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Winter Conference focuses on programs that work.

Corrections professionals from across the country and around the world gathered in Philadelphia in January with the common goal of "Reducing Crime Through Programs that Work." This was the theme of the American Correctional Association's Winter Conference, which focused on programming that balances punishment with rehabilitation and prevention.

At the Opening Session, the official start of the Conference, Philadelphia Mayor Ed Rendell stressed the importance of incentives such as "earned time" credits in corrections. Following Mayor Rendell was the morning's keynote speaker, U.S. Rep. Robert C. "Bobby" Scott (D-Va.). Scott reflected on the message of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and challenged conference-goers to "recommit ourselves to Dr. King's goals of racial and economic harmony."

Expressing his concern about inmates receiving higher education in prison, Scott noted that recidivism rates for inmates with the education are 40 to 60 percent lower than for those without it.

Scott read a poem titled "A Fence or an Ambulance," which depicted the conflicting views of prevention vs. prison construction as the answer to reducing crime. He explained that the answers to what works in corrections can be obtained not through opinion polls or talk show hosts, but through research. "Go-getting sound bites such as 'abolish parole' and 'three strikes and you're out' are being tossed around by politicians," said Scott. "What we need is truth in legislating to go along with truth in sentencing."

At the Annual Luncheon the next day, Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) said that, although there was little sentiment in Congress to help inmates through literacy and job training programs, he considers them to be "realistic rehabilitation" and a cost-effective part of our correctional system.

Specter also expressed his concern about the pending 1996 Appropriations Bill and the uncertainty of future funds for prison construction. During a question-and-answer session after his speech, Specter commented on community corrections, saying that "reintegration into the community is very, very important, and alternatives to incarceration are highly desirable."

Specter commended ACA on getting the message out to Congress that more rehabilitation and literacy programs are needed in corrections, and he promised to join ACA in that effort.

The conference's final keynote speaker, Assistant Attorney General Laurie Robinson, spoke at ACA's Closing Breakfast. Robinson said that she believes that corrections professionals are in a position to "help break the molds of the past and change the way we in this country think . . . about criminal justice and the role of criminal justice in addressing crime."

After she offered a brief history of restorative justice and explained why it should make up a larger part of today's criminal justice system, Robinson touted community-based victim-offender mediation as a more personal approach that is "far more focused on restoration than the traditional system." Robinson feels that this type of mediation "is instrumental and helpful in allowing [victims] to move on with their lives and achieve a sense of closure."

Finally, Robinson challenged those in the corrections community to "work hand in hand with victim advocates to help achieve a modern and practical process to make victim restitution a higher priority and a prevailing reality." Other highlights of the Opening Session, Annual Luncheon and Closing Breakfast were the award presentations. Four individuals received awards: Jay Marie Hester (Martin Luther King Jr. Scholarship); James L. Beck (Peter P. Lejins Research Award); and Willie Clark and Danna Jackson (Outstanding Journalism Award).

In addition to those awards, a special award was presented by Executive Director James A. Gondles, Jr. to Anthony P. Travisono and Mary Q. Hawkes, the two authors of Building A Voice: 125 Years of History, in honor of their work on the book.

The Winter Conference offered the many attending corrections professionals opportunities to network and share information and ideas about issues of concern in their field. Workshops offered during the conference focused on issues such as crowded jails, violent juveniles, community programs, correctional options and boot camps.

Conference attendees also had a chance to tour some of Philadelphia's correctional facilities. Participants had their choice of five tours, one of which included the Holmesburg Prison, which was built in December 1896 and closed December 1995. The guided tours offered a glimpse of all facets of life in prison and jail, including intake, dining and recreation.

During the Winter Conference, ACA's Executive Committee met and approved eight position statements developed by ACA's Legislative Affairs Committee. In addition, the Executive Committee recommended a ninth priority that addresses the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. It urges Congress to support legislation that affirms the right of inmates to exercise freedom of religion. This priority was adopted by the Delegate Assembly at the conference.

At the Commission on Accreditation for Corrections' awards luncheon, ACA presented awards to 131 facilities and programs that had become accredited.
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Title Annotation:ACA 1996 Winter Conference; American Correctional Association
Author:Furniss, Jill R.
Publication:Corrections Today
Date:Apr 1, 1996
Previous Article:Courting the middle ground.
Next Article:Workshops tackle tough issues.

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