Are we facing a loss of control in corrections?

Ideologies and managerial qualms have surfaced that impact corrections and, in my opinion, have caused severe damage

There are three main modes of thought in American penology:

  1. The incapacitation theory advocates higher imprisonment rates because offenders are unable to commit new crimes once incarcerated.
  2. The deterrence theory postulates that the punishment of one individual can deter that individual from future criminality (specific) and, potentially, can deter others from deviance (general).
  3. The rehabilitation theory argues that through education, cognitive reconstruction and other various forms of self-improvement, offenders can mend themselves and reduce their own deviance.

Different political regimes champion different causes and agendas. Generally speaking, conservative ideology tends to favor incapacitation and deterrence, while liberal ideology tends to advocate rehabilitation. These influences and agendas are pushed in all forms of government from local sheriff departments to Congress.

Lack of accountability is not specific just to community corrections, it also impacts institutions.
Lack of accountability is not specific just to community corrections, it also impacts institutions. (Photo/Pixabay)

Unfortunately, corrections (both institutional and community facets) can fall victim to wars of ideology and the impact is both brazen and powerful. What I believe we are currently seeing in corrections is a loss of control.

Path to Loss of Control: Offender and Officer Accountability

By its definition, corrections means "to set or make true, accurate, or right." The three modes of thought in American penology, in a roundabout way, advocate the fixing of a problem or behavior.

To me, current academia and practice does not pose any “wrong” way to correct behavior; however, other ideologies and managerial qualms have surfaced that impact corrections and, in my opinion, have caused severe damage.

Let’s discuss offender accountability.

Offenders, especially in community corrections, have acted abhorrently and often without consequences. I have personally observed or had knowledge of probationers and/or parolees testing positive for illicit narcotics, failing to report to their supervising officers, being arrested for new crimes, and failing to honor the rules and conditions set forth by sentencing courts.

Colleagues from across the nation have supplemented my personal observations by disseminating examples of offenders committing new crimes and not being held accountable.

In one instance, an offender was arrested for several felonies while on supervision and was not revoked; instead, the community corrections officer was held accountable for not attempting to locate the offender within policy guidelines after the offender missed an office visit. From my understanding, the officer wrote the offender up a multitude of times to include the new felony charges.

The mode of thought has shifted from one end of the pendulum to the other and, as a result, officers face scrutiny for offender behavior. In the example I cited, the officer was scrutinized for policy reasons even though the officer had utilized every effort to incapacitate a dangerous felon.

Not only is the offender not receiving any tangible consequence, but the officers are being scrutinized for the offenders’ behaviors! Where is the offender accountability? Since when do we punish officers who are doing everything they can to tactfully monitor felons in the community? Why, when an offender commits an egregious felony, are officers called to the chopping block? Sure, officers need to be held at a much higher standard than offenders (this is obvious), but are they responsible for an offender making the decision to commit a crime?

Supervising the file, not the offender

I would be remiss if I did not mention that officers in some jurisdictions were being told to supervise the file, NOT the offender.

By this, I mean file audits are JUST that. Managers pull files to ensure that “T’s” are crossed and “I’s” are dotted. The file is used as the singular method of supervision. This, to me, is warped. Phone calls, verbal counseling, emails and other correspondence used by officers to monitor offenders may not always be in the file, especially when an officer’s caseload exceeds one hundred offenders. The fact of the matter is that the file can look flawless and the offender can be poorly monitored.

Conversely, the file may be superficially lacking, but the officer could be very much in control of monitoring an offender. In my opinion, the file is used by management to discipline officers for various reasons as opposed to assist officers with enforcement and supervision. It has turned into a situation where audits are being utilized to analyze officers’ actions and/or inactions but offenders remain immune from scrutiny.

This lack of accountability is not specific just to community corrections, it also impacts institutions.

Offenders have been pushing the envelope on religious freedom to an unrealistic degree and many offenders operate nefariously under the guise of the first amendment. No legal departments want to fight the battle with human rights, so offenders are often left to their own devices to manipulate the system. In several states, I have personally witnessed directives for officers not to search certain religious artifacts such as prayer rugs or medicine bags. How can we ensure safety and security if certain items cannot be searched? Sure, many inmates that follow certain religions may adhere to the rules and not use their artifacts to conceal contraband. However, if other inmates see that certain items cannot be touched by staff, they will petition to switch their religion post-haste and hoard contraband in areas they know won’t be searched.

We must emphasize accountability

The history of corrections is one of control. Albeit gruesome and, in some cases, devastating, early corrections held steadfast beliefs that offenders were accountable for actions. I am certainly not suggesting that offenders’ rights become obsolete and inhumane treatment once again reign supreme. However, I am advocating that control needs to be reestablished. Offenders are accountable for their own behavior and officers should not be punished for those behaviors.

Systemically, we need to reevaluate current practices and operations. Legislation should be solicited to address problems in corrections. This should be done in every state, as many states experience the same trends and issues.

I believe that more protections should be afforded to the corrections departments across the nation to ensure that holding offenders accountable is not depicted as deprivation of civil liberties. This is no easy task, especially in a tumultuous political climate.

Additionally, we must realize that incarceration calls for the INFRINGEMENT of offenders’ rights. In order to run a correctional facility safely, we cannot allow for offenders to hide behind the freedoms of the constitution to further their own criminal enterprises. Control must be reestablished. If our goal is to correct behavior, we are setting an unfortunate example by allowing offenders to live without repercussions while punishing officers who are only trying to excel in their respective job capacities.

Any opinions expressed or information conveyed in this article are those of the author alone, and not the Department of Corrections nor any of its affiliates.

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