Top 10 correctional issues for 2011
Corrections1 columnist Gary Klugiewiez offers his predictions for the topics that will be making the news next year
By Gary Klugiewiez
Editor’s note: I had a chance to speak with resident corrections expert Gary Klugiewicz recently about his predictions for the topics that will affect corrections workers in the coming year. This interview is the result of that discussion. – Drew Johnson, Corrections1 Editor
GK: Funding is affecting every part of government. In corrections, everything is getting cut. Prisons are getting closed, there’s less money for equipment, there are fewer staff, and lower staff/inmate ratios. Everything is getting minimized, including training, which is usually the first thing to go. We all have to do more with less, but eventually there’s nowhere else to cut, and the situation becomes very dangerous.
DJ: This seems like an age-old issue for corrections. Why do you think it will become more problematic in 2011?
GK: Inmates are becoming experts at litigation. They’ve always been good, but they’re getting better and better. All they have is time, and they literally have nothing better to do. It’s sad to say, and I want to remain politically correct here, but decisions are often driven by politics, and settlements are offered to make lawsuits go away, which just inspires other inmates and creates more litigation. It’s a major problem, and it’s only going to get worse.
Radicalization of inmates
DJ: I assume you’ve added this because of the prevalence in the news of terrorist related issues.
GK: It’s not just about Muslim terrorists. It’s street gangs, home-grown terrorists, drug cartels – all are getting more and more violent. They are communicating nationally, and you could easily wind with someone dangerous in your jail and not know it. With the wide-spread use of contraband cell phones, you now have threats to family members of staff outside the prison. We’re dealing with this major issue from homegrown terrorists, as well as foreign born.
Multi-generations/millennium generation workforce
DJ: This is something we don’t hear much about in the news, but other columnists have mentioned to me their concerns about a newer generation of corrections staff mixing with the older generation. How will this play out in the coming years?
GK: There’s always been estrangement between younger and older officers, but now there’s a whole different culture developing. Younger folks these days are always about, “What’s in it for me now?” They want immediate gratification. There are problems with entitlement and lack of commitment. And it’s not just younger officers – even some of the veteran staff have lost their commitment to the good of the group. We’re experiencing a breakdown of the whole team concept.
Mental health issues
DJ: Our excellent healthcare columnist Lorry Schoenly touched on this topic in her end-of-year column. She touched on the growth in elderly inmates and the mental health problems associated with aging; what do you see?
GK: Mental health is a major, major issue, and it’s only getting worse. I’ve seen statistics that up to 70 percent of inmates have mental health issues. They don’t just have behavioral problems, but also physical and menthal health issues. These changing demographics are a sign of the times. With the aging of the population along with lack of adequate medical and mental health care for a growing percentage of our population, it is no wonder that we are facing these growing problems. These special needs inmates are being dumped on us without adequate specialized training and medical and mental health professionals to care for these inmates.
Look how this works together – funding, litigation, mental health, it’s all creating a perfect storm.
DJ: I wondered when we’d come to this topic. It’s not exactly new, but I can see how with all these other issues will only exacerbate the problem.
GK: Yeah, you wonder why we have staff morale problems. But look at how we treat each other. If you’d asked me how many inmates that I really hated, I’d say none – they are the way they are and you don’t expect any different. But you ask me how many staff I hated over my decades in corrections and it would be a very different answer. It’s a sad comment on life, but we don’t support each other, we don’t look out for each other, and then we treat inmates badly because we get treated badly. We have to learn to treat each other better. It doesn’t matter how bad an institution is, how difficult the conditions are — if we treat each other better it’s going to better. Of course, it should start from the top, but we’re not always going to have great leaders of our organizations. Sometimes change needs to start at that the bottom and work up.
DJ: We touched on this with the funding issues, and as a tactical communication trainer yourself, I figured you’d want to come back to it.
GK: Training is hugely important and yet, with all these other problems, it’s the first thing to get cut. We can’t do the old three full day in-service training – those days are gone. We have to develop new delivery systems, which are all online. Everything on Bluetube, PoliceOne Academy and CorrectionsVideo are designed as short training modules that can be done during roll call or on-shift.
Gordon Graham (a risk and liability specialist, attorney and retired captain with the California Highway Patrol) figured out that if you do six minutes of training every day for a year you end up with 24 hrs of documentable training time. And it doesn’t have to be roll call – which many facilities don’t have — it could be on-shift. We don’t have the time, budget, or manpower we once had – it just doesn’t exist. We’re either going to say we’re not going to train, or we’re going to train smarter using the new delivery systems. It’s up to administrators to continue to focus on training in these difficult budget times and support these innovative training delivery initiatives.
Negative media attention
DJ: I’m not even going to link to a negative story as an example. It’s a common complaint among readers that media only covers negative corrections news, and they’re right – we need to generate positive corrections stories.
GK: We absolutely need to focus on the positive. There needs to be an administrative decision to focus on the positive — it’s a matter of going after and pushing out positive content. Positive stories simply aren’t not picked up by media, so we have to focus on them ourselves. There should be a public relations focus within every facility to get positive stories out, whether it’s a collection taken up by officers for Christmas presents for kids, an officer protecting an inmate from harm, a food drive, or whatever. Those stories are out there, and on a slow news day, they’ll print them. But if you wait for the media to create the news, it’s going to be negative.
Midlevel supervisor training
DJ: This topic was a surprise to me. Why do you think frontline supervisors need more training?
GK: One of the biggest problems I see is frontline supervisors who have to evaluate use-of-force incidents, but who don’t have the training, experience, or proper oversight to do it right. Reports are not done properly and the reviews are done poorly or not at all. The result is that officers either get unjustly slam-dunked, or they get away with improper behavior. Either one of these situations can land the agency in state or federal court, which is all part of the litigation and poor training cycle we’ve been talking about.
DJ: This is actually very interesting because it’s the one topic staff has, in some ways, the least control over, and in some ways the most control over.
GK: Our inmates are more combative, more willing to take on authority, and more willing to argue than ever before. People used to be brought up by Leave it to Beaver, but now it’s South Park. Verbal confrontations that can develop into a physical incident have become the norm. Staff members are going to have to learn to deal with a more verbally and physically combative inmate than in the past. That means learning how to deflect, refocus, and get back on track without getting angry and losing control while knowing when words alone fail and action is needed. There has to be an objective standard for how you take care of people — verbally and physically.
DJ: Well, thank you Gary for your insight into these terrifically important topics. We’ll all be watching closely to see how these play out over the coming year (and, most likely, years) and I look forward to touching base with you again in another year to see how these change.
Readers: Have we forgotten a major issue that merits discussion? Post about it in the comments section, or email me with your thoughts and concerns.