Desert Waters Correctional Outreach, Inc.
Desert Waters Correctional Outreach, Inc.

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1307, 2023

Prison Reform & Staff Wellness Are Inextricably Linked

July 13, 2023|Blog|

For the past 20+ years, Desert Waters Correctional Outreach has been dedicated to devising ways to improve the well-being of correctional staff – a desperately needed and noble endeavor. As a result of this work and the efforts of others, such as One Voice United and Chicago Beyond, we at Desert Waters have concluded that correctional staff wellness is not only crucial in its own right, but it is also a foundational component of a much broader and also desperately needed mission – prison reform. In this article I share my thoughts on how prison reform and staff wellness are highly interrelated, and why I am firmly convinced that we cannot have one without the other. Why There Can Be No Prison Reform Without Staff Wellness Prison reform aims to improve living conditions in prisons, and to provide programming and treatment that increase the probability of successful rehabilitation and reentry of incarcerated persons. For that to be possible, we need a reduction in the [...]

504, 2022

A House Divided CANNOT Stand: The Critical Need for Staff Unity

April 5, 2022|Blog|

I’ve heard many a time the saying that perception IS reality. Since perception at times may in fact be misperception, and not actual, true reality, I take this saying to mean that the way we perceive situations can “push our buttons” and cause us to react in certain ways regardless of whether the perception is accurate or not. In the workplace, if having healthy and harmonious staff relationships matters to us, then staff’s negative perceptions of their agency—whether founded or not—must be addressed, discussed, clarified and worked on as needed, or else these negative perceptions will breed division and discord. What I’m about to discuss here is a very delicate matter at the heart of the philosophy of corrections in the United States. We probably agree that the pendulum (regarding how and why corrections is being carried out in the United States) has swung from a strictly containment, “warehousing,” even punitive model to a more rehabilitative and treatment-oriented model, which [...]

703, 2022

An Ounce of Prevention

March 7, 2022|Blog|

Historians tell us that in 1736 Benjamin Franklin pointed out to the citizens of fire-threatened Philadelphia that “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” This statement emphasizes that when we know that there is a substantial risk that a certain hazard will occur, it pays off to do what we can to reduce the likelihood that this hazard will befall us. The energies poured into such preventative efforts are likely to give us a high return on our investment by preventing ripple effects of suffering, possibly irreparable harm and even possibly loss of life. These are reasons why prevention should be an essential component and a foundational principle of corrections staff wellness programs. Sound research studies have established that corrections staff face a formidable occupational hazard which, for ease of discussing it, I call Corrections Fatigue. (By Corrections Fatigue I mean the cumulative and combined negative effects of all types of occupational stressors encountered in corrections work.) [...]

2802, 2022

Sleep…Who Needs It‽ The Complexities of Excessive Mandatory Overtime and Sleep Deprivation

February 28, 2022|Blog|

News articles that address chronic sleep deprivation and excessive mandatory overtime for correctional employees are now common: “I would start my shift on Sunday night,” . . . “I would be too tired to commute home, so I would sleep in the jail in a former jail cell, in an inmate bunk. I would get up, eat out of a vending machine, do my next 16-hour shift and then I wouldn’t go home until Friday morning.” (Washington, 2021). When [she] could not face another 16-hour workday at the Philadelphia Department of Prisons, she started paying a coworker $20 per shift to take her mandatory overtime assignments. (Pennsylvania, 2021). A typical work week sees officers working 84 hours over seven days; mandatory overtime can see staff working an additional 36 hours a week. “That’s at a minimum,” officers [are] going home exhausted saying, “We can’t risk our lives anymore.” (Alaska, 2020). “Six 12-hour shifts with a day off equals 72 hours [...]

2102, 2022

COVID-19 in 2021

February 21, 2022|Blog|

Instead of a reprieve, 2021 has followed closely on the heels of 2020 in terms of relentless demands posed by COVID-19 realities on staff of all ranks and disciplines – front-line staff, mid-level supervisors and administrators. FRONT-LINE STAFF Based on an unpublished research study conducted by Desert Waters Correctional Outreach in 2021, and also based on our conversations with staff across the country, staff’s biggest challenges in 2021 boiled down to health and functioning concerns. Staff’s biggest challenges in 2021 boiled down to health and functioning concerns. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson) Staffing shortages (that were perhaps already severe) worsened due to COVID-19, leading to high amounts of mandatory overtime work, and staff’s partial chronic sleep deprivation, becoming the norm at certain agencies. Staff have spoken to us about feeling trapped, stuck and having been taken hostage by their agencies due to having lost their freedom to go home at the end of their shifts. Uncertainty about the implementation and efficacy of new policies dealing with COVID-19 realities, [...]

302, 2022

More Beautiful Where Broken and Mended

February 3, 2022|Blog|

The Japanese have an artform that has evolved from mending broken pottery.  It is called KINTSUGI, which means golden joinery, or KINSTUKUROI, which means golden repair. Artists who use this artform repair broken pottery by mending areas of damage with coating covered or mixed with powdered gold, platinum or silver. Pottery repaired in this manner is considered to be more beautiful and more unique than it was when it was still intact, before it had been broken and ever so carefully and tenderly repaired. And it is, indeed, more beautiful than before, with veins of gold running along its side, shimmering and glimmering, and making the pottery vessel functional and usable again. I wonder if the same may not apply to us. We all have areas in our lives or in our person where we have experienced “breaking,” even getting shattered. As fragile human beings, as time goes on, we simply cannot escape getting cracked and chipped and fractured as we [...]

501, 2022

A Family Affair

January 5, 2022|Blog|

Dear Corrections Employee: The wife of a corrections officer once told me, “When my husband got a job at the Department of Corrections as a Corrections Officer, I had no idea that it was a package deal—that we’d be signing up too, as a family.” Since then, I’ve heard similar statements expressed by other family members of corrections staff as they navigate through the uncharted waters of their loved one working in corrections, and while trying to understand and adapt to changes in their life as a family. More often than not, your spouse and your other family members enter into the world of corrections uninformed and unprepared for the toll this occupation can take on you, and by extension on them, and the changes they will be experiencing in their home life as a result of your job demands. Your family members are happy that you will have a steady paycheck with benefits. They are thrilled to hear that [...]

1512, 2021

The Heroes of Our Day

December 15, 2021|Blog|

Prison. It’s overcrowded. It’s understaffed. It’s loud. Gangsterism is a constant. The potential for a fight or a stabbing is just around the corner. Complaints outnumber the barbed wire spikes surrounding the place. I’ve heard it said, “Prison is an assault on the senses.” But that’s just a normal day. If working behind bars wasn’t already hard enough, this worldwide pandemic has added yet another layer of anxiety and mistrust in a place that was already a daily battlefield - both psychologically as well as physically. “This thing is like an abusive husband. It has isolated us from each other. And now…fear.” This was one officer’s take on how the prospect of COVID-19 infiltrating the correctional system has impacted the relationships among colleagues in the maximum security center at which she works in South Africa. While the national lockdown was in place, the Department of Correctional Services (DCS) closed its doors to the public - including all visitors as well [...]

912, 2021

Fueled by Covid-19: Hypervigilance on Steroids

December 9, 2021|Blog|

One of the outcomes of post-traumatic stress is the symptom of hypervigilance—an excessive and continual state of alertness, anticipating danger and being on the lookout for it to the extreme. By definition, hypervigilance prevents people from letting go and relaxing, as they remain on guard, watching and preparing for danger, ever ready to defend themselves and others. Hypervigilance helps maintain the fight-or-flight stress response active in our brain and in the rest of our body. It may help save lives when an actual threat materializes, but it wears us down and wears us out emotionally and physically if it becomes a chronic state of being. Corrections staff in general, and corrections officers in particular, have grown accustomed to anticipating and preparing to face dangers related to their profession. They have rehearsed over and over, both mentally and literally, ways to confront and neutralize threats that stem from human manipulation and violence, physical plant failures, fires, and adverse natural events. They [...]

712, 2021

The Burden of Job Role Complexities

December 7, 2021|Blog|

Since the criminal justice pendulum in the United States has swung towards more rehabilitation and re-entry efforts and away from sheer containment, and since custody staff are the correctional employees that offenders interact with the most, custody staff’s job description has expanded. In addition to ensuring safety and securing offenders’ adherence to rules, custody staff are now tasked with being part of the effort to help “reprogram” offenders’ thinking toward becoming more prosocial and toward making more constructive choices. This complex and demanding task requires the use of interpersonal skills beyond those needed in traditional custody work, such as good communication and de-escalation skills. Custody staff’s expected involvement with offenders now may range from empathetic listening, to giving words of affirmation or encouragement, to engaging in the application of motivational interviewing techniques or problem-solving strategies to defusing an interpersonal conflict. In short, custody staff are currently expected to operate as both cops and helpers, as both law enforcers and mentors, [...]


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