use to put out the fire became the murder weapon used to kill her. She died a hero. Her last effort to save the lives of many should stand as a reminder of who we are and the role we play.
In October, North Carolina was hit yet again. This time, four brave correctional staff members (Correction Officer Justin Smith, Corrections Supervisor Veronica Darden, Corrections Officer Wendy Shannon and maintenance employee Geoffrey Howe) were killed by four inmates who were attempting to escape from the Pasquotank Correctional Institution. Again, previous concerns about understaffing, poor equipment and lack of training had been ignored by management prior to the incident.
In June, the state of Georgia took a hit as two correctional officers were killed during a prisoner transport. Officers Curtis Billue and Christopher Monica were murdered by two inmates who broke out of the locked area of the transport bus, overpowered the two officers, and shot and killed them both. Eventually, the two inmates were caught and brought to justice, but questions still remain in regards to the safety and security of inmate transports. Questions about equipment (vest) and proper staffing arose (where was the chase vehicle?), and unfortunately many are still left wondering, “Could this have been prevented?” The answer is YES.
Assaults on correctional officers are also on the rise. Rikers Island in particular has been through changes that leaves staff vulnerable. Movement to limit the use of solitary confinement has left few options for handling inmates who pose a threat to security. Rikers correctional officers are continually getting assaulted in an environment that seems to welcome the threat as opposed to alleviating it.
Frontline staff and management must communicate
As we move toward 2018, communications must improve between frontline staff and management. Correctional leaders can no longer turn a blind eye to the concerns of their frontline staff.
With stress and tension on the rise, management needs to invest in peer support groups. These groups specialize in addressing staff after a critical incident. It gives correctional officers a chance to debrief and helps relieve job-related stresses.
2018 needs to be a year where the frontline has a voice. If the correctional profession is to be successful, we must work as a team. Frontline staff need to be heard and they need to be heard now.