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Opening Session: Sarah Hart addresses attendees during Opening Session.

When Sarah V. Hart, director of the National Institute of Justice, served as a prosecutor in the Philadelphia District Attorney's Office as lead counsel in institutional litigation involving the Philadelphia Prison System, the advice she gave her clients was: "Don't worry, it's not as bad as you think. Everybody gets sued in this job."

At that time, lawsuits were an unfortunate and all too frequent fact of life for corrections practitioners. To illustrate that point, Hart asked audience members during her keynote speech at the Opening Session Monday, Jan. 13, if they had been sued during the course of their correctional careers--nearly half raised their hands.

Today, however, 50 percent fewer lawsuits have been filed in the nation since the enactment of the Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA). Hart provided substantial assistance to the U.S. Congress in drafting the federal legislation while serving the Pennsylvania correctional system.

During her time in Philadelphia, Hart realized that the criminal justice system really was a unified system "that is only as strong as each of its parts. If there is a problem in one of them, it really does affect the way you do business in all the others." The city was on the verge of bankruptcy, and as a result, city administrators, who were not involved in the day-to-day operations of the prison or court systems, decided they could save money by capping the prison population.

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City officials decided that the way to control the prison population was to preclude the detention of people charged with nonviolent offenses, said Hart. It did not matter if the offender had a drug or alcohol problem, if he or she was on probation or parole, or how many times he or she failed to appear for court. Selling drugs was considered nonviolent; so drug dealers would be arrested and told they did not have to pay bail, and that if they came to court, they might be convicted of a mandatory sentence and go to state prison. However, if they did not come to court and they were arrested again, they still could not be incarcerated. "You can imagine what happened," said Hart. "We had in Philadelphia a 76 percent failure-to-appear rate in our drug dealing cases. That compared with a 3 percent failure-to-appear rate in our aggravated assault cases, which were not covered by the prison cap."

A tremendous amount of money had been spent on law enforcement trying to detect crimes and there were pretrial bail programs designed to deal with drug-addicted offenders that were rendered useless by the consent decree because prosecutors did not have the ability to force offenders to go into the programs, explained Hart. "There was nothing that had a bigger impact on our ability to handle cases and process cases than that consent decree," she said. As a result, more than 9,000 offenders who were released by the prison cap order were arrested for new crimes, including 79 murders during the following 18 months.

Philadelphia was not alone, continued Hart. There were many jurisdictions around the country that had launched prison orders to control the management of their prison systems. Some decrees were incredibly detailed and micromanaged the facilities--one even detailed the brand of cleaner to be used in the correctional facilities. Back in the 1970s and 1980s, when prison systems were facing budget crises, many agreed to the consent decrees, which provided them with some leverage during appropriations since the system was court-ordered to do certain things. However, correctional managers found that the consent decrees tied their hands and were difficult to change, even if it was not the best way to do business. Staff were disempowered and correctional administrators found they needed the ability to manage their prisons.

PLRA allowed federal judges to fix constitutional violations within the prison systems, but administrators were given the primary responsibility of running their facilities. The federal legislation limited the types of orders and the number of provisions within those orders, as well as stated that the least intrusive measure should be applied. Additionally, PLRA regulated a way that prison administrators can re-evaluate the decrees every two years to see if they are still necessary. And inmates now have to pay to file a lawsuit to reduce frivolous lawsuits, and they must follow the correctional agency's administrative grievances procedure to give correctional administrators a chance to address the problem first. Also, there is a three strikes provision to deter frequent filers unless it is a safety issue.

As a result of PLRA, Hart said she noticed a change in the focus of the administrator meetings for the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections. Whereas in the past they discussed how to implement consent decrees, they were now discussing their ideas on how to make the system better for inmates and staff. "I was really pleased to see that," she said.

In her position as NIJ director, Hart oversees research and development. The work conducted by NIJ is to benefit practitioners, not academics, she said, stressing that the agency's clients are state and local governments and that she respects the practitioners' needs. "That's where the business of criminal justice in this country is done, primarily at the state and local levels," she said.

NIJ looks at which programs work, as well as which are most cost-effective. Hart said she also feels strongly about finding at ways technology can enhance staff safety. Currently, NIJ is examining how to make it more difficult for inmates to make weapons out of the materials they have access to in correctional facilities. The institute is also looking at biometrics and less-than-lethal technology.

Hart closed by telling the audience that she is always interested in receiving input from practitioners. "I know what it is you do. I have seen it," she said. "What you do is very important. You make people's lives better."

Also, at the Opening Session, American Correctional Association President Charles J. Kehoe welcomed attendees to Charlotte and outlined his plans for the Association for the next 18 months. "This is a time of challenge," Kehoe said, noting the nationwide budget deficits, higher unemployment rates and gubernatorial changes. "Our association, as well as many of our affiliates, are having to tighten our belts during these difficult economic times." However, Kehoe told the audience that ACA must move forward despite tough times. This will be possible, he said, due to corrections tremendous leaders and employees. Kehoe complimented the resilience of correctional employees who try to make communities safer places and help offenders become law-abiding citizens upon release.

"It is essential that ACA stay future-focused," Kehoe said, adding, "Change is happening so quickly that if we cannot respond proactively to the future we help create, we will be forced to live a future created by others." Quoting from the book, Trends 2000, by Gerald Celente, he said, "The key to our system is making connections between seemingly unrelated fields." Kehoe believes that there will be a lot of trend-watching during the next several years as corrections professionals try to learn what will impact the field. There will also be greater use of technology so that leadership will be able to respond more quickly and address issues almost as they occur.

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Kehoe predicts that partnerships outside the field will bring even more new members to ACA. "The ACA of the future will very likely include an organization with a broader constituency." He suggested that in addition to the greater use of performance-based standards, the accreditation process will become more efficient through the use of technology. "Technology will also play a major role in the delivery of training and technical assistance," Kehoe said. He also pointed out that distance learning and electronic publications could result in cost savings for the Association.

Kehoe mentioned some of the new ACA committees that have formed, including the Correctional Intelligence Task Force, the Female Offender Task Force, the Correctional Collaboration Committee and the rejuvenated Probation Committee. In addition, a Parole, Conditional Release and Aftercare Committee has been formed and the Community Corrections Committee has been combined into one group instead of two.

In a time when the public expects agencies to work together, "we must set aside our differences and dedicate ourselves to the motto, 'United we stand,'" Kehoe said. "ACA is a big tent and there is room for many ideas. Respect for one another--whether you represent a public or private agency, or management or labor, or another professional association--should be the common link that holds us together."

Kehoe noted that the current economic picture is not likely to change in the near future. Corrections is on the edge of a shortage of qualified employees, he said particularly due to the increase of baby boomer retirements. He pointed out that the last organization to look at work force issues was the Joint Commission on Correctional Manpower and Training in 1969. Its report addressed what needed to be done to make corrections a more attractive career and to retain its work force. "The time is now for ACA to develop a strategic response to the serious challenges that are ahead for the correctional work force," Kehoe said before announcing that the Bureau of Justice Statistics has awarded ACA a $250,000 grant. "The goal of the project is to build a strategic work force plan for the adult and juvenile correctional and detention agencies in the United States," he noted. This will also help the Association develop a plan for the future. In closing, Kehoe thanked ACA leadership, staff and volunteers and noted, "We have our work cut out for us for the next several months."

ACA Appreciates its Opening Session Production Sponsor

Corrections Corporation of America

ACA'S 2003 WINTER CONFERENCE OPENING SESSION FEATURING SARAH V. HART, SET THE TONE FOR THE CONFERENCE'S SUCCESS!

Sarah V. Hart, Director of the National Institute of Justice (NIJ), addressed attendees at the Opening Session about the problems of lawsuits, an all too frequent facts of life for corrections practitioners. Ms. Hart engaged the audience with compelling stories about her days serving as a prosecutor in the Philadelphia District Attorney's Office as lead counsel in institutional litigation involving the Philadelphia prison system. She also stressed that the NIJ is looking for new ways to improve the daily lives of corrections practitioners.

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Corrections Corporation of America (CCA)

10 Burton Hills Boulevard

Nashville, TN 37215

(615) 263-3000, ext. 3092

Fax: (615) 263-3090

E-mail: damon.hininger@correctionscorp.com

Contact: Damon Hininger, Vice President Federal Customer Relations

As the nation's largest provider of outsourced corrections management to Federal, State and Local Governmental agencies, Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) is the sixth largest corrections system in the United States, operating 60 prisons and jails with a capacity of 60,000 beds and more than 13,000 employees in 21 states and the District of Columbia. CCA offers a full range of services, including finance, design, construction, renovation and management of new or existing facilities, as well as long distance inmate transportation. CCA brings innovation, flexibility, efficiency and high standards of management to the correctional setting.

Thank you, Corrections Corporation of America for your support of the Opening Session!
COPYRIGHT 2003 American Correctional Association, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:2003 Winter Conference
Author:Buisch, Michele D.; Clayton, Susan L.
Publication:Corrections Today
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Apr 1, 2003
Words:1862
Previous Article:Overview: Corrections professionals discuss "solving problems today for a better tomorrow".
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