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In South Carolina: training staff to work with elderly and disabled inmates.

With the number of special needs offenders growing, correctional programs, services and supervision must be designed or modified to fit these offenders' diverse needs. In addition, new legislation, such as the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA), places additional demands on staff to provide effective services to those with disabilities or impairments.

As a result of these changes, correctional professionals trained and educated to handle general population inmates have new responsibilities. Suddenly they find themselves needing new skills and knowledge.

For example, questions may arise about the most effective way to use mechanical restraints on an inmate with one arm or how to modify prison industry work sites to make them more accessible to those with disabilities. Staff dealing with these issues need to be knowledgeable, sensitive, creative and flexible in finding new ways to manage special needs offenders.

A training program recently conducted by the South Carolina Department of Corrections demonstrates how an agency can prepare staff to work with special needs offenders. The training focused on working with older offenders and those with significant physical impairments. While the program was developed for use with institutional staff, with some modification it also could be used with probation, parole and community corrections personnel.

Program Planning

An evaluation conducted by the department's health services staff identified the need for staff training on better managing special needs offenders. The specifics of what needed to be addressed were listed during a meeting attended by central office and institutional administrators; program specialists; and representatives from community service providers, advocacy groups and higher education.

Those at the meeting established the following overall training objectives:

* to enable participants to define "older" offenders and inmates with physical disabilities;

* to help participants understand the agency's mission, policies and approved practices relevant to managing special needs inmates;

* to sensitize participants to some of the physical and emotional difficulties encountered by older inmates and those with disabilities; and

* to help staff identify problems encountered in working with these individuals and begin developing solutions specific to their institution.

Barbara Skeen, the department's nursing supervisor for staff development, coordinated the program. Judy C. Anderson, warden at the State Park Correctional Center, and I designed it; we also served as lead trainers. Betty Robinson, the agency's coordinator for special needs offenders, Phyllis Ross, an advocate from the South Carolina Commission for the Protection and Advocacy for the Handicapped, and Earle Pope, coordinator of the state Department of Vocational Rehabilitation programs for offenders, gave advice in their areas of expertise.

To ensure the training was tailored to each facility's specific needs, the trainers met with the warden, unit manager, in-house trainers and other key staff at each of the three facilities--State Park Correctional Center, Broad River Correctional Institution and Evans Correctional Institution--where the training was to be provided. In those meetings, the following ground rules were established:

1. Trainers would tailor the training package to fit each facility's particular needs. Specific examples used in the exercises would be developed in consultation with the unit manager to incorporate actual problems encountered by special needs inmates.

2. The warden and other upper-level administrative and support staff would participate in the training. The chief medical, security, food service, industries, classification, social work and other key personnel as well as all staff members of units housing the special needs offenders were encouraged to attend.

3. The wardens would decide on the training location. Two wardens chose to have the program in the facility and one chose to have it at the corrections training academy.

4. Thirty to 35 staff from each facility would participate, and the warden would designate a staff person to collect the closing session input and prepare a consolidated report of recommendations. Staff then would use the report to improve management of the special needs population in that institution.

5. The training would last five hours and would include lunch.

A typical workshop session featured the following components:

Warm-up exercise. After an introduction that included a review of the workshop objectives, participants paired up and spent a few minutes talking with their partners about some skill or experience they had that was relevant to special needs offenders. Participants then introduced their partners to the group.

This warm-up exercise had several benefits. First, even though staff worked in the same facility, they sometimes did not know each other well. The exercise broke the ice between people who might interact officially but had little informal contact. It also enabled staff to identify previously unrecognized skills they had acquired from former jobs, family experiences and elsewhere that might help them in the facility.

To ensure maximum benefit from this exercise, pairs were chosen beforehand to guarantee that everyone had partners with different jobs.

Inmate comparison. After the warm-up exercise, participants were asked to describe characteristics of a typical inmate, an older inmate and an inmate with a disability. These were listed in three separate columns and discussed as they were mentioned. When the three lists were complete, the lead trainers compared and contrasted characteristics across the different groups.

During the discussion, participants explored myths and commonly held stereotypes about special needs offenders. For example, participants almost always saw older people as frail, dependent and inflexible. The trainers then asked the group to think about the older people they knew, such as parents, grandparents and friends, and how they functioned. This helped participants understand the range of differences among older people and those with disabilities.

This discussion also provided an opportunity to begin addressing two other problems staff faced working with special needs groups.

The first was their personal feelings about growing older or having a disability. Many people had fears and prejudices about these conditions and needed to resolve their own feelings before they could work effectively with special needs offenders.

The second issue was their feelings about inmates receiving services or programs that might be better than those available to people in the community. With limited resources available in many communities, staff with family members or friends who could not get badly needed services sometimes resented offenders receiving these services. The trainers emphasized that while these feelings were natural and normal, corrections staff are responsible for caring for people under their jurisdiction, not people in the community.

Policy explanation. Next, the agency coordinator for special needs offenders went over the legal mandates for service provision and the agency's policies and practices relevant to special needs offenders.

In South Carolina, most older and disabled inmates are mainstreamed into the general population. Inmates with two or more conditions impairing their functioning are placed in a special needs unit. The medical staff is responsible for assessing an inmate's functioning level so he or she can participate in the maximum number of program activities.

Following this review, the coordinator for special needs offenders introduced the representatives from the State Commission on the Protection and Advocacy for the Handicapped and the State Department of Vocational Rehabilitation. They explained their roles in working with the agency and offenders and answered participants' questions.

Sensory deprivation exercise. The sensory deprivation exercise was the longest part of the workshop and the key component in sensitizing participants to some of the problems special needs offenders face. Participants were told they were being given the opportunity to instantly age or become disabled. They were given latex gloves and asked to do simple tasks such as light a match, pick up a penny from the table or tie their shoes.

Participants were then paired with their previous partners and given walkers, wheel chairs, crutches, ace bandages, blind folds, arm slings, and fogged or scratched glasses. After everyone had at least one simulated debilitating condition, they received cotton balls to place in their ears to simulate hearing loss.

The pairs were then sent to eat lunch while maintaining their "handicap." Additional sensory deprivations could have been simulated at lunch including loss of the sense of taste and smell. These could have been simulated by grinding or pureeing bland food and using nose plugs. Rather than increase the stress level more than was already evident, these losses were discussed in the exercise's debriefing session and not simulated.

After lunch, each pair was assigned a common institutional task to complete, such as being sent to sick call and instructed to bring back a signed slip. It was arranged that they would encounter difficulties such as sick call closing as they reached the window and having the person who needed to sign the form be busy or away from the facility.

When the first set of instructions were completed, the pairs reversed their simulated handicaps. Those who pushed wheelchairs now rode in them. Those who were blindfolded now were responsible for helping their blindfolded partners. The teams completed another set of tasks.

After the exercise was completed and the equipment collected, participants were asked to describe their feelings and observations. Feelings of anger, frustration, fear and fatigue were common. Many observed barriers they were unaware of and commented on the time and planning it took to complete simple tasks. Long distances between buildings, a lack of comfortable places to rest, weather conditions and questions about who to trust also became important to participants. They recounted pleasure at the helpful people they encountered and an amazement at the callous, insensitive nature of others.

During the discussion, the lead trainers suggested strategies for addressing some of the problems they encountered and talked about appropriate etiquette for helping people with disabilities. Trainers demonstrated proper ways of talking to heating impaired inmates and wheelchair users, methods to help visually impaired inmates, how to secure wheelchair users in vans for safe transportation and other strategies for working with these groups.

Specific issue session. The final exercise was designed to enable participants to identify issues or problems in working with special needs inmates in their facilities and begin forming strategies for managing them more effectively. Participants were divided into small groups of six or seven people and asked to list problems they had in the facility. Each group then presented its list, and there was open-ended discussion of potential solutions.

Most of the problems identified could be resolved without additional resources. Better communication, sensitivity and flexibility often were noted as needs.

A staff member designated earlier by the warden recorded this part of the program and prepared a report for dissemination to participants. Wardens were encouraged to form task groups or take other actions necessary to resolve the problems and issues that had surfaced.

Wrap-up and evaluation. In a brief wrap-up, trainers reviewed the workshop objectives and summarized the day's activities. Participants talked over unresolved issues and questions. Finally, everyone completed a detailed evaluation of the training program and made suggestions for future sessions.

The program was well-received and appeared to provide not only knowledge and skills but also increased sensitivity to the needs of older inmates and those with disabilities. It became clear in the discussion before, during and after the training that for these groups to be managed effectively, modifications had to be made in physical plants as well as in the routine practices and procedures used with general population inmates.

This program, so different from traditional correctional training, was a first step toward providing useful insight and sensitivity to the challenges of managing special needs inmates. It should help staff make these inmates' lives better.

Joann B. Morton, DPA, is an associate professor at the University of South Carolina's College of Criminal Justice.
COPYRIGHT 1993 American Correctional Association, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1993 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Staff Education
Author:Morton, Joann B.
Publication:Corrections Today
Date:Feb 1, 1993
Previous Article:A corrections career guide.
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