Top 10 corrections resolutions for 2012

As we get ready to ring in the new year, a good plan is to develop detailed goals that are more realistic for lasting societal change in a correctional setting

By Robert Hood

As 2011 comes to an end, it is time to make plans for 2012. Many people are thinking of resolutions for the New Year. Each year millions of adults resolve to "get in shape" or "lose weight." While the effort to adopt resolutions shows an optimistic sense of good intent personally, the same idea can be applied to your profession as a corrections officer.

As we get ready to ring in 2012, it's a good time to develop detailed goals that are more realistic for lasting societal change in a correctional setting.

During recent personal visits to jails, prisons, and community corrections facilities, along with criminal justice conference attendance, I heard recurring themes from colleagues across the United States. No specific order was used in preparing this list of initiatives for corrections:

1. Recommend changes for new FBOP director. Since 1930 only seven directors served the Federal Bureau of Prisons (FBOP). Harley Lappin retired on May 7, 2011 after eight years as the agency's most recent director, and the agency has been without a leader for the past eight months.

On December 21 the Attorney General appointed Charles Samuels, Jr. to serve as the 8th Director. Samuals was the FBOP's Assistant Director since January 2011. He was responsible for all inmate management and program functions.

Recommendations to improve the federal prison system include:
• Provide greater public/media access to institutions to enhance offender reentry initiatives
• Increase evidenced-based programs designed to reduce recidivism
• Develop proactive training to reduce the level of staff misconduct

The FBOP has 217,000 inmates and 38,000 staff. Most local and state correctional systems follow the federal system's model. Director Samuels will be tasked to bring major changes during budget and staff reductions.

2. Discontinue glorifying hardcore sheriffs/jail administrators. Greater recognition is needed for the men and women who effectively manage our nation's 2.3 million offenders. Far too much attention is placed on controversial leaders using pink underwear, tent cities, roundups of illegal immigrants, and other "above the law" tactics.

3. Provide geographic uniformity in capital punishment. Thirty-four states have the death penalty (16 states and the District of Columbia do not have capital crimes). More than 98 percent of the men and women on death rows across the United States are incarcerated as a result of state laws. If the public wants to maintain capital punishment, then provide more consistency among states.

4. Address mental illness in correctional settings. There is an inherent disconnect between the security mission and mental health considerations. There are perhaps as many as 300,000 offenders in jails and prisons suffering from mental disorders, including schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and major depression. Mental health services are often limited to brief cell-side conversations with mental health staff, and excessive use of medication. Incarceration by its very nature has an adverse effect on mental health.

5. Reduce levels of incarceration. America has one-quarter of the world's prisoners. More than seven million people are under correctional supervision in this country. We are not just incarcerating dangerous predators. More than one million prisoners in the United States are serving time for nonviolent offenses. In the federal prison system, for example, 55.7 percent of the inmates are classified as minimum or low security. Approximately 50 percent off all federal offenders are in for drug offenses. Eleven percent are held for immigration offenses.

The prison population is growing 13 times faster than the general population and is cost-prohibited. State correctional spending has quadrupled in the last two decades and now totals $52 billion a year.

Reduce sentences for non-violent offenders. Start with the 100,000 youth under the age of 18 that are released from juvenile correctional facilities each year. Analyze their prison experience and reduce this target group currently inside institutional settings. We should invest in our public schools instead of schools of crime.

6. Assist children of the offender. More than 54 percent of offenders are parents with minor children. One in every 28 children has a parent incarcerated. Two-thirds of these children's parents were incarcerated for nonviolent offenses. Work to reduce the cycle of crime by helping to mentor children without ongoing parental support.

7. Start "correcting" in "correctional institutions." Far too many facilities are just housing offenders. The label "correctional institution" should be earned. It needs to be applied to public and private facilities exceeding the basic requirements used during internal and external audits. New facilities should be constructed with reentry to the community in mind. Remember 95 percent of all offenders are released to the community. How people are handled as inmates will determine how they interact in public.

Key indicators such as recidivism rates, evidence-based reentry programs, percentage of inmate enrollments, and other positive characteristics need to be measured. Institutions are public buildings. Engage families and community members in the entire incarceration and reentry process.

8. Close GITMO (The Guantanamo Bay Detention Facility). The Gitmo facility holds only 171 detainees on 45 square-miles of a piece of island. The prison is the most expensive prison on earth, with base renovations estimated around $2 billion. The cost of housing each detainee is 30 times the cost of keeping a captive on United States soil. The nation's most secure federal prison in Colorado currently holds only 451 sentenced inmates; mostly terrorists, gang members, and spies. Shut down Gitmo and place these detainees in a separate section of this facility. Administrators will just need to separate those sentenced from detainees. An inmate population totaling 622 should be no problem for the "Alcatraz of the Rockies."

9. Enhance evidence-based reentry programs. Budget reductions often lead to diminished program opportunities for offenders. Since most inmates will return to the community, effective programs should be identified and retained. Victim offender mediation, faith-based programs, education/vocational classes, drug treatment, parenting, alternatives to violence, and contemplative offerings (meditation, yoga, prayer) should be offered. Use of volunteers provides an invaluable asset for correctional staff. Without effective intervention programs, we are merely postponing the time when prisoners return to prison. If states could reduce their recidivism rates by just 10 percent, they could save more than $635 million combined in one year alone in averted prison costs.

10. Enhance staff training and address misconduct. Staffing issues have become more critical in the face of budget reductions. Ongoing staffing analysis is needed. Quality training and proactive discussions on reducing staff misconduct would be of value.

Policy statements should identify an adequate number and types of staff to ensure the safety and security of staff, conduct operations, programs, and activities. The policy should also state the authority behind it (statutes, etc.). Staff should receive ongoing training on ethics using data from those who were found guilty of sustained misconduct.

Resolutions are much easier to make than to keep. Hopefully during 2012 correctional practitioners will strive to improve the correctional "system" by using the resolutions provided.

What is your corrections-focused resolution for 2012? What resolution do you think decision makers in the field should be making? Tell us in the comments below.

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