CMIT Hosts Columbian Corrections Executives for Leadership Training

By Veronica Gonzalez Hoff/

The Correctional Management Institute of Texas (CMIT) welcomed 30 senior and executive leadership personnel from Colombia’s prison system, in November as part of an ongoing Executive Leadership Training program in collaboration with the United States Department of State and Bureau of International Narcotic and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL).

This is the second time CMIT has welcomed international executives. Delegates from the Bahamas, Trinidad and Tobago, Suriname, and Jamaica participated in the program in November 2017. CMIT and INL have worked closely the past 2 years to develop this partnership focusing on developing transformative leadership within correctional systems internationally.

“Our goal in putting this program together was to provide them with some sort of executive level training that’s not in the corrections industry in general. Being able to provide this is part of INL’s effort to help strengthen the rule of law in Columbia,” explained Shannon McReynolds, senior corrections advisor for INL.

INL works with Columbia’s law enforcement, courts, and corrections agencies, focusing on providing support to their corrections system to make sure they have an enhanced level of capacity to improve work outcomes and strengthen the rule of law.

Aside from leadership and professional development, the Executive Leadership program focuses on ethical issues, organizational culture, strategic planning and best practices, internal agency situations, and agency mission, vision, and values.  Protecting Human rights and issues of confinement are also areas of focus in order to make sure facilities are safe, secure, humane, and transparent with their processes.

“This is the first time for our leaders to participate in this training. We didn’t have that emphasis in leadership and the power of influence that comes with that,” said Alexandra Grajales with the U.S. Embassy in Columbia. “INL focuses on humans and human rights. That’s why it’s important for those in leadership to understand how their decisions affect their personnel and administration.”

A member of the U.S. Embassy in Bogota, Colombia, who works with their ministry of justice to help assess training needs, contacted INL as a resource. The executive leadership training offered through the collaboration with INL and CMIT fit what they needed.

“Of course one of the first things we asses is, ‘Is there political will?’ We don’t want to just do a project and see short-term results,” McReynolds said. “These countries have backed this up with their own financial resources to provide training to bring their corrections centers up to the standard minimum rules established by the United Nations.”

McReynolds also noted that many countries, like Columbia, who collaborate with INL, are also working to achieve standards set for international agencies from the American Correctional Association (ACA).

“We now have the first ACA-accredited jail in South America. This is a process made possible through the United States and we are proud and grateful. It is hard to change a culture of a country, to ask those used to a way of working to change it when they think they are doing it right is hard,” Grajales proudly shared. “To have the support from our government and the U.S. has been so important to be able to do this through the ACA.”

From here, these executives will put into action the plans they developed this week. The U.S. Embassy in Bogota will help follow up with these plans to make sure they are following through. A series of metrics will be developed to help their sector begin to move forward in these new directions, especially in developing policies and procedures where there may not have been any.

Like Juan Manuel Riano Vargas, chief of advising and planning for INPEC-Columbia, they are all eager to get to work to build a stronger correctional system.

“A leader means many things. To be a leader is to not work alone but with a team,” Vargas said. “It is necessary to work together to make us stronger. This system is our responsibility.”

Instructors with CMIT’s Executive Leadership Program included Harold Clarke, Director of the Virginia Department of Corrections, Dr. Rick Seiter, former Director of the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections, Dr. Mary Livers, former Deputy Secretary of the Louisiana Office of Juvenile Justice, Bob Houston, former Director of the Nebraska Department of Correctional Services, and Dr. Brian Lovins, Deputy Director of the Harris County Probation Department.  Faculty from the Department of Criminal Justice and Criminology, Dr. Jurg Gerber and Dr. Erin Orrick, provided presentations on research and evidence-based practices within correctional treatment programs.

Doug Dretke, Executive Director of CMIT facilitated the program throughout the week and said it was an incredible honor to host correctional professionals from Colombia and he, along with all the instructors, were incredibly impressed with their expressed commitment and passion towards improving and enhancing their leadership and their correctional systems and practices. The Texas Department of Criminal Justice also played a significant role in helping to host the Colombia participants throughout the week with Executive Director welcoming the group to Texas and sharing his insight on the value of focused leadership, and setting and meeting standards through ACA accreditation.

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