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Justice Department agency offers program to reduce racial tension.

Racial tension that goes unchecked in a correctional facility can result in deadly violence. Even without violence, staff and inmate safety can be seriously compromised if racial tensions are not addressed.

Racial tension--defined as the level of ease and communication among and between various racial and ethnic groups--affects every aspect of life in a facility. It sparks confrontations among inmates and between staff and inmates. It leads to increases in security, which interferes with inmate participation in education, counseling and other programming. It adds to pressure on inmates and staff, which may cause them to develop physical problems such as ulcers and psychological problems such as depression.

The Community Relations Service (CRS) is an agency of the U.S. Department of Justice that offers correctional administrators assistance in addressing racial tension in prisons and jails. CRS has developed a training program designed to enable correctional administrators to gauge the level of racial tension in a facility and develop a plan to reduce it. This program is one of several the Department of Justice provides to correctional administrators without charge.

What follows is an overview of the key issues covered in the CRS program. Whether or not you decide to implement the program, reviewing these issues will increase your understanding of the factors that can raise racial tension. Given the link between the level of tension and outbreaks of violence, every correctional professional should be interested in ways to measure and reduce tension.

A Preliminary Exercise

Establishing a "racial tension continuum" is a useful exercise that will help you begin to gauge the tension level in your facility. Draw a horizontal line on a blank piece of paper. On the left, write down signs of a lack of racial tension in a facility. Examples might include the absence of racial fights over a six-month period and voluntary integration on the part of inmates during sports activities and meals.

On the right, write down signs of high racial tension. Examples might include a race-related killing or the presence of a hate group among inmates.

You now have the two extremes of racial tension in an institution. As you learn more, you can fill in the continuum. Please note that this is an endless task and should never be considered complete. You should continuously add to it to gauge your institution's movement up and down the scale.

A Thorough Exam

The key to the CRS program is that it allows you to systematically and objectively record the level of racial tension in your facility. To do this, you must thoroughly examine every aspect of the facility's administration and ask yourself tough questions about what problem may be generating racial tension in areas such as administration, custody, classification, treatment, and social and educational activities. CRS calls these problems "racial tension breeding factors."

CRS has developed dozens of sample questions, and you are encouraged to come up with your own. With questions involving quantities, such as the number of inmate grievances filed or the number of disturbances, you should calculate them over a set period-usually six months or a year. Some typical questions dealing with racial tension follow.

Disturbance calls. How many calls involving conflicts between racial groups have occurred in the past six months? Did they involve individuals or groups? Were staff injured? Are the groups still in conflict? How do staff and inmates feel about the violence?

Discrimination complaints by employees. Has the number of staff complaints of discrimination increased? Have there been incidents of racial conflict among staff? How do staff and inmates feel about this issue?

Inmate grievances. Has there been a conspicuous increase in minority inmate grievances relating to custody procedures and practices? How many inmate complaints alleging discriminatory practice have been filed? How many state or federal court lawsuits alleging discriminatory practices at the institution have been filed?

Minority participation. Has there been a conspicuous decrease in minority group participation in athletic and dining activities? Have there been reports of group protests? How do staff and inmates feel about this issue?

Classification and treatment. Has there been an abrupt increase in complaints by staff or inmates relating to job assignments, custody and review, furloughs, staff-inmate interactions, progress reports, parole recommendations, grievance procedures or programming? Are there rumors about complaints among staff or inmates? Do inmates lack confidence in the grievance system?

Sick call. Has there been a sudden increase in the number of minority inmates reporting to sick call? How many minority inmates have been referred to mental health services during the past six months?

Community participation. Has the number of community groups and organizations participating in facility programming decreased? Have there been incidents affecting how these groups participate in programs? How do staff and inmates feel about such outside participation?

Prison industries. What is the ratio of non-minority and minority inmates assigned to critical areas in prison industries? Are higher paying jobs assigned to one ethnic group? Have there been complaints or allegations that assignments are influenced by race?

Community perceptions. What is the prevailing opinion of the facility in the local community? How does the local community's opinion affect the facility's operation? Is the local community made up of primarily one ethnic group or race? How are staff affected by local values in their attitudes, expectations and sensitivity toward inmates?

Training and staff orientation. Are staff provided training beyond mandated training? Are non-custody staff provided training? Are staff provided training in conflict resolution or in alternatives to the use of force? Do staff receive a formal orientation to the facility? Does it include a review of the institution's policies on racial discrimination and cultural awareness? Duty assignments and staffing patterns. Do staffing patterns appear to be based on race? How are staff evaluated, and do staff consider these procedures fair? Are staff from one particular ethnic or racial group routinely rated lower than other staff?

Living conditions. Do inmate living conditions meet state standards? Are inmates aware of standards concerning their living conditions? Have living conditions changed over the past year?

Inmate-staff interactions. Have there been changes in the frequency or intensity of staff-inmate interactions? Have inmates of one particular ethnic group or race acted together against staff? Have staff targeted a particular ethnic group or racial group among inmates for special attention?

Lockdowns and shakedowns. How frequent are lockdowns and shakedowns? Does racial tension contribute to lockdown decision making?

Crisis Intervention

CRS also offers assistance in developing crisis intervention teams. A facility's team is made up of staff who work to help correctional administrators prevent, reduce or eliminate the potential for violence or disorder within the facility.

Team members are trained in conflict resolution skills designed to improve communication between conflicting parties. Ideally, members should represent all staff levels, departments and shifts at the facility. The team is responsible for providing a first-line response to conflicts that arise in the institution. Members are trained to decide the most appropriate intervention level for a given conflict. The team also can become an ongoing source of information to a facility's warden or superintendent.

Program Results

The Connecticut Department of Corrections used CRS assistance at the Carl Robinson Correctional Institution in Enfield. CRS helped the facility's administrators pinpoint two problems-staff felt a lack of control and inmates felt they were being discriminated against. CRS then assisted in the formation of a crisis intervention team and provided cross cultural training, both of which have led to improved staff and inmate morale.

Thomas F. White, deputy commissioner of the DOC, reported a dramatic improvement at the facility after the CRS intervention. A comparison of the number of assaults and violent incidents in the 15 months after the assistance with the previous 15 months found that inmate on staff assaults dropped 69 percent, inmate on inmate assaults fell 60 percent and use of force incidents went down 61 percent. White says CRS has played an integral part in positive changes at the facility since 1990, along with other interventions that took place at the time of CRS involvement, such as inmate population shifts and expanded programs for staff and inmates.

Tim Johnson is a program specialist with the Community Relations Service. For more information on the CRS training package and other cost-free technical assistance, contact Community Relations Service, 5550 Friendship Blvd., Suite 330, Chevy Chase, MD 20815; 1-800-347-4283.
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:Community Relations Service being offered to correctional facilities
Author:Johnson, Tim
Publication:Corrections Today
Date:Apr 1, 1993
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