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High Risk Offenders
By Terry Campbell, Professor, Purdue University Global
Published: 05/28/2018

Risk Our topic for the May corrections.com edition is titled “High Risk Offenders.” An interesting topic with many definitions, dependent on if we are talking about prisons, jails, community release, supervision and other areas. I have written about this topic previously. Unfortunately, corrections still faces dilemmas when research findings are only short-term. I will share some professional opinions, observations, and some research information. There are many variables that must be considered and I identified some below. These variables will be discussed further.
  • Prisons and Jails
  • Levels Security
  • Mental Health
  • Special Management Offenders
  • Federal Courts
  • Community Release
  • Intensive Supervision
  • Risk Management Assessment
Something I have found over the years is inconsistency in corrections’ practices and some terminology issues. What you will notice is practical definitions and practices that may be different than what you are familiar with. Current statistics reflect a decrease in prison and jail populations. Again, this will vary across geographic locations. I will use the term offender to represent a person incarcerated in prisons, jails, and under community supervision. Upon entry into the prison and/or jail, an offender will have a Risk Assessment and/or Classification review. There will be a series of identity verifications, medical and mental health evaluations, types of crimes and if weapons were used, any military background, prior arrests and/or convictions, education level, religious preference, gang affiliation, escape risk, propensity for violence, drug usage, etc. All of this information is collected to determine the security risk level of the offender, programming, safety and security concerns, housing assignment, and other. This is a valuable tool when used correctly. There are periodic evaluations to see if the classification level has changed and reasons for this. The risk management assessment can carry over to probation and parole to assist in meeting offender supervision needs. I will discuss this further later.

Corrections and community supervision continue to face many issues dealing with offenders with mental health issues. While incarcerated and supervised in the community, identifying these offenders and meeting their needs is required. This can also create safety and security concerns for officers, staff, and supervising officers. Some states identify these offenders as special management. Again, there are other types of offenders in the special management category.

Many of the prisons and jails have access to mental health professionals and some prisons have special program units for some mental health offenders. Regardless if the offender is supervised in the prisons, jails, or community, the needs of the offenders still must be met. Over the years there has been quite a bit of litigation and the Federal Courts are clear on their decisions.

Special management offenders may need administrative segregation, protective custody, medial or mental health observation, discipline concerns, death row, and other safety and security concerns. Offenders in this category require different supervision, additional uniform and non-security staff, etc. There are many challenges along with additional safety and security concerns, when supervising special management offenders.

High risk offenders also create a variety of safety, security, and programming concerns. This also requires strict adherence to moving an offender from one area to another. These offenders are locked down usually 23 out of 24 hours. There are periodic classification reviews, along with risk management adjustments. Additional training and screening is also required for uniform and non-uniform officers to be assigned to a maximum-super max setting. These types of housing environments also create additional legal concerns. Again, the Federal Courts have been very clear with their rulings. Not only must corrections be concerned with the offenders but the officers and staff’s physical and mental health concerns. Working with these types of offenders creates a tremendous amount of stress.

Community release can range from court supervision, probation, parole, and release. The officers and non-uniform staff also have stress and same/similar concerns in supervising offenders on release. Some departments utilize intensive supervision and other initiatives in supervising and controlling offenders. Again as previously mentioned, risk management can be an additional tool in determining supervision level, programming needs, and any special conditions identified by the releasing entity. There are periodic reviews and the supervision level can be increased, decreased, or result in a violation. If a violation occurs, there will be a hearing and a decision to continue supervision, revoke release, and other.

We continue to find many programs have short-term results with recidivism concerns. There are promising programs, yet the final outcomes are still not favorable. In corrections we also have some additional dilemmas to consider that may contribute to this. The number of offenders being supervised by an officer. In some areas, the numbers are scary and we still continue to see many agencies suffering from loss of staff. Anytime we lose experienced staff, this creates hardships, more so when staff is not replaced. We have to do a better job of retaining staff, training staff, and maintaining appropriate caseloads. This also places pressures not only on staff, but supervisors, and the organization itself. Our most precious resource is our staff, we need to ensure they are properly trained, work as much as possible with limited stress, support them, and have leaders and supervisors to support our personnel. A lot of issues when we look at offenders and staff, trying to manage, juggle activities, provide security and programming while meeting legal requirements, and trying to assist offenders. At the same time, there are some offenders who choose to resist or only make short-term commitments. The following are my views; “until an offender is willing to accept the responsibility and consequences for their own actions, change is not going to occur.” Each of us has an ethical responsibility to assist and provide what is necessary to all offenders. Someday I hope to see a dramatic positive decrease in recidivism.

Until then, keep up the awesome work and stay safe.

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 tcampbell@purdueglobal.edu.

Other articles by Campbell


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