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Correctional cookery: a menu for security.

Security. That omnipresent concern in the correctional environment, from maximum security prisons to community-based facilities, parole and probation. The challenge for correctional professionals over the centuries has been to find the right combination of ingredients that will satisfy the public's hunger for relative freedom from risk and danger. Certainly, not an off-the-shelf product - certainly not one dish. Rather, a mix of many ingredients that, when combined, compose a publicly satisfying result - a menu for security.

Quality staff are the first course on the menu, the result of three ingredients: first, employee selection techniques that use validated, job-related minimum qualifications and selection devices; second, a comprehensive, top-quality, job-related training program that develops the personal tools (knowledge, skills and abilities) necessary to perform safely and effectively in the correctional environment; and third, reinforcement of the tools gained from on-the-job training, effective supervision and good management.

For the second course, we have a tossed salad made with a variety of the freshest ingredients in construction, communications and policy. Establishing a safe and secure environment requires a physical plant designed with state-of-the-art technology. We prefer to use well-designed prisons with good lines of site that are durably built and stocked with a compliment of equipment, glazing, doors, locks, etc., appropriate to the inmate population to be housed within. New prisons designed to provide security through bricks and mortar reduce the number of staff needed, make the jobs of correctional workers safer and easier, and provide a safe and secure environment for inmates. To this we add an effective, proactive, preventive and recurring maintenance program that is important to achieving long-term facility operations, regardless of whether a prison is new or old.

Communication systems and technologies also are critical ingredients for this course. Computers and automated systems increase the efficiency of workers and improve information retrieval capabilities critical for security within prisons and safety on the streets. Telecommunications equipment, radios and personal alarms provide added security and enhance the safety of workers.

The final touch for this second course on the menu lies in written policies and procedures. This includes inmate rules founded in good correctional practices and managed with consistency and good judgment. These are integral ingredients that ensure inmates and staff are aware of expectations and have the tools to act confidently within the established parameters of acceptable behavior and professional conduct.

For the main course on our menu for security, we serve the public a validated and well-managed classification system that assesses security risks, potential for violent behavior, and programming and health care needs for inmates, parolees and probationers. This is the foundation of any effectively operated correctional system. The systems in this main course compliment previous courses. These systems assist in the development of appropriate staffing patterns and ratios for particular classifications of inmates. They compliment the part of the second course that involves construction-related security needs for the physical plant, communications technologies, policies and procedures. The classification system also prepares the correctional environment for the final course - inmate programs.

The development and delivery of programs and services to inmates, if designed correctly, helps manage the inmate, parolee and probationer populations and minimize future risks to the public and staff. Programs and security are inextricably intertwined, and poor programs lead to poor security. This concept is consistent with experience, which shows that inmates who participate in correctional programs are less inclined to participate in assaults or disturbances.

Aside from security, why spend taxpayers' dollars to provide these programs? Because we can only reasonably expect inmates, parolees and probationers to improve their behavior in institutions or under supervision if they make appropriate choices. Knowledge and awareness are critical components to that decision-making process, and the options available to these individuals when released to the community often are the direct result of new opportunities, possibilities and directions the correctional system can provide. Like the rest of us, these individuals cannot be or become something they are not aware of. Parolees and probationers who receive job training while incarcerated have greater potential for securing a job and earning a living in the community and are, therefore, in a better position to make appropriate choices.

Remedial and vocational education, GED programs, substance abuse treatment, and job search and parenting training are examples of valuable correctional programs that build opportunities for inmate, parolee and probationer success in our communities. The argument against providing programming services of this nature to offenders is at times appealing because "they don't have it coming," and a review of their case files often seems to validate this. But when we release inmates unprepared to cope with life on the streets and unable to make the right choices, the potential for creating more crime victims becomes greater.

Of course, after every good meal one must pay the price. Such is the case for this menu. No safe, secure correctional system can exist without adequate funding. The effective allocation and management of financial resources upholds all the ingredients of the security menu. However, the public has been very clear - as indicated by its support for tougher sentences on crime - that there is no price too high for peace of mind, safety and security.

As correctional and law enforcement professionals, and as keepers of the public's safety, our ultimate responsibility is to reduce the risk and occurrence of criminal victimization of the public and to provide our staff with the tools necessary to perform their jobs safely and effectively. In correctional programs, good programming is good security. But to the public, it is a component of crime prevention that will result in fewer victims. In the end, good programming is good security and crime prevention rolled into one - something we do now, and will need to do even better in the future.

James H. Gomez is director of the California Department of Corrections.
COPYRIGHT 1996 American Correctional Association, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1996 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Annual Security Issue and Buyer's Guide July 1996
Author:Gomez, James H.
Publication:Corrections Today
Date:Jul 1, 1996
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