Program curbs prison violence through conflict resolution.

Author:Love, Bill
Position:State Correctional Institution of Huntingdon, Pennsylvania - Includes related article - Stemming the Violence

Prison violence can create chaos and widespread behavior problems among inmates and morale problems among inmates and staff. Most corrections systems track the number of fights and assaults each day and mete out punishment after an incident. But to effectively reduce violence in prison, officials must take a more proactive approach by resolving problems before they intensify. Corrections officers can attest to the fact that minor disagreements often are antecedents to major disturbances.

At the State Correctional Institution at Huntingdon, Pa., which houses some of the state's most aggressive inmates, staff must deal with violence every day. Of the 2,200 inmates, nearly a third are serving life sentences and many have extensive histories of assaultive behavior.

Every year, the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections spends hundreds of thousands of dollars on emergency preparedness equipment and staff training. This training prepares a select group of employees to respond to crises. Such training is invaluable; however, we have learned that improving officers' communication skills enables them to respond more effectively to conflicts with inmates and co-workers. We need to teach inmates and staff how to get along better and resolve their differences peacefully.

Why should corrections officers want to get along with murderers, robbers, rapists? Most corrections officers view their jobs as providing for secure custody and control of inmates. Many would resist the notion that their job should go beyond giving direction and orders.

But good relations between inmates and staff are important to maintaining safety and order in an institution. The DOC is learning that communication and conflict resolution are effective tools for managing their inmate populations.

Conflict Resolution In Pennsylvania Prisons

Conflict resolution was introduced to the Pennsylvania DOC more than 14 years ago at the State Institution at Rockview by Marie Hamilton, executive director of the Voluntary Action Center. Superintendent Joe Mazurkiewicz wanted to provide a resource for inmates who had a history of aggressive behavior.

The conflict resolution course promised to give inmates the skills and the resources to handle their own anger and that of other inmates more appropriately and in a nonviolent manner. One of the main objectives of the course is teaching respect for one's self and others. The main components of conflict resolution are values clarification, listening...

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