Thank You! (Click here for full column)
Tuesday, March 1, 2022
by: Mandy Lambert, CJM

Section: President's Commentary


MANDY LAMBERT, CJM President American Jail Association



Thank You!
 
As I reflect on my time as your President, I feel compelled to write about progression, as much as I am to speak to industry challenges. For the many years that I have been involved with the American Jail Association, I have been impressed with AJA’s staff and their vision. Forward-thinking and creativity is the norm amongst our staff and their dedication to the profession is remarkable.
Significant Milestones

It has been a challenging year, but we have achieved some significant milestones. AJA celebrated its 40th year during my tenure. This equates to stability, purpose, and need. Not a single person can take credit but certainly the members, staff, and leadership throughout the years are to be acknowledged. We have opened many doors over the past 40 years, and we often refer to “having a seat at the table” as a measurement of our place in the corrections world.

This year alone we supported grant seekers, data collectors, and members. We developed a long list of external partners who support our industry. Our involvement with training, staff health and wellness, and legislation that directly affects our profession has been at the forefront. We had our inaugural Staff Health and Wellness Summit in Ohio this past October, and as a result there are plans for future fall summits. (Our fall summit returns to Columbus, Ohio in October. Watch our website, aja.org, for information as it becomes available!)

We have also explored partnerships with Amazon Business, the development of a nationwide peer support program, and launched a Jail Executive Institute weeklong training academy. We signed into a training MOA with the National Institute of Corrections and held our first New England Jail Leadership Academy. We have been furiously planning the 2022 Conference & Jail Expo in Long Beach, California, and we anticipate this year’s conference—as with past conferences—to be an awesome event for corrections professionals across the country. I am very proud of this past year’s accomplishments, the Board of Directors, the AJA staff, and especially the men and women who work in our nation’s jails. It has been an amazing year despite the global pandemic still on our doorstep, and we have made some significant strides in our mission to serve corrections professionals.

The Biggest Challenge

Over the course of the past year, we also encountered a serious shortage of staff in our jails. Both retention and recruitment are affected. I have attended virtual meetings, Zoom calls, roundtables, and general conversations, and I can say without hesitation this has been the most talked about topic and biggest challenge for our nation’s jails.

Jails are struggling to hire and retain qualified staff to operate the jails. We have heard from hundreds of jails that are citing many reasons why staff are leaving their long tenured employment.

Jail administrators are also reporting that newly hired staff are leaving within two years of initial employment. Although there are a variety reasons, the top reasons shared by those who left the profession are pay, a non-flexible schedule, forced overtime, and—of course—exhaustion. Exhaustion from the effects of the pandemic, negative media attention, court responsibilities, PPE, illness, increased institutional violations and … unfortunately, this list goes on.

With the exhaustion comes stress, which leads to unhealthy habits. Forced overtime also leads to stress, which then leads back to exhaustion. Corrections professionals are tapping out. The industry is losing its most valuable assets—our staff!
We must do something right. Higher Pay? Bonuses? Flexible schedule? Reduce overtime? Here at AJA, we are collecting answers and putting together a toolbox to assist jails with recruitment and retention efforts. AJA is at the ready to assist!

Thank You

I want to take a final moment to say thank you. First, thank you for allowing me to serve as your President. But I want to personally thank you for your dedication to provide a safer community.

Thank you for working in an environment where most would never consider working. Thank you for your integrity, your compassion, and your empathy.

Thank you for your fierceness, your professionalism, and providing awesome public service. Thank you for being proud of your profession. Thank you for advocating for corrections.

Thank you for community policing on the housing units, corridors, pods, dorms, intake, and all other areas on your complex. Thank you for your perseverance and commitment to the profession. Thank you for your 10-, 12-, 14-, 16-hour—or more—shifts. Thank you for your sacrifices. Thank you for looking out for one another. Thank you for thinking smart and always being “one step ahead.” Thank you for preventing a tragedy. Thank you for saving a life. Thank you for putting out fires and de-escalating incidents. Thank you for listening and providing advice and mentoring. Thank you for finding contraband. Thank you for assisting each other.

Thank you…. for serving as a corrections professional. You are part of a family like no other. Take care of one another. Be safe and be well.

Mandy Lambert, CJM
President
American Jail Association
…we have made some significant strides in our mission to serve corrections professionals.
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