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5 myths about corrections that the public believe are true

It would be great if corrections could tell their story and permanently remove the myths that have plagued their profession

Let’s be honest, the public has no idea what goes on behind the wall. The work of correctional professionals remain hidden from public view and, unfortunately, the media has twisted their existence into stories that are solely meant to build ratings. 

So, in an effort to educate the public about the correctional profession, I asked those in the field, “What are some of the myths about corrections that the public believe to be true?” Here’s what they had to say:

1. Administrative segregation / solitary confinement is not needed. It’s torture!
“Inmates are not simply thrown in segregation at the whim of the officer. Every inmate in segregation status has earned their way into that status by their misbehavior,” said Captain Keith Hellwig of the Wisconsin DOC (and author of No Place Like Home).

In agreement with Captain Keith Hellwig, the inmates that are placed in solitary, or administrative segregation, are not victims of the system, rather they are the agressors who have committed actions that warrant their removal from general population. If the public continues to see the inmates as victims (manipulate) then the misdeeds of the few will go unpunished and the safety of the facility will be in jeopardy. 

As for torture, inmates in solitary, or administrative segregation, are visited daily by health care providers and are provided with constant programming that aids in rehabilitation.

2. The media always portrays the truth
“Prisons are not what is portrayed by the media. Most people in the “freeworld” have no idea how manipulative and deceitful some of these inmates are, even with their own families. There are many opportunities for inmates to receive skills and enroll in rehabilitative programs that can improve their present and future. They just need to make the effort and decision that they want a better life,” said Eva Shiver, Program Supervisor, Department of Criminal Justice.

Corrections has evolved and rehabilitation has become the main focus. There are many departments within corrections that devote their expertise to rehabilitation (mental health, education, social services, drug treatment counselors, religious services etc.). But, in order for true rehabilitation to occur, those in need must make the effort. True change can only occur when the inmate stops blaming others and begins taking personal responsibility for their actions.

3. To relate to an inmate, an individual has to go down to their level
Some would say that to properly relate to an inmate, you have to “get down on his/her level”. I would disagree. Part of the “correcting” of corrections is modeling positive behavior and bringing them up to our level. That thougt is from David Wakefield (Pa.) DOC Deputy Secretary Retired.

Rehabilitation builds on correcting past behaviors and moving the inmate forward. Therefore, even though there is a slight emphasis on the past, rehabilitation is more about preparing the inmate for tomorrow. 

4. Correctional officers are uneducated
I think the public thinks correctional officers are dumb brutes serving a baby sitting custodial function. The truth is correctional officers are highly trained and deal with highly complex and dangerous situations every shift they work. The danger, the challenges and the stress are all too real. That was from Russell Hamilton, Retired Sergeant, California Department of Corrections.

The public still sees Correctional Officers as knuckle draggers who remain idle and just turn keys. This perception is far from the truth. Correctional Officers are law enforcement professionals who wear many hats (educator, mental health, role model, etc.), but most importantly, they enforce the rules and regulations of the state in which they serve. They are true law enforcement professionals and a major key to all the rehabilitative efforts that occur behind the wall. 

“Rehabilitation is an art painted on a canvas that was provided by Correctional Officers.” Anthony Gangi, Host of Tier Talk and C1 Columnist.

5. All correctional officers are corrupt
“The public has accused correctional officers as being corrupt and involved in a major part of the prison contraband problem. The truth is, a very small percentage of officers engage in improper conduct. The media in most cases only reports on the bad apples and not the life saving, honest, hard working officers protecting the inmates, prison staff and the community,” said CorrectionsOne Columnist Gary York.

Unfortunately, the public has a habit of generalizing the negative actions of one individual and using it as a way to define the whole profession. Corrections is not defined by the negative actions of one, but rather the heroic efforts of the many. Corrections is an honorable profession and should be given the respect it deserves. 

In short, Corrections serves its function within the shadows of Law Enforcement. Behind the wall, there are many who dedicate their lives to protect and serve the public. They are true professionals and deserve our respect. 

Right now, corrections is judged by the misinformed. Those who place judgement are far removed from the honest and professional work that resides behind the wall. It would be great if corrections could tell their story and permanently remove the myths that have plagued their profession.

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