National Prison Leaders Share Experiences

The U.S. Navy is opening a new 400-bed military prison in Chesapeake, Virginia in September 2011. Jim Adams, Technical Director of the project, developed a list of 107 issues, including budgeting, hiring, logistics, and administration, that need to be addressed before opening the doors.

Adams recently brought that list with him to the National Wardens Peer Interaction Program, which was held at Sam Houston State University’s College of Criminal Justice. There, he found answers to many questions, input on pitfalls to avoid, and offers from other prison Wardens from across the country to share expertise on key issues.

"The Navy hasn’t opened a new facility since 1989," said Adams. "With this opportunity to network with my fellow Wardens, I got to see that I am not alone in my problems. I had seen many issues or problems as difficult or insurmountable, but here I have found someone who has already successfully resolved this problem. After my presentation, a half-dozen wardens gave me their cards, and I have a lot of offers to help, with everything from technology to hiring to working with labor unions. The networking, the offers of help, and the collective expertise were great."

Sponsored by The Correctional Management Institute of Texas (CMIT) and the North American Association of Wardens and Superintendents (NAAWS), the program provided information on new programs, resources and issues in corrections to 35 wardens from across the country. The class included Wardens from state systems from Alabama, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Minnesota, New York, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, and Washington D.C.; Wardens from the Federal Bureau of Prisons, the U.S. Army and Navy Jails as well as Jail Superintendents from Tennessee. There was even a representative from Belize.

"This conference is designed to bring Wardens in from around the country to share their experiences, to share their challenges and to share their solutions," said Richard Stalder, a program facilitator, past president of the American Correctional Association and retired Secretary of Public Safety and Corrections in Louisiana.

"One of the key elements of the program is that wardens traditionally respect and trust other wardens," Stalder added. "What they are doing is learning from each other. If they look at each initiative, they can pick and choose from a menu of correctional programs and see what works best in their institution."

Among the topics discussed at the most recent meeting were privatization and public private partnerships; turnover and retention of correctional staff, budget challenges and reduction, corrections trends, and rehabilitation and reentry programs.

"They just learn from each other," said Art Leonardo, Executive Director of NAAWS. “There is nothing better than to listen to a presentation, pick up an idea, and share it with each other. The importance of the class is that they can pick up the phone and call each other and find out how they handled that issue."

For Adams, staffing the new facility will be a big issue. In addition to dealing with civilian and military staff from several branches, his jail has the potential to be unionized. During the conference, Wardens dealt with many human resources and labor relations issues.

Adams also was interested in reentry programs. In the past, military personnel who were sent to the brig for minor disciplinary infractions often were returned to their unit. Now, they are more likely to be discharged from the military and go back to their community and become our neighbors. Reentry program have always been a key element to the military system and many discussed during the class could be used to augment those programs.

"I think the problems are all the same," said Adams. "All I heard this week has been very applicable to our system. We are just a microcosm of society and other prisons."

The Wardens Conference comes on the heels of another national program to train mid-level jail managers to take on leadership roles in their institutions. Sixteen states were represented at the November training, which also was held at SHSU.

Sponsored by CMIT and the American Jail Association, the National Jail Leadership Command Academy included best practices, hiring and retention, accountability, effective leadership, big picture thinking, organizational community, applied ethical leadership, collaborative partnerships, finance and budget, essential leadership skills/tools and how to deal with organizational and environmental change.

"Leadership is so much about skills that are often not learned in the workplace," said Capt. Heather Lough of Bernalillo County Metropolitan Detention in Albuquerque, N.M. “People in some departments don’t necessarily know how to pass it on. Supervision and leadership are two completely different approaches. The skills taught here at the academy are essential skills and knowledge for leaders to have. It challenges them and their departments to create better environments for their staff and to nurture the leaders to come."

The practices learned can be applied at small or large jails, said Major Arthur Byrne of the Baldwin County Sheriff’s Office in Alabama.

“We are not alone,” said Byrne. “Everyone has the same problems across the board. There were a lot of plans presented here and I want to go back and look through my workbook for ideas that can benefit the organization and what I can work off of as a jail administrator. They have given me some great ideas."

During the academy, jail administrators were encouraged to bring real life issues to the session. Together, the group worked on solutions.

Member of The Texas State University System