Magazine article Corrections Today

Sharpening Our Advocacy Skills for Special Needs Offenders

Magazine article Corrections Today

Sharpening Our Advocacy Skills for Special Needs Offenders

Article excerpt

There is a need to sharpen advocacy skills on behalf of special needs offenders. In the past, the focus has been on the mainstream inmate population in terms of funding and staff resources. Advocacy for special needs offenders has been slow, considering these offenders have always been with us. Even if they were not always defined as "special," they certainly have been recognized as "different." It is true that, in the past, the small numbers of offenders in this category fostered their relegation to the background, but that cannot be used to justify the slow development of programming. It is our advocacy that must improve. The fact is that the numbers of special needs offenders are increasing.

It is necessary to educate policymakers about the issues involved with special needs offenders and make them aware that these issues are complex; there is no quick answer -- no quick fix. To the policy-maker, special needs offenders' problems may seem quite simple: All that is required is to develop a program that addresses the group, followed by implementation. Frequently, little time is spent researching the needs of these offenders and staff resources for program development are limited. Implementation of programming for this population is dependent upon staff who may or may not have been empowered in the process.

The truth is that these defined special needs groups have subgroups within them with different needs. For example, female offenders are young, old, healthy, unhealthy, single, married, with children, without children, supported, alone, etc. A female offender cannot be plugged into "one size fits all." In fact, each subgroup encompasses a variety of issues that have shifts and trends of their own. These shifts and trends must be addressed routinely, actively and aggressively. The article in this issue by S. Cary Gill and Ron Angelone, "Fluvanna Correctional Center for Women: A 'Model' Facility," demonstrates the need for this diverse approach.

Educating policy-makers also is necessary to gain authorization and funding for implementing new ideas and/or techniques. It is interesting that while an agency may define a group as having "special needs" outside the mainstream, it may remain reluctant to authorize programs outside the mainstream design. It would seem obvious that to meet these different objectives, different approaches may be necessary. Instead, the idea is considered "outside the box" and bureaucracies, at times, view "outside the box" as risk-taking. Because bureaucracies are not always filled with risk-takers, advocates must be educated and confident in their proposals.

Why has advocacy been so difficult? Advocacy can be difficult when there are small numbers of individuals addressing the issues of these groups and research in the correctional environment is limited. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.