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The time has passed for the wardens’ shuffle

It’s a new day – emphasis must be on family and work balance


I call it the wardens’ shuffle – when wardens are randomly moved every couple of years to a new facility. Lots of agencies do it but I’m not sure it’s the right thing anymore. Some agencies shuffle assistant wardens and majors as well, frequently upsetting the apple cart.

Originally, the shuffling of wardens was done to prevent them from becoming “unduly familiar” with staff. Many lived on the grounds of the facility in staff housing and were friends and neighbors with those with whom they worked. It created an incestuous relationship which was wrought for corruption. It was thought that a new set of eyes at the facility would help it move forward. Wardens were moved to new facilities every couple of years whether they wanted to or not.

I remember when I worked for Florida Department of Corrections staff anxiously awaited the promotion and transfer list. Oftentimes wardens were moved without input or consideration for families and roots. It’s hard to move around so much, especially in a job that is high stress to begin with. Today, I find myself in Texas – only 1900 miles away from my family. The good news is it allows me to work – all the time. I come in early, stay late, work weekends basically because I have no life away from my family and friends. I’ve been away from home since 2010. Frankly it’s amazing my family has tolerated it.

I remember calling my friend Michelle (a fellow warden at the time) and venting to her about being away from my family my first year. She laughed and told me she had lived apart from her husband and family for the past nine years! Nine years? Really? I thought I was going to cry.

Perhaps there are costs and benefits to doing the wardens’ shuffle. New eyes and management styles might be good at a facility but agencies need to remember that a happy warden is a more productive, more efficient warden. Accommodations should be made to match administrators with facilities that can utilize their talents and accommodate their home life.

There are unintended consequences to the wardens’ shuffle as well. Middle management gains power and authority because they know the warden “won’t be around for long.” It empowers, what I refer to, as the “slow walk” – slowing down change implementation until the administration turns over. Staff learns to wait you out, which can be detrimental to progress in this business.

It’s a new day – emphasis must be on family and work balance. Agencies need to be sensitive to the needs of their employees and slow down the wardens’ shuffle. I don’t care for the music anyway.

Laura E. Bedard began her work in corrections as a jail administrator in 1984. During her tenure as administrative faculty for the College of Criminology at Florida State University, she ran a study-abroad program in the Czech Republic lecturing on crime topics in an emerging democracy. In 2005, she became the first female Deputy Secretary of the Florida Department of Corrections. There she was responsible for 27,000 state employees and over 200,000 offenders in the third largest correctional system in the country. Dr. Bedard has published and lectured on a number of corrections-related topics including women in prison, mental health issues and correctional leadership. Dr. Bedard is currently serving as the Chief of Corrections for the Seminole County Sheriff’s Office in Sanford, Florida.