Staff Equality: A Welcomed Addition to the Correctional Workplace

Article excerpt

Editor's Note: This article will appear in the North American Association of Wardens and Superintendents' publication, A View From the Trenches: A Manual for Wardens by Wardens, to be published this summer by the American Correctional Association.

Staff equality - a diversified and multicultural workforce - is an idea that is fairly new to corrections. During the last 20 to 30 years, corrections professionals have begun to realize its benefits. Promoting staff equality is a leadership and human resource management tool that continues to improve the correctional environment.

Contributing Factors

Historically, many prisons throughout the country were built in rural locations because of the quantity and cost of available land. The logical progression was to recruit and hire staff from local communities. Consequently, the majority of staff came from rural backgrounds while the inmates, who were transported from all geographic areas of the state or nation, came from both urban and rural backgrounds. Not surprisingly, the community-based, culturally homogeneous staff were ill- equipped to manage the daily issues raised by the urban-based, multiethnic inmate population. An example of the resulting problems is exemplified by the 1971 riot in Attica, N.Y. The inmates' main complaints stemmed from staff's inability and failure to understand and respect different cultures, ethnic backgrounds and religious needs.

Another issue that has been re-evaluated in recent years is women working in the correctional environment. Traditionally, female correctional staff worked with female offenders. However, in the 1970s, correctional agencies began to employ females to work with male inmates. Initially, female correctional officers were not allowed to work in high-security institutions, ln the federal system, females were exempted from working in these facilities until January 1993.

A third factor that contributed to the development of staff equality was training. The Federal Bureau of Prisons' (BOP) training program, in which all staff are initially trained in the same manner and taught to perform any task in an emergency situation, illustrates this. Regardless of position, all personnel are trained to be correctional officers first and to understand that the security of the institution is their foremost responsibility.

Benefits

The benefits of a diverse staff have proved to be substantial. When staff from different ethnic backgrounds and geographic locations work together, they have an opportunity to learn from one another. Not only is the result improved staff interaction but also improved staff communication with inmates.

Generally, male and female staff develop different methods of communicating and problem-solving with inmates. …