A Shift in Normalcy
Saturday, January 1, 2022
by: Mandy Lambert, CJM

Section: President's Commentary

President Mandy Lambert, CJM American Jail Association

A Shift in Normalcy
What is trending in the corrections profession these days? Well, what is not? Over the past several years, corrections keeps edging its way to the forefront. Don’t get me wrong; when something tragic occurs in your facility, you are at the forefront. But we have had—in my opinion—a shift in what was once normalcy in our environment. For example, the opioid epidemic has taken on a life of its own as the population that suffers from this addiction usually contains some of the most manipulative inmates with whom we have ever dealt.

What Are the Trends?

We have all seen an increase in illicit, unknown, and undetectable substances that enter our facilities through the postal mail. For those who have off-site copying of mail, you may be contending with advocacy groups who feel this is inhumane. Or perhaps you are receiving legal mail that appears to be legitimate when, in fact, it is not. Although we are searching for tools to combat this issue, nothing is foolproof.

Unfortunately, our health centers are not immune either. Even with the implementation of medication assisted treatment, abuse still occurs. For example, the latest abuses of “cheeking” and inmates dropping the strips in jumpsuit pockets or using orange paper to mimic Suboxone.

Then we are hit with a global pandemic. We must still house those who are seriously mentally ill, as well as those who suffer from substance use disorders, but now we need to create quarantine units. Legislation regarding restrictive housing, inmate calling rates, and “improving” conditions of confinement continues to move more quickly than we anticipate. Inmates who are released early to reduce the jail’s population are returning to communities that are “closed for business.” And within hours of release, we receive countless notifications of fatal overdoses, suicides, or the booking of that same person back into our facility.

Most importantly, we are seeing a reduction in our workforce. Recruitment and retention have become a challenge. Corrections staff are on mandatory overtime, covering for illnesses, and unable to use their accrued time off. Anger, resentment, exhaustion, and stress is what is trending in our industry. We must do better! How?

What Are We Missing?

We need to ask ourselves what we are missing. I am sure most of you have heard that career staff are leaving jails for jobs with more pay, less stress, and a better schedule. Perhaps their new job allows them more family time or better promotional opportunities. Corrections professionals struggle to maintain an adequate level of staffing to safeguard the public and staff who work in our nation’s jails. As our staff continues to diminish, we cannot keep at this pace and still fulfill our obligations to the incarcerated individuals, public and visitors. But, most importantly, we cannot continue to rely on those staff who show up every day to fill in the holes caused by departing officers. And we cannot continue to take advantage—or even abuse—their commitment to our profession by piling more work hours and responsibilities onto their shoulders.

This year, the American Jail Association and our Board of Directors will be addressing the issues of recruitment and retention amongst our nation’s jails. For those of you who attended the Health and Wellness Summit in Columbus, Ohio this past October, that was only the beginning. We are here to assist you and provide your agency’s needs through training, networking, and certifications.

The amazing staff at AJA headquarters can tailor our training to meet your agency’s specific needs. We can also provide your staff with several opportunities for professional development. I cannot think of a better time to become involved with the American Jail Association. 
We cannot address these issues alone, but we can do this together.

What Are the Next Steps?

Our next steps are critical to the continued success of our field. Development of staff, addressing health and wellness, pay increases, and flexible schedules are just a few of the areas that we are exploring. I encourage you to participate in the surveys, training, and roundtables that we will be delivering this year. Advocacy at this level for our corrections professionals is critical.

Delivering knowledge and education to the general public is also critical. The misconceptions of what occur “behind the walls” must be told, shared, and shown. Jails across the United States are doing amazing work to assist their populations with addiction, mental health, and even poverty. Evidenced-based programming to address criminogenic thinking, medication assisted treatment, and reentry services are trending. And all of these programs are aimed at reducing recidivism.

We have much work to do! Change does not occur overnight, but we must advocate for the men and women who operate our country’s jails. Criminal justice advocacy is trending; advocacy for the corrections professionals needs to be trending—and sooner rather than later.

Be well. Be safe.

Mandy Lambert, CJM
American Jail Association
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