In 1971, Chief Justice Warren E. Burger proposed the establishment of a “National Corrections Academy.” He explained that “the management and operation of penal institutions have desperately needed such a nationally coordinated program to train every level of prison personnel...as the Department of Justice has done with police administrators.”
In 1974, Burger’s lobbying contributed to the creation of the National Institute of Corrections (NIC), a small agency, located within the Federal Bureau of Prisons, tasked with providing management training and best-practices recommendations to federal, state and local prisons, jails, and community-corrections systems.
Although an important step forward, the NIC was not the prestigious and high-powered academy that Chief Justice Burger had in mind. In early 1981, he reprised his proposal for a corrections academy equivalent to the FBI Academy in Quantico, Virginia.
Later that year, the NIC managed to establish a National Corrections Academy on the campus of the University of Colorado at Boulder.
While an important step, the academy was a very modestly-funded operation, a far cry from the FBI Academy in size or resources. While today’s NIC Academy has an impressive new home in Aurora, Colorado, and plays an important role in disseminating training programs and best practices, its $2.5 million annual budget has not increased since 1995.
It has no equivalent to the FBI Academy’s leadership course, which law-enforcement executives from all over the world view as extremely valuable training and a prestigious professional credential.
Although the NIC’s academy, state departments of corrections, some professional correctional associations, and some college and university criminal justice departments offer education and training for senior correctional officials, none of these is a “brain center” for research, curriculum development, and leadership training.
It makes no sense that the country with the world’s largest penal infrastructure, and that spends $70 billion annually on corrections, has no corrections-specific national flagship training and research college.
Just as the FBI Academy has established the U.S. as the world leader in democratic policing, the NCC would aim to establish the U.S. as the world leader in democratic corrections. Success, or even substantial progress, in achieving this goal would have huge payoffs domestically and for the U.S.’s international reputation for respecting human rights.
The proposed NCC would expand on Chief Justice Burger’s vision of a prestigious institution dedicated to researching, teaching, and promoting competent, effective, and ethical correctional leadership.
It would stand at the apex of the nation’s correctional-training infrastructure: providing leadership and management education; generating, evaluating, and certifying curricula; promoting and disseminating best training protocols, courses, and pedagogies; and serving as a forum for connecting federal, state, and local correctional leaders with one another, with foreign prison and jail officials, and with leading academics and business leaders.
The NCC must have a distinguished dean. There should be at least twenty-five full-time faculty members, including world-class corrections leaders and scholars with expertise in management, public administration, law, psychology, sociology, ethnic studies, organizational politics, and corrections and criminal justice. There must be opportunities to accommodate a small number of American and foreign academics and correctional leaders for stints of several weeks to several months.
The NCC’s students should be executive-level prison, jail, and community-corrections administrators. The heads of state and county correctional agencies could nominate candidates, but the NCC must have control over admissions.
Because busy prison and jail personnel will not be able to leave their jobs for longer than three consecutive weeks, the NCC’s intensive courses should combine residential, online, and independent study. The core curriculum should draw on and adapt business school and public administration curricula.
Courses should include a heavy dose of management, leadership, law, human relations, budgeting, cost-benefit analysis, and organization theory.
The NCC should offer specialized short courses on pressing issues. All of NCC’s courses should aim not only to develop students’ leadership skills, but also to produce educational materials, curricula and policy proposals.
An NCC would not monopolize all corrections training. Even in its most robust form, it could not train all, or even a substantial number, of the nation’s correctional executives in all required knowledge, skills and competencies.
However, a well-staffed and well-supported NCC could begin the hard work of transforming the disparate mélange of training programs into a more coordinated network that generates, identifies, and advances good ideas, curricula, courses, teachers, and pedagogical methodologies.
It's also important the NCC links correctional training to private and public sector developments in management, public administration, higher-education research, law, social science, criminal justice generally and corrections specifically, and certifies or rates courses offered by other providers.
The NCC could advance the objectives of the professional correctional associations by enriching (and perhaps certifying) their training initiatives.
It could also serve as a forum for these associations’ leaders to meet with one another and with academics, researchers and other experts, to develop training curricula and policy initiatives.
In addition, the NCC could provide college and university criminal justice departments with research opportunities by affording U.S. and foreign academics an opportunity to teach and conduct research at the NCC.
We do not underestimate the political impediments to establishing the NCC. In 1981, Chief Justice Burger observed that “1981 is hardly the year in which to propose large public expenditures for new programs to change...penal institutions.”
Today, with federal, state, and local governments facing the worst budget crises since the Great Depression, is an even less auspicious time to advocate a new (even very modest) federal expenditure.
However, there will probably never be a propitious time for advocating that federal legislators spend taxpayer money to improve prisons, jails, and community-corrections.
We would do well to recall Chief Justice Burger’s sound observation that [i]mprovements [in our prison systems] . . . will cost less in the long run than the failure to make them.”
From Jacobs, James B. and Cooperman, Kerry T., "A Proposed National Corrections College" (2012). New York University Public Law and Legal Theory Working Papers. Paper 327. http://lsr.nellco.org/nyu_plltwp/327
James B. Jacobs is the Warren E. Burger Professor at New York University School of Law and the Director of the Center for Research in Crime & Justice. His contributions to prison scholarship include Stateville: The Penitentiary in Mass Society (1977) and New Perspectives on Prison and Imprisonment (1980) as well as numerous articles on prisons and prisoners’ rights. He is a graduate of John Hopkins University (B.A,) and the University of Chicago (J.D. and Ph.D.).
Kerry T. Cooperman is an Associate at the law firm of Stroock & Stroock & Lavan.