Experts weigh in: 5 things the corrections field needs in 2018

As the new year approaches, can corrections find a way to regroup and move forward in a positive direction?


2017 was a difficult year for the corrections profession. Broken systems continued to expose vulnerabilities on many levels and correctional staff paid the ultimate price.

Concerns like understaffing, incentives to retain and recruit correctional officers, inadequate training, equipment deficits, and lack of professional status and recognition have led to battle cries for change from the many who work behind the wall.

In this Thursday, Feb. 20, 2014 file photo, inmates wait to enter a there assigned cell block at the Deuel Vocational Institution in Tracy, Calif. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli, File)
In this Thursday, Feb. 20, 2014 file photo, inmates wait to enter a there assigned cell block at the Deuel Vocational Institution in Tracy, Calif. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli, File)

As 2018 approaches, can corrections find a way to regroup and move forward in a positive direction? Opinions are mixed, but one thing remains constant: Change is needed. 

Here is a wish list of changes CorrectionsOne columnists and contributors hope to see in 2018:

1. Increase resources

For retired prison Security Major Wayne Sanderson, if changes are not made, more deaths, injuries, riots and escapes will occur: “Prisons cannot run shorthanded and at, or barely above, minimum wage, and operate safely and securely.”

2. Acquire peace officer status

Retired Sergeant R. Hamilton of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation believes things will get worse before they get any better, but he still feels there is hope.

“The right way forward in corrections will rely on three things: Status, training and equipment. All corrections officers need peace officer status and training commensurate with such status, along with the appropriate safety equipment and weaponry to get the job done,” said Hamilton. “Too many departments have been remiss in these areas for too long and it is high time to rectify such faults.”

Rev. Dr. Deril Stubenrod, a national first responder chaplain, agrees: “If correctional officers are formally recognized as law enforcement professionals, they will finally get a lot of the missing assets to do their jobs safely.”

3. Improve training

Gary Cornelius, author and retired lieutenant at Fairfax County Sheriff’s Department, believes we must provide training in areas like special needs inmates, civil rights and inmate manipulation.

“First, we need training in how to handle the special needs of inmates such as those who are mentally ill and suicidal, and the elderly,” said Cornelius. “Second, instead of reacting emotionally to civil rights cases, COs must learn to keep stress under control. This includes new directions in our use of isolation. Finally we read too much about staff being manipulated, including sexually. When will we as a profession have that under control?”

4. Equip COs

When it comes to equipment, Dave Bohl, former correctional officer from the Saginaw County Sheriff’s Department, is quick to remind us how technology can assist correctional officers with their duties.

“In 2018, I see technology and corrections moving forward together,” said Bohl. “Technology will be made affordable for correctional facilities and local, state and federal budget managers must take advantage of this. This will help make facilities safe and secure. Management must equip their officers with the necessary equipment to defend themselves such as less lethal force options and stab- and slash-resistant vests.”

5. Address overcrowding

Curtis Isele, a special agent for the Kansas Department of Corrections, sees two major issues that may travel into 2018.

Overcrowding – combating the problematical existence of mass incarceration – and offender rights – individual rights may be overshadowing safety and security. The pendulum has shifted in such a way that offenders are being favored. It is my opinion that the restoration of justice depends on holding offenders accountable! Punitive countermeasures for law violators can coexist with positive reinforcement for those who act in an acceptable manner.”

Isele further states, “Individual freedoms, while a hallmark of this nation, also are afflicting prisons with more contraband, covert conversations and offenders believing they don’t need to follow rules. 

He believes that more outreach from the community is needed. “We need to reach kids to believe they don’t have to be incarcerated. We need society to understand our function and help with our cause,” said Isele.

Conclusion

All are in agreement that the corrections profession has some serious issues to address in 2018. Concerns have been brought to the table in 2017 and are still waiting to be addressed in a consistent manner.

The corrections field is evolving and, with that evolution, there is a need for balance between safety and security and inmate rehabilitation. In 2018, we hope to find that balance and ensure every facility is invested in both the interests of staff and inmates alike.

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