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Innovation in Corrections
By Terry Campbell, Professor, Purdue University Global
Published: 02/12/2018

Inovation Corrections continues to face many challenges in 2018. The following are those I found most important in my opinion; staffing and turn over, technology needs, over-crowding, lack of resources, recidivism, release along with supervision and programming needs, revocation along with technical violations and new offense, managing high-risk and low-risk offenders, who goes to prison, communication and non-English speaking offenders, politics, priorities and justifications, many innovative ideas and practices, long term results, safety and security concerns, litigation concerns, and other. As you can see the list can go on and on and I am sure you have some additional items to include. Each topic alone is an article in itself. This is the reason I have only selected a few to discuss.

When I did a search for innovation, there were only 659,000,000 hits. The Merriam Webster Dictionary site, www.merriam-webster.com provided the following key words associated with ‘innovation.’ (Change, alteration, transformation, new method or idea). Yes, there were also some additional words. My point being innovation is necessary to help corrections professionals in addressing and finding solutions for the areas identified previously. While conducting some research, I came across the following article: Needs and Innovations to Advance Corrections by Jack Harne. NIJ Journal No. 278, posted January 2017, NCJ 250347. This is a good article to review and provides some insight and recommendations ‘examining how technology could help corrections agencies relieve staff and facility limitations and improve training, policies, and practices.’ (NIJ and RAND Corporation).

I identified many puzzle pieces, the trick is putting the puzzle together. My main concerns focus on the overall safety of the facility, along with staff, officers, and offender safety. We need to be proactive and not reactive in addressing corrections needs and finding innovative ways to support corrections. The majority of all states are facing budget deficits and some tough decisions are going to be made. There are only so many ways a dollar can be trimmed before entering extreme safety and security concerns. At the same time, additional resources are necessary to continue research and support for innovation.

All of the ideas without solutions continue to create undue stress and require more from our officers. Yet, we continue to face turn-over issues and the daily pressures of working with offenders is not diminishing. This occurs at low and high level facilities. A tremendous amount of resources are allocated for corrections, yet there never seem to be enough. Somewhere along the way, priorities have to be addressed and we have to become more efficient in managing corrections.

I like a lot of the ongoing research and findings. However, many programs are still in early stages without long-term supporting data. Meanwhile, many states continue to struggle with recidivism and other concerns. I would like to think we can create change without being told to by the Federal Courts. We know what litigation costs and any adverse decisions often result in damages.

The type of offenders sentenced has changed and we deal with an increase in violence and security concerns. A percentage of our prisons are outdated and present additional safety and security concerns. We can add to this staffing and security concerns. Within our prisons we need to ensure programming needs are being met. This also must be in place upon the release of offenders under community supervision. When programming cuts occur and we are unable to meet offender needs, then we wonder why recidivism occurs.

Research shows us that corrections and resources vary from state to state. In addition, not all states can afford some of the technology available to improve safety and security concerns. Many prisons still face problems controlling contraband and cell phones. We have to become better at sharing ideas with ways to help improve safety and security. There is not an abundance of resources, let’s face it. This is where innovation has to be reinforced to meet current corrections issues and concerns and prepare for the future.

Change can be slow and often cumbersome, also often change may not be a priority. Innovation is a great idea provided the support mechanisms are in place. Tough decisions by corrections are made daily while facing tougher decisions in the future. Corrections personnel are from a variety of fields and have a tremendous amount of experience and ideas. Yet, my personal thoughts; some systems are not tapping this valuable resource. We need to get all uniform and non-uniform staff involved in providing suggestions to help improve corrections, along with their job performance. Perhaps there are little things that can be implemented and controlled by management to create a better work environment. I learned a long time ago, the backbone of any organization consists of the lower rank personnel. This is an investment and one we need to take advantage of and improve upon. Now is the time to be proactive and open up on the idea of innovation and what this can bring to corrections.

Stay safe out there.

Terry Campbell is a criminal justice professor at Kaplan University, School of Public Safety and has more than 20 years of experience in corrections and policing. He has served in various roles, including prison warden and parole administrator, for the Arkansas Department of Corrections. Terry may be reached at tcampbell@kaplan.edu.

Other articles by Campbell


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