Many departments of corrections (DOCs) are experiencing critical staff shortages that are reaching crisis levels. This situation has been building for years and it now seems evident that we cannot hire our way out of this near crisis. DOCs are losing as many or more staff than they can orient and hire— many within the first year of employment. The only way out of this situation is to retain the staff we have.
Staff orientation and in-service training have greatly improved in recent years; e-learning and cognitive behavior intervention training have been an important part of this. Yet, we are still experiencing a crippling situation with high turnover and staff burnout. Staff report leaving their positions mainly because of issues with other staff, poor supervisors and a feeling that management cares more about filling positions than about staff well-being.
Staff morale is a major concern in corrections (see Corrections Today, March/April 2019).1 A major contributing factor to low staff morale is micromanagement. Employees do not like to be micromanaged and most supervisors do not want to be known as micromanagers. Micromanagement disempowers, demotivates and disengages staff. It causes a rift between management and staff resulting in staff resisting any changes administration wants to make, which often leads to frustration and stagnation.
Many departments of corrections (DOCs) are experiencing critical staff shortages that are reaching crisis levels. This situation has been building for years and it now seems evident that we cannot hire our way out of this near crisis. DOCs are losing as many or more staff than they can orient and hire — many within the first year of employment.
Today’s prison culture is focused on custody, control and care of inmates, and thus, the focus is often put on security and the inmates. This singular focus has created some serious problems for prison staff, resulting in high employee turnover, physical and psychological problems. What is the solution to this problem we have created? Security is an important part of the answer, but there is much more to the answer than just security.
Significant advances in reducing recidivism have been made with Second Chances Act and Justice Reinvestment Act funding. The focus inmost of these funded programs has been on pre-incarceration diversion and services and post-release services, which are critically important. These include drug courts, veteran treatment courts, Stepping Up, mental health diversion, Ban the Box, government IDs, reducing technical parole/probation violations, etc.
To understand the process by which the immersive-experiential methodology impacts attitude, it may be helpful to explain how the brain works [as we understand it today] and how attitudes are developed. An external [or internal] event or stimulus occurs and the brain first processes it subconsciously in the amygdala, our fight-flight-freeze center, which determines if there is danger.
TACT trainings were provided to over 70% of the Philadelphia Prison System staff resulting in an improvement in the working culture, improved interdepartmental cooperation and a 94% reduction in documented use of force in the intake unit. This ACA “Corrections Today” feature article describes the program and its impact.
The punitive culture in our correctional system has produced expanding budgets and high levels of recidivism –both indications of a failed system. There have been attempts at changing negative prison cultures, but few have succeeded. One training design has proven itself with staff development training as well as inmate rehabilitation; it is the Attitude Transformation Model Training. Research proven, this model has been shown to be effective in a number of prison systems. The rationale for its success and examples of its impact are reviewed in this article.
This article by John Shuford, published in American Jails (the magazine of the American Jail Association) describes how changing the culture changes everything.
International Association of Correctional Training Personnel; “The Correctional Trainer” Feature Article
In this article by John Shuford published in The Correctional Trainer in 2004 find out how the health and well being of any group, organization or agency is directly and inextricably linked to the health and maturity of its internal culture. The more mature the inner culture, the higher the morale, productivity, creativity and quality of service or product.
The Alternatives to Violence Project [AVP] has been very effective at changing attitudes and behaviors, reducing anger, increasing empathy and reducing recidivism. Focusing on this last outcome, reducing recidivism, it is generally accepted that there are nine criminogenic risk factors that are predictors of recidivism. These factors in order of importance are: attitude, peers, personality, employment, family, substance abuse, housing and finance, personal distress and socio-economic status.
The fourth issue of Volume 9 of Research in Review features a summary of the second phase of the Pennsylvania Department of Correction’s (PA DOC) Parole Violator Study. This study was initiated in late 2002 in response to growing numbers of parole violator admissions to the PA DOC. The intent of the study was to determine the factors relating to success or failure on parole and to assemble a broad inventory of the needs of released offenders in order to prioritize departmental resources and develop more effective treatment services.
Excerpts from “What Works in Corrections; Reducing the Criminal Activities of Offenders and Delinquents” A meta-analysis of thousands of studies by Doris Layton MacKenzie.