How good security helps inmate re-entry into society

Those who think that officers cannot be security-minded as well as personable may not fully understand the value of sound security practices or the skillset of today’s correctional officer


A few years ago, while attending  corrections-related conference, I overheard a prison  official from a neighboring state remark on the issues of prison security and inmate re-entry, treating them as though they were opposed to each other.

“I’m tired of officers who come to work every day performing pat downs and shakedowns looking for contraband,” he said to the group . “It’s like they do it just so they can say ‘gotcha!’ when they find something.” This individual went on to say that this type of behavior did nothing to help offender re-entry and that the better thing for an officer to do is it to simply ask the offender, “How are you doing today?”

Needless to say, I was frustrated by his comments. This person  failed to realize that officers could do both: be security-minded and personable. Perhaps even more frustrating was the fact that at least a dozen other officials sat and nodded their heads in agreement.

Corrections officer Sgt. Kenny Madden and his canine, Belle, check over prisoners at the Lexington Assessment and Reception Center, in Lexington, Okla. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki, File)
Corrections officer Sgt. Kenny Madden and his canine, Belle, check over prisoners at the Lexington Assessment and Reception Center, in Lexington, Okla. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki, File)

It’s likely that my aggravation was derived from the fact that I had been that officer completing my pat searches and shakedowns each day. I did so not to say “gotcha!” when I found contraband, but because it was my job. I did so in order to create and maintain a safe environment and also because it played a vital role in helping to promote positive change. Those who think that officers cannot be security-minded as well as personable may not fully understand the value of sound security practices or the skillset of today’s correctional officer that allow them to fill this dual role.  

Correctional officers have a duty to protect and one of the key ways they go about fulfilling that duty is through sound security practices, and in the long run this helps to advance successful offender re-entry.

Security is our first priority
Unfortunately, the value and contribution of strong security-minded correctional officers is often dismissed during conversations about treatment, re-entry and reducing recidivism. Their methods are thought by some to be outdated or one dimensional, and their contribution to the treatment process minimal. In the ever-changing landscape of corrections, which places an increasing value on treatment and reducing the likelihood of offenders returning to prison, treatment administrators would be well-served to understand the value and contribution that sound security practices have on treatment.

As corrections professionals, we cannot forget that our first and primary function within corrections is keeping the public, staff and offenders safe by confining convicted persons in a secure, safe and humane way. If corrections departments fail to do this, any other strategies for treatment and programming will be ineffective and are destined for failure. Any good instructor or teacher knows that in order to create an effective learning environment, one of their first missions is creating a safe environment for students. Students must feel physically safe in addition to feeling that they can safely participate and interact with others.

Imagine a high school classroom where students routinely carry combinations of guns, knives or narcotics in a classroom where violence and bullying are a common occurrence. Would this be characterized as a safe environment? Would this environment would be beneficial in advancing the curriculum? Would this environment effectively prepare students to take on the challenges necessary for success in society? Most would agree that it would be foolish to answer “yes” to any of these questions.

Good security is good treatment
Why would we think that safety and sound security practices within our prisons isn’t one of the most vital components of establishing positive change and effective re-entry? Why would we diminish the value that strong, security-minded professionals have on effecting positive change? Unfortunately, this happens too frequently.

I was once told that, “Good security is good treatment.” After some thought, it became clear how profound that statement actually was. Similar to how a house requires a solid foundation from which to build upon, a safe and secure environment is the foundation from which other programs can be built. If the foundation of the house is cracked or crumbling, the structure that’s built above it can be crafted using the finest materials, but it will eventually fall. If the safety and security of a facility is not established and maintained, even the most well-intentioned, well-designed programs are destined to fail. Good security is good treatment.

The success of treatment and re-entry initiatives is not only dependent upon the foundation that’s established by maintaining a safe and secure environment, but the security functions that are fulfilled by those tasked with ensuring security are relevant to assessing treatment needs as well. For instance, an officer taking the time to complete a proper and thorough pat down of an offender which reveals the offender is concealing narcotics contraband can provide crucial information needed to properly target treatment programming. If, for example, the inmate had a prior substance abuse history and had already completed substance abuse treatment making him parole eligible, the information gathered from the pat down may indicate the need for relapse classes and show the offender is not quite ready to meet the demands of parole.

Disciplinary notices or behavior logs documenting offender behaviors can be used by case managers to target programming with regard to substance abuse, anger issues, criminal thinking, or other criminogenic needs. Correctional officers generally spend more time with offenders than other staff members, therefore their observations of inmate attitudes and behaviors are vital in establishing a true baseline from which a case manager may begin building a treatment plan.

It only seems to be a matter of time until the newest and best thing will sweep into corrections replacing the old and outdated newest and best thing. Innovative studies and research will bring fresh ideas for bringing about positive change with offenders and treatment professionals will constantly work to solve the problem of recidivism. With all the new changes and innovations one thing has and will remain a constant: Sound security practices will continue to build the foundation of safety and the correctional officer will be the architect of that foundation.

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