Adapting to New Challenges with Adults in Custody
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Adapting to New Challenges with Adults in Custody

By Derrick Peterson, President of the NW Chapter of the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives (NOBLE) & Captain of Auxiliary Services Unit, Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office

Derrick Peterson, President of the NW Chapter of the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives (NOBLE) & Captain of Auxiliary Services Unit, Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office

As budgets continue to diminish, it is predicted Corrections will face reductions in institutional capacity, specific to jails. This is primarily due to Criminal Justice and Corrections reform, and in part to funds being reallocated to major community challenges such as, homelessness, mental health, and the opioid crisis, which is largely systemic in metropolitan areas. The effect of budget reductions is projected to cause a negative cascading effect on multiple levels of Corrections operations to include;

• Challenges in increased forced releases

• Managing adults in custody with increased acute mental health and medical issues

• Reduced work opportunities to adults in custody

• Difficulties in recruiting qualified personnel

• Introducing new technology that is balanced

Reduction in institutional capacity is expected to trigger the premature forced release of adults in custody to maintain populations supported by existing budgets. The forced release of those in custody will have an impact on communities since a significant amount of the individuals released will have been charged with higher levels of crimes, but have not been fully adjudicated. As adults are released precipitately through various release mechanisms, there is a risk to the community for re-offense and relapse. It will also have an impact on those in custody who are participating in self-help programs designed to prepare them for successful release into community programs. Many of those involved in these types of programs have expressed concern at the possibility of being released before they are prepared to take the next steps. They have found value in cognitive therapy and addressing the triggers that keep them in a cycle of recidivism and a destructive lifestyle.

The result of these releases will continue the compression of the population, leaving a significant number of adults in custody with behavioral, medical, and mental health issues needing relative services and programs. Corrections must look to raise the standard of care by partnering with, and implementing successful programs and staffing models used in other, but somewhat similar industries, such as, Memory Care facilities. In facilities like these, staff has been successful in managing residents that display similar characteristics to many of those in custody. The introduction of new programs will only be successful through staff that is equipped, motivated, and compassionate. It is these attributes that will make a life-changing difference to those who have become entwined in a system not optimally designed for them. 

"Corrections must take a more pivotal and intentional role in ensuring the safety of our society, both inside and out, by encouraging and helping those in custody to seek positive change."

As this type of population increases, there will be a decrease in eligible/higher functioning adults in custody to place in on-site institutional jobs, designed not just to aid in budgetary matters, but also to promote self-esteem, give purpose, and instill transferable skills that can be used to obtain jobs in the community. The decrease in higher functioning adults in custody will eventually result in Corrections having to out-source these jobs. 

Struggles with recruiting will continue as the trend calls for staff to manage more challenging personalities in settings not designed to house this type of clientele safely. This is exacerbated by heightened community tension with law enforcement due to use of force and transparency issues. In the face of this, as well as, competing againstgrowing employment opportunities nationwide, Corrections will need to embrace innovation and change to become and stay relevant to peak the interest of the work force. Furthermore, it is of critical importance to actively address the physical and mental health of staff as the daily interaction with challenging people can be draining. As Corrections gears up to recruit and hire employees, it is incumbent on management to forecast how the changing environment of Corrections will dictate the different skills a Corrections Officer will need to be successful. 

Corrections would be well served to hire a hybrid officer who possesses a diverse educational and social background with an emphasis on psychology, sociology, criminal justice, and technology classes. It is important leaders in Corrections collaborate with educational institutions to bolster curriculums in an effort to enhance skills to compliment counselors, psych staff, and programming efforts, while effectively operating correctional facilities and managing the adults housed there. 

The modernization of obsolete facilities is necessary as technology continues to stretch operations in an effort to gain efficiencies and create a more positive environment. The introduction of electronic tablets has given those in custody greater opportunity to stay connected to their community, offer self-help, and provide greater access to education. It also will aid staff in proficiently performing their duties by introducing an array of technology, such as, scan technology to electronically log security and welfare checks, electronic logbooks that are searchable, and x-ray machines to aid in detecting and preventing unauthorized items from entering into the system. 

Management must be cognizant of balancing technology with staff resources as it can unintentionally increase workload and raise stress levels, leading to premature burnout.This can also put pressure on the overall operations as staff focus gravitates towards implementation, which could lead to complacency in routine duties. The end result could be the impediment of human to human interaction that is crucial in successfully managing those entrusted to their care. This would be especially prevalent in direct supervision jails.  

The future of Corrections is exciting as it continues to become increasingly standardized and professionalized. The safe-keeping of citizens from our community who are in custody is a noble career and of paramount importance as the majority of those in custody are released back into society. 

Corrections must take a more pivotal and intentional role in ensuring the safety of our society, both inside and out, by encouraging and helping those in custody to seek positive change. The reality is the people Corrections work with are our neighbors, friends, and family who have the potential to live a productive life to its fullest. 

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