5 challenges facing the corrections industry
The poor economy has affected our society in a variety of ways, and the prison system has not been spared from what often feels like across-the-board budget cuts and closings. The result: The corrections industry is facing big challenges and needs people with bold ideas, says Fay DeMeyer, an instructor in the criminal justice program at the University of Phoenix Salem Learning Center. DeMeyer has spent nine years at the Oregon Department of Corrections, and she now acts as a consultant to corrections agencies around the state. Here are the five key challenges she says prisons face right now, and how the criminal justice community can work to solve them:
1. Budget cuts
Prison budgets are being slashed, and some correctional facilities must shut down as a result.
DeMeyer says administrators should work on building strong math and problem-solving skills in order to meet these new fiscal demands. "The industry has to bring in people who can figure out how to do more with less," she says.
When a prison closes, inmates have to transfer to other facilities. This means the remaining institutions must deal with a bigger population, warns DeMeyer, who adds that overcrowding causes tension among the prisoners. “It puts people in gangs and causes more safety issues,” she says.
“We need people with better management skills to deal with the overcrowding.”
3. More prisoners with mental-health issues
Judges are sentencing criminals with mental-health issues to prisons because there is no room for them in mental-health institutions. That’s because mental-health institutions also have been closing due to lack of funding, according to DeMeyer. “We’re getting a lot of those people in prison as hospitals close.”
She says the corrections industry needs people with a broader educational base, “especially a strong understanding of mental-health issues such as mental retardation and developmental disabilities.”
4. Lack of innovation
Because the problems continue to change and grow, the corrections industry must attract people with new ideas to deal with the new problems, DeMeyer notes.
Rehabilitation programs are among the first cut when money gets tight, DeMeyer notes, which means facilities need people who can create alternative methods of rehab. People “spend years learning to be prisoners," she says. “When will they be ready to be citizens again?”
5. Limited collaboration
There’s not enough collaboration among corrections departments, and administrators have become more isolated in tight times because they fear sharing resources.
Corrections departments need to work together more, DeMeyer says. “If we all partner and share a little bit, we’re going to make better decisions as a group.” She suggests that federal prisons, state prisons and local community corrections departments need to foster partnerships, especially when a prisoner is ready for release. DeMeyer believes corrections departments need to work as a team to set up, for example, housing and training for inmates: “We can only do this together.”