"A look at the problems from the perspective of corrections officers"

November 1-2, 2005, St. Louis, Mo


The Commission's third public hearing focused on corrections officers and their work environment, and the impact on safety and abuse. Witnesses testified about pivotal changes in the workforce and the job; trouble recruiting and training officers; the personal toll of functioning under extreme stress; and problems ranging from understaffing and compulsory overtime to low pay and esteem. 

The hearing also explored labor-management relations as well as dynamics between officers and inmates and the 'code of silence'—why it exists and how to promote greater openness and accountability. This hearing included discussions about professional accreditation and differences between public and private facilities. 

Invited witnesses described personal experiences of working or living in a correctional facility, and leading corrections professionals and other experts in the field testified about problems and solutions nationally. The hearing provided an up-close look at a vast yet poorly understood workforce that shoulders tremendous responsibilities, and the crucial role of leadership, training, and resources. Download brief description here.


Transcripts of the complete proceedings of Hearing 3 can be downloaded in PDF format for both Day 1 and Day 2. Alternatively, you can download transcripts of each witness panel as separate PDFs. 

When & Where
Tuesday, November 1 and Wednesday, November 2, 2005 
Washington University School of Law
Anheuser-Busch Hall, Room 310
St. Louis, Missouri 

"A look at the problems from the perspective of corrections officers"

November 1, 2005

Welcoming Remarks and Opening Statements (Download transcript)

Mark S. Wrighton, Chancellor, Washington University
Commission Co-Chair Nicholas Katzenbach 
Larry Crawford, Director, Missouri Department of Corrections

Personal Accounts 
(Download transcript)

Asha Bandele—Married to a long-term prisoner in New York and author of The Prisoner's Wife. She will describe her wide ranging encounters with officers as her husband was transferred among facilities. Specifically, she'll describe how in some prisons officers played by the rules and treated her with respect, while in other facilities she and her daughter experienced unpredictable, arbitrary treatment and indignities bordering on abuse—and she'll offer the view that good leadership is the determining factor.
Ronald Kaschak—An employee of in the Mahoning County Jail (Youngstown, Ohio) who was involved in the beating of inmate Tawhon Easterly, an act ordered by senior managers in the sheriff's department and by supervisors at the jail. Mr. Easterly was also stripped naked after the beating and dragged down the hallway to his cell by officers. This witness will describe how officers follow even inappropriate orders—out of fear and for other reasons—and, therefore, good leadership makes all the difference.
The Rev. Jacqueline Means—A former prison chaplain who currently heads the Episcopal Church's national prison ministry program. Relying on her own long experience working inside prisons and her daughter's experience working as a corrections officer, Jackie Means will describe the stress of the job and the personal toll it takes on officers.
Lou West—A corrections officer who began his career in 1980, in an old-style, maximum security jail. He worked there for a decade and through several riots until the extreme stress of the job pushed him to request a transfer. He now works in the St. Louis County Justice Center, which houses the county jail and uses "direct supervision," the preferred form of supervision according to most corrections professionals. Lou West will describe his work at the Justice Center as the first truly meaningful work of his career. He also will be candid about the demands of supervising 67 prisoners at one time; all of them freely moving in the common area and all with their own needs — challenging work that makes him question how anyone could call him a "guard."

Corrections Officers — An Overview of the Workforce and Profession (Download transcript)
Both the corrections workforce and the jail and prison population have changed significantly over the last decade. This panel will address those changing demographics and how the job itself has changed as a result — creating a situation in some places where a less skilled workforce has a much more difficult job to do and where even skilled officers are overwhelmed by the additional responsibilities. Witnesses will discuss the difficulty of recruiting, training, and retaining professional staff in the face of rapid expansion of the prison population, budget constraints, and other factors.
Theodis Beck—Secretary of the North Carolina Department of Correction. He will argue that the corrections workforce is more diverse and better trained than ever before—equipped to face complexities and challenges of the job that did not exist when the prison population was smaller and less culturally diverse, and before truth-in-sentencing laws eroded incentives for good behavior. But he will also testify that corrections officers are as underpaid and undervalued as they were 50 years ago, making it difficult for prisons to recruit and retain experienced staff.
Lance Corcoran—Chief of Governmental Affairs for the California Correctional Peace Officers Association and a former corrections officer for 10 years. He'll testify about the negative stereotypes of corrections officers—as stupid, thuggish, tattooed white men—and how those stereotypes affect everything from the ability to recruit and retain good staff to how officers act on the job. The root of the problem, he believes, is that corrections officers are invisible to the public, so people don't know, for example, that women make up 20 percent of the workforce in California or that there are more people of color working in California state prisons than in any other law enforcement department in the state.
James Marquart—A professor at the University of Texas at Dallas and a long-time researcher of prisons who worked briefly as a corrections officer early in his career. He will provide an overview of a job that has become increasingly complex and challenging as the prison and jail population has become much larger and also more diverse and needy (more mentally ill, elderly, chronically ill, and substance abusers in prison, more gang violence, more women). And he'll describe why good officer training is so crucial in this context.

Lunch Break

Interpersonal Dynamics that Influence Safety and Abuse 
(Download transcript)
Negative relations between officers and inmates can lead prisoners to resist authority and officers to abuse their authority. This panel will explore those troubling dynamics, how to change or prevent them, and the role of race and gender. Witnesses will also discuss different penal philosophies and models of supervision and the implications of such policies and practices on the safety and well-being of everyone in a facility.

Kathleen Dennehy—Commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Correction, a state that recently completed its own prison commission, reforms which Kathleen Dennehy has worked to implement. She will explore how the demands of the job and lack of support from management can leave line officers feeling like it is 'us against them' (us against the inmates and us against management) and she'll describe her efforts in Massachusetts to break the code of silence by addressing these root problems.
Elaine Lord—Superintendent of Bedford Hills Prison for women in New York for 20 years, retired in 2004. She will discuss the psychological dynamics between inmates and officers with a focus on cross gender relations. She believes in employing male officers in a women's prison, and will explain why, and has clear ideas about how to include male employees without placing the women at risk of abuse. Elaine Lord has both heartbreaking stories to tell and stories that inspire hope.
Eddie Ellis—Incarcerated for 25 years in various New York State prisons. He will describe an underlying prison culture that inherently dehumanizes those who are incarcerated — a culture that black and Latino officers conform to just as easily as white officers. "It's not a question of black and white," as the saying goes, "it's a question of grey and green." Eddie Ellis currently directs the NuLeadership Policy Group at Medgar Evers College, part of the City University of New York. The organization brings together individuals who have been incarcerated to influence criminal justice policy.

Consequences of the Job on the Health and Well-Being of Corrections Officers 
(Download transcript)
There is evidence that corrections officers have lower life expectancy, higher divorce rates, and greater rates of alcoholism than other law enforcement officers. This panel will illuminate the stresses of the job and their impact on work performance and on the health and well-being of officers and their families. Witnesses will also discuss ways that management and others can support corrections officers.
Larry Brimeyer—Deputy Director for Eastern Operations in the Iowa Department of Corrections. He will describe a now defunct stress-reduction project for corrections officers and their families. The pilot project in Iowa offers important lessons about how to support officers in a way that doesn't make them feel inferior: One reason the pilot failed is that officers viewed participation in it as a sign of weakness.
Robert Delprino—A professor at Buffalo State College in the Department of Psychology. He is the lead researcher of "Work and Family Support Services for Correctional Officers and their Family Members: A National Survey," published by the National Institute of Justice in 2002. He will describe reasons why the work of corrections officers is stressful — everything from too much overtime to long commutes; from threats of physical danger and degrading conditions to society's low opinion of corrections officers — and consequences for the safety and well-being of everyone, including officers' families.
William Hepner—Trains corrections officers in New Jersey and also directs the state's Corrections Family Training Academy, which is similar to Iowa's pilot program (mentioned above). He will describe how stress affects both individual job performance and prison administration overall.

Anheuser-Busch Hall Janite Lee Reading Room
co-sponsored by the Bar Association of Metropolitan St. Louis

November 2, 2005

Leadership Speaker (Download transcript)
The speaker will address the role of leadership in cultivating a qualified and capable workforce able to operate safe facilities: What does leadership mean? At what levels must we expect strong, quality leadership? How common is good leadership, and is it possible in a large statewide system? What are the obstacles to good leadership?

Mary Livers—Deputy Secretary for Operations in the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services.

Use of Force and Related Training (Download transcript
When is the use of physical force necessary to maintain safety and what defines "excessive force"? This panel will examine why officers sometimes rely on physical force, what kinds of force they are authorized to use—including restraints, cell extractions, and non-lethal weaponry—and under what conditions even authorized forms of force may constitute abuse. Witnesses will also discuss unauthorized forms of force that are sometimes used and why the use of force is hard to document. Most importantly, they will discuss training for officers in the appropriate use of force and in tactics to avoid using force.
Randall C. Berg—Executive Director of the Florida Justice Institute, which litigates on behalf of prisoners, and lead attorney in a case about the excessive use of pepper spray in Florida state prisons. He will describe that case and present photographs illustrating injuries caused by excessive use of pepper spray.
Patrick McManus—former Secretary of Corrections in Kansas and Assistant Commissioner of Corrections in Minnesota, a court-appointed monitor of facilities and systems around the country, and an expert in the use of force by corrections officers. He'll talk about why excessive use of force can be a problem. In terms of curbing excessive use of force, he will argue that training for officers is less important than changing the prison culture. In his view, prison managers must establish an institutional culture geared toward minimizing use of force, one where line officers are encouraged to think differently about their jobs.
Sgt. Michael Van Patten—a corrections officer for 20 years, and later a trainer of other officers in Oregon. He'll talk generally about the strengths and weaknesses of training with regard to the use of force and specifically about how to train officers to match the degree of force to the situation and when to escalate to a higher level of force.

ACA Standards and Accreditation
 (Download transcript
There are no mandatory national standards for prisons and jails, but the American Correctional Association—a professional association largely composed of corrections managers—develops standards and accredits facilities that meet their standards. Witnesses will discuss the ACA standards, what policies facilities must have in place to be accredited, and how common ACA accreditation is among jails and prisons nationally. They also will discuss the utility of accreditation from the perspective of labor and management; how the ACA standards and the accreditation process can be strengthened; and the difference between accreditation and oversight that features regular review of whether the standards are being put into practice.
Brian Dawe—Executive Director of Corrections USA, a nonprofit coalition of unions, associations, and individual officers. He spent 16 years as a corrections officer prior to becoming Executive Director of Corrections USA. He'll testify that professional accreditation is a good idea but that current ACA standards are too low and subject to pressure from managers, and that the accreditation process itself is nothing more than a paper audit that does little to ensure that staff are safe and well supported.
Michael Hamden—Executive Director of North Carolina Prisoner Legal Services and a member of the ACA's Commission on Accreditation for Corrections since 1998. Initially a skeptic, he is now a believer in the accreditation process, although he will describe the limits of the process and distinguish between professional accreditation and other necessary forms of oversight.
Evelyn Ridley-Turner—Treasurer of the ACA and former Secretary of Corrections in Indiana. She will talk about how she used the accreditation process in Indiana as a starting point in her effort to raise standards and to bring staff together to create safer and better run facilities.
Jeff Washington—Deputy Executive Director of the ACA. He will describe the ACA's standards and accreditation process.

Lunch Break

Public vs. Private (Download transcript
Over the past decade, privately operated correctional facilities have opened around the country, becoming numerous in the federal prison system and in some states. Alaska, Hawaii, Montana, New Mexico, and Wyoming confine at least a quarter of state prisoners in private facilities. Despite substantial growth in the number of private facilities, little is known about how they compare to facilities operated by government. Is one type of facility safer than the other? Are the work environments different in important ways? This diverse panel — an executive from Corrections Corporation of America, a law professor, and an advocate for public sector labor — will address these and other questions.
Sharon Dolovich—A professor at UCLA Law School, on leave for the 2005-2006 academic year as a fellow at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study in Cambridge, Massachusetts. She will argue that the present debate about whether private prisons are better or worse, safer or more dangerous than government-run facilities misses the point: Much is going wrong in both private and public prisons, and they suffer from many of the same problems.
Rick Seiter—A professor at St. Louis University currently on leave and working as Executive Vice President and Chief Corrections Officer for Corrections Corporation of America. He worked for many years at the Federal Bureau of Prisons. Mr. Seiter will address the various critiques of private corrections, particularly as they relate to safety and abuse.
Frank Smith—Field Organizer for the Private Corrections Institute, a national organization based in Florida that is openly critical of the for-profit corrections industry. He has developed a network of whistle blowers at private facilities and will share stories about the lack of safety and failures to protect people from abuse in private prisons. He will also describe how cost-cutting leads to these safety failures and abuses and how monitoring of private prisons is virtually meaningless because state officials feel the need to accommodate the contractors.

Closing Remarks (Download transcript)

Additional Statements

Mary K. Stohr, Ph.D.—a professor in the Department of Criminal Justice at Boise State University and a former Washington State correctional officer, she submitted a written statement to the Commission in lieu of testifying in person.