Friday, October 16, 2009

Guard-to-Inmate-Ratios: The View from CCPOA

In the new issue of Peacekeeper, Mike Jimenez, President of CCPOA, discusses prison guard pay cuts and furloughs on the CCPOA website.

As individuals we have a role in the effects of our zeal for our work place. We also have a role in the determination of our own morale. In accepting these responsibilities, we need and respect leaders who have the courage to tell us when things are tough, that we will have to sacrifice and that these difficulties may last for awhile. Leadership requires in these instances that the boss be consistent in the application of cost-cutting measures. It requires that there be a sense of purpose toward a common goal and that the goal be attainable.

We have yet to see these qualities in this administration-so, as the old CDCR saying goes: Expect the beatings to continue until morale improves.

The CCPOA is very critical of the furlough policy, and cites to this Senate report, suggesting that furloughs will not yield real savings for the state. As the report argues, in "round-the-clock" institutions, workers aren't really taking furloughs, and when they are, labor costs are simply pushed to future years. Other articles on the website raise concern regarding violent incidents due to understaffing.

However, the piece I found most interesting was this critique of overcrowding by Kevin Raymond. A correctional sergeant, Raymond discusses overcrowding from the guards' perspective, arguing that safety considerations have made the situation untenable. He discusses the National Institute of Corrections' "direct supervision" principles, which stand in contrast to the classic "warehouse 'em" rationale, but actually do not contradict prison safety. Rather, they promote it.

The principles dictate that staff must know the inmate population and what is transpiring on their turf. You'll note that under these principles the prison belongs to the staff not the inmates–a novel idea.

However, before the principles of direct supervision can effectively be put into play, a few very important things must transpire. Management, supervisors, and line staff all must be willing to admit that what we are doing now is a huge failure. California's recidivism rate makes this abundantly clear. And all must be willing to embrace the change in the mindset. More important, there has to be a reduction in the inmate population without a commensurate reduction in staffing levels.

Raymond moves on to discuss the modeling of juvenile institutions after the successful Missouri model, and the failure to achieve similar results because of overcrowding. He is even more pessimistic about the adult institutions: "The adult side of the house has been reducing actual inmate programs for years, settling on a few time-honored favorites, such as substance abuse training."

The bottom line is quite simple–prison overcrowding is a killer to any real inmate rehabilitation. As well, the current conditions in CDCR's institutions provide for inmates to do nothing more than scheme and plot their illegal activities and disruptions. It is time for both a change in conditions and a change in attitudes. And the principles of direct supervision are critical tools in a corrections toolbox that, unfortunately, currently sits unopened.

The question is, therefore, whether CCPOA will relegate its efforts to the fight against pay cuts and furloughs, or whether it will expand horizons to fight the other side of the guard-to-inmate ratio.

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