|Crisis and High Risk Offenders|
|By Terry Campbell, Professor, Purdue University Global|
Our topic for July is timely. We find many of our corrections systems dealing with the COVID crisis. Included are community release programs, juvenile supervision, various treatment programs, and classification and risk needs adjustments. The impact from COVID has a tremendous impact upon the following areas: safety and security concerns; visitation; adequate resources, and other. Altering and adjustments are required due to this crisis.
Maintaining effective supervision in our prisons and community is a must. However, just trying to maintain classification levels has daily challenges. Along with this are mandates for social distancing in our correctional facilities and communities. Temporary suspension of some services, additional legal issues and concerns, number of hours and days staff are required to work may need altering.
The COVID crisis has also resulted in many inmates and staff testing positive. Then we have to look at quarantine and how this is administered in our facilities and community. Unfortunately, many of our offenders are classified as maximum security and/or high risk. The reason I mention this is many states’ classifications systems are going to vary. We also have multiple meanings for classification and risk needs assessments for high risk offenders. Again, this will vary from state to state.
As you know, our prisons were designed and built at different times. This requires corrections officials to look at available beds for open dormitory type settings, temporary housing for inmates infected and can they be quarantined at the prison or will hospitalization be required. Can this be accomplished in extra beds being placed in gymnasiums, visitation centers, or other areas while trying to maintain various security levels? Then, we have to see how we can house the offender classified as high risk. Yes, there are various security levels and we need to verify why the individual has this status and can he/she be housed differently. This also compounds safety and security concerns.
We also recognize some offenders are required to be housed separately and yes, some are that dangerous and a severe security threat to others. You get the picture; trying to house and control our inmate population has disrupted traditional security practices. As if these are not enough concerns; we still must have a minimum number of staff to be present and provide security. One common link many inmates have is visitation. This has been suspended in many prisons and some prisons are trying to cope with this. Also, inmates and staff must be provided basic necessities.
There are many more specific areas we could address for this topic, yet we are limited on writing requirements. Now if I may, I would like to shift gears and focus on corrections outside of our prison facilities. This includes our court systems, probation and parole services, and other agencies. Again, many offenders under community supervision are in a high risk category and require some level of intensive supervision. Along with this we have to look at what the requirements are in our communities for social distancing and maintaining high levels of supervision that are effective. I have not seen a lot of material released for effects of COVID on the courts and community supervision. The information I have is from some colleagues.
Some additional concerns and questions for community supervision and court components are how are courts handling court cases; effects on release of offenders who completed their time; placed on probation or parole release. The following questions arise and again this will vary from state to state. Are these offenders tested prior to release and what happens if they are positive and scheduled for release? How are probation and parole services handling home and work visits? Considering that many are still without work due to the virus. Are telephone visits effective and what other alternatives are being used, if any, in supervising offenders released to the community? What are states doing with technical violators and new crimes? How are the courts handling these types of cases as well as other court cases? These are only some of the questions I have and I am sure you have some additional ones. Society tends to focus on COVID in the community; recent events affecting the community and law enforcement and rightly so. However, there is not a lot of information being released dealing with COVID among our corrections populations. The concerns with inmates and staff are limited to their families, friends, and acquaintances.
The unknown factors are present and all are waiting to see if the second round of COVID appears. We know Texas, Arizona, and Florida have faced dramatic increases in positive COVID cases. Not all prisons are doing mass testing and this includes the community. Meanwhile, all of us need to be more supportive of each other for the commitment we make on a daily basis.
Stay safe and keep up the good work.
Terry Campbell is a criminal justice professor at Purdue University Global and has more than 20 years of experience in corrections and policing. He has served in various roles, including prison warden and parole administrator, for the Arkansas Department of Corrections. Terry may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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