The American Correctional Association represents more than 780,000 people employed in the correctional system. Suffice it to say, thousands are card-carrying members and thousands are not. When we look outside the United States, our international body expands considerably. Regardless of all of this, we stand proudly with correctional officers and employees everywhere--even when tragic incidents occur as one did in South Carolina a few months ago.
When you are as big, diverse and venerable as the ACA, which is fast-approaching its 150th anniversary, there are bound to be differences of opinion. But even so, I know, throughout our ranks, there is strong support for prison reform. I pointed this out recently during a National Public Radio (NPR) interview/listener call-in program--1A. I told listeners that we do not support mandatory minimums, nor were we in favor of old issues like "three strikes and you're out."
Speaking to radio host Joshua Johnson, and responding to the news that was raised following the incident at Lee Correctional Institution in South Carolina, my underlying message was, as it often is: "Stop putting all of the blame for things that happen in our institutions squarely on the shoulders of hard-working and decent corrections professionals."
We all know that our country is a nation of laws. Corrections people abide by and are subject to the same laws and legislative outcomes that affect us all. That is why I told NPR's millions of listeners emphatically that "it is very easy to point the finger, as has happened in some of your emails and in some of the comments from the speakers, about the prison employees. But the directors of corrections of the 50 states and the federal bureau of prisons are facing drastic cuts and finances and it's the general assemblies, it's the state legislators and the governors of our 50 states and the president of the United States and the federal legislature that make the decisions on what we have to spend and what we don't have to spend. We're for programs. We believe in rehabilitation. We believe in second, third, fourth and fifth chances."
I went on to say that "I think for the most part, most people who work in America's jails and prisons are professionals. They don't get paid a lot of money, there's a lot of vacancies, there's over 600 vacancies in South Carolina, there's over 900 correctional officers in North Carolina that haven't even gone through the academy that are on the chop. It's just...