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Crisis & High-Risk Offenders
By Terry Campbell, Professor, Purdue University Global
Published: 03/21/2022

Inmates v

We have another great topic this month. I identified the following areas to discuss in no particular order. All of these are issues facing corrections.
  • Changing Prison Population
  • Overcrowding
  • Improvement Prison Conditions
  • Increase Drug-Related Offenders
  • Lack of Resources
  • Staff & Inmate Safety
  • Retention and Staff Recruitment
  • Recidivism
When I started my corrections career in the 1970s, we had prison population concerns. Of course, we must look at this particular time and see how the field of corrections has evolved to the present day. We have seen more Federal Court involvement and legal decisions helping reshape corrections. These changes include classification, identification of high-risk and administrative segregation, new prison designs, gangs and cartels, multiple sentencing laws, COVID, recidivism, medical and mental health, gender identity, and other relevant changes.

Present-day corrections and facilities have become very volatile. Many of our prisons lack sufficient housing areas for violent offenders. These inmates are not only a threat to staff but also to other inmates. In addition, we find many prisons facing a lack of staff. Again, there are a variety of reasons for this.

We still face overcrowding concerns, contributing to additional safety and security concerns. Federal Courts have issued many legal decisions regarding failure to protect issues. Yet, there are additional areas we must consider. These include safety, sanitation, feeding the inmates, laundry, treatment programs, visitation, and other issues. All are affected due to the lack of staff.

We also must consider improvements in prison conditions. Are we meeting the legal requirements for prison conditions? Even during these challenging times, accountability comes into play. Corrections staff must be aware of the following concerns; cruel, inhumane, and degrading conditions, ongoing sexual violence, sanitation, and disease recognition, and plans to control for this. The Sentencing Project provided the following drug-related information. I felt this information is necessary and illustrates a clearer picture.

“Sentencing policies of the War on Drugs era resulted in dramatic growth in incarceration for drug offenses. Since its official beginning in the 1980s, the number of Americans incarcerated for drug offenses has skyrocketed from 40,900 in 1980 to 430,926 in 2019. Furthermore, harsh sentencing laws such as mandatory minimums keep many people convicted of drug offenses in prison for longer periods of time: in 1986, people released after serving time for a federal drug offense had spent an average of 22 months in prison. By 2004, people convicted on federal drug offenses were expected to serve almost three times that length: 62 months in prison.

At the federal level, people incarcerated on a drug conviction make up nearly half the prison population. At the state level, the number of people in prison for drug offenses has increased nine-fold since 1980, although it has begun declining in recent years. Most are not high-level actors in the drug trade, and most have no prior criminal record for a violent offense.”

People in Prisons & Jails for Drug Offenses, 1980 & 2019

State Prisons & Federal Prisons/Jails

Location 1980 2019
State Prisons 19,000 176,300
Federal Prisons 4,700 73,204
Jails 17,200 181,422

Data source: Bureau of Justice Statistics; The Sentencing Project

The final area I want to discuss is staff retention and recruitment. The field of corrections is a stressful environment, and many factors contribute to the stress. Resources are precious enough, yet trying to maintain safety and security comes down to the number of staff required for each shift. Staffing includes uniformed and non-uniformed staff for each shift. Sometimes people forget prisons are seven days a week and twenty-four hours a day. Those areas I identified earlier are part of the equation. There are a variety of reasons staff choose to leave corrections. Prisons and jails are facing many challenges in retaining qualified staff.

Some prisons have raised starting salaries and other incentives. Also, some states have activated the National Guard to assist with staffing concerns. Unfortunately, this is not long-term, and other options are still under review. Regardless, lack of staffing is continuing. I recall from my initial corrections experiences the double-shifts became an all-too-often theme. Unfortunately, this led to errors and additional stress. Next, we witnessed staff burn out and wondered why we had problems. Sad to say, we placed some officers in situations they could not handle. These are some problems that affect morale. Stay safe out there. I appreciate the job each of you performs.
Again thanks, Terry


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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