Inside the 2013 ACA Winter Conference

Eight themes to breaking the cycle of recidivism

The American Correctional Association’s Winter Conference was held in Houston, Texas on January 25 – 30, 2013. ACA  has a long history dating back to 1870, and at each conference enhancements are made, exceptional training is provided, and corrections professionals return to work better prepared to continue their careers in the criminal justice system.

During the conference, approximately 2,000 correctional professionals attended myriad workshops, demonstrations, prison tours, and planning meetings. 

Conference workshops were classified into the following themes:

• ACA Resources
• Facility Design
• Health Care
• Juveniles
• Reentry
• Security
• Special Offenders
• Staff Training and Development

In speaking to the attendees, Daron Hall, ACA’s President, encouraged participants to attend sessions focused on health care, workforce issues, and a range of programs that are on top-of-mind for criminal justice professionals who strive to reduce recidivism.

President-Elect Christopher Epps, Commissioner, Mississippi Department of Corrections, reinforced topics concerning health care, rehabilitation, segregation, reentry initiatives, and the importance of accreditation. Epps was sworn in as ACA’s 102nd President.

More than 200 exhibitors displayed the latest innovations in corrections-related technology, health care, security, probation, parole, transportation, programs, and training. Facility tours to several local, state, and federal jails and prisons were also arranged.

Keynote Address

Keynote Speaker, Dana Bowman, Sgt. First Class (Ret.) inspired the association with this motto, “It’s Not the Disability, It’s the Ability.” Bowman is a double amputee. He lost his legs in an accident during the U.S. Army’s annual Golden Knights parachute training in Ariz., in 1994.  Nine months later, he turned his tragedy into triumph when he became the first double amputee to reenlist in the U.S. His commended correctional staff attending the conference for their ongoing service.

During the ACA Annual Luncheon, veteran news anchor Laurie Dhue (the only anchor to have hosted shows on the three primary cable news networks: CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News Channel), provided another motivational presentation.  In her 21-year career, Dhue interviewed countless international leaders as well as politicians, celebrities, and newsmakers. She addressed her recovery from alcoholism with nearly six years of continuous sobriety.

A plenary session, “Re-evaluating Administrative Segregation: The Human, Public Safety, and Economic Impact” was moderated by Christopher Epps. A distinguished panel of prison experts examined the following questions:

• Is corrections over-using, or under-using segregation?
• Are there other ways to ensure safety within facilities beyond segregation?
• What should the conditions of confinement be while in administrative segregation?
• What is the effect on people who are segregated long-term?
• Do we control the use of segregation accurately?
• Are we constantly reviewing and evaluating segregated persons?

The Dominant Discussion

From my perspective, eight workshop themes supported a primary goal for finding ways to break the cycle of recidivism. Regardless of the various themes, most sessions focused back to the importance of reducing recidivism. Problems associated with improving “the system” relating to institutional programs, discharge planning and community resources were hot topics.

Correctional administrators continue to seek cost-effective, evidence-based practices in correctional health care, treatment programs, re-entry planning, and other critical areas. Measureable outcomes, operational efficiencies, client compliance and managing risk were discussed in various social settings and during presentations.

Although many great topics were presented, most informal, follow-up discussions were on these workshops:

• Implications of Terrorism on Facility Emergency Planning
• Using Administrative Segregation to Manage Offenders
• Inside the mind of a Prison Gang Leader
• Eradication of Contraband Cell Phones in Prison
• Organ Transplants for Incarcerated Inmates
• Jail Health Services: A Critical Player in Reentry Efforts
• Use of Restraints with Pregnant Offenders
• Health Care for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender and Questioning Youth
• Working With the Aged Offender
• Working Effectively With the Treatment Resistant Sex Offender

Exhibits and Organizations

It was great to see an increase in healthcare-related exhibits.  Exhibit hall materials and technology focused on reenter and reducing recidivism were popular. Improving the continuity of care throughout the criminal justice system was pitched by many vendors. There is a clear need for solutions that matches parolees’ needs around healthcare, housing, employment, and other social services.

The North American Association of Wardens and Superintendents (NAAWS) was one of many organizations providing great support for the ACA conference. Since the organization is comprised of correctional leaders, representatives from NAAWS provide great role models during workshops and related activities. 


Participants at the ACA conference accepted the challenge to take part in a well organized, professional training event.

For correctional professionals who were unable to attend the conference, the ACA Annual (Summer) conference is scheduled for August 9-14, 2013 (location — Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center, National Harbor, Md.).  The North American Association of Wardens & Superintendents (NAAWS) Training Conference will be held May 29 – June 1, 2013, at the Hilton Columbus Downtown, in Columbus, OH.

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