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Navy leader provides sound judgment in military corrections.

Debbie Bell began her 36-year career in a location that many people dream about--Europe. After earning a master's degree in social work in 1976, Bell took a job directing a mental health center at the Pirmasens Army Post in Germany, and enjoyed living and travelling in Europe. After five years, Bell was placed in an Air Force corrections program as a rehabilitation team chief at Lowry Air Force Base in Denver. "Even today, I distinctly recall that first day checking in for the position and being asked by the gentle-man at the civilian personnel office handling my transfer, 'What is a nice girl like you doing working in a place like that?' It wouldn't have been my ideal choice of a job, but I figured I'd serve out the required year and move on," Bell recalled.

Bell soon discovered that the job was a great fit. The program rehabilitated court-martialed airmen in legal trouble and aided them in returning to military duty. Bell served as part of a highly-skilled team with a 97 percent success rate of returning offenders to military duty who often became decorated leaders once they returned to duty. "In the process, I learned corrections was more than warehousing criminals and involved meaningful work and opportunities; I was hooked," Bell said.

During the next several years, Bell served as flight chief and eventually branch chief, directing the substance abuse, sex offender, mental health and return-to-duty programs for the Air Force corrections system. In 1993, the Air Force consolidated its mediurn-security correctional facility with the Navy. As a result, Bell transferred to San Diego to direct the medical and mental health services at the Naval Consolidated Brig Miramar.

Bell believes her greatest career achievement was her role in the development and improvement of programs geared toward rehabilitating sex offenders during this period of time. Bell's leadership led to significant improvements in programming and a drastic increase in professional staff serving the brig. The brig's programming was nationally recognized, and its materials were distributed by the National Institute of Corrections as the model for correctional sex offender programming. "I got to be a part of an important contribution to reduce sexual offending that endures today," Bell said.

In 2005, Bell became the corrections technical director of the Joint Regional Correctional Facility South-west, with detachments in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii and Puget Sound, Wash., a position which she currently holds. Bell advises the executive leadership and all levels of the command on correctional policies, procedures and operations, from discipline and security to food service and housing. Though Bell's job duties are numerous, her colleagues assert that she handles her job with wisdom and grace. "All of us who work with [Bell] deeply admire her insight, her encyclopedic knowledge, her incredible attention to detail and--most importantly to me--her ethics and enormous sense of right and wrong," said William Peck, director of U.S. Navy Corrections. "Her moral compass has kept us from straying many times and her foresight has repeatedly proved invaluable as we've developed a Navy system which makes us all very proud."


Aside from her duties as corrections technical director, Bell also serves as an Air Force reserve officer as part of a medical inspection team that accredits medical facilities. "It's been fun having both military and civilian careers that complement each other; each has made me more effective in my other work," she said. Bell also serves on the National Board of Trustees for United through Reading, a nonprofit foundation that connects deployed soldiers with their children back home by enabling them to read to their children through video streaming.

When reflecting on what she loves most about her job, Bell cited the support of Air Force and Navy leader-ship, her team and "having autonomy to do the right thing" in a culture that supports such goals. "In a way, it all comes full circle to my early social work beginnings--being part of a change process that is rewarding and contributes beyond what I could have ever done alone."

Kate Shaw is ACA's assistant editor of periodicals.
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Title Annotation:Best in the Business; Debbie Bell
Author:Shaw, Kate
Publication:Corrections Today
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jun 1, 2012
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