Trendspotting: The Footprints of David Parrish


We have this agreement around my home and office that we don’t discuss the R-word: retirement. In the solitude of my own thoughts, anxiety about exercising my age-gifted perk grips me momentarily, but soon passes as I approach yet another TSA screening lane.

Not that I don’t have success models to emulate: My 89-year-old dad locked the door on a declining textile industry a few days shy of his 65th year, while my 94-year-old father-in-law literally turned out the lights at a major northeastern utility company one month after turning 65 years old. Both continue to enjoy good health, supportive spouses, and appreciative children, grandchildren and great grandchildren.

To say that attitudes regarding retirement have changed since 1978 is similar to saying that anyone in Washington, or on Wall Street, has a clue about our economic future.

or my parent’s generation, retirement was a right that mostly became a rite very close to the calendar-defined date.

For reasons borne of efforts to redefine aging, sustain comfortable lifestyles, satisfy unfulfilled ambitions or merely avoid endless days of pickling various vegetables, the celebration of this specific day in time is diminishing in significance. 

Hillsborough County

The Hillsborough County Department of Detention Services operates a 4,190-bed jail system composed of two main detention facilities — the 2,304-bed Falkenburg Road Jail, which opened in 1998 and features a 250-bed infirmary, and the 1,711-bed Orient Road Jail. When it opened in 1990, the Orient facility was the largest direct-supervision jail in the United States, officials say. 

The Falkenburg detention facility was master-planned for future expansions to a rated capacity of 4,032 beds and construction is underway to add two 50-bed infirmaries and 768 detention beds.

Then there is the issue of forced farewell lunches for some categories of government employees. Several years ago in this magazine, I lamented over the challenge that this perk presents for institutional experience and transitioning wisdom to those left behind. As I noted then, some organizations are better prepared than others, but that is not my focus here.

Here, I want to salute the employment transition of David Parrish of Hillsborough County, Fla., in terms of his insights, innovations and inclinations.

After 34 years with the same agency, his departure in late September was neither performance-nor age-dictated, which makes the decision all the more important and renders the future all the more exciting.


My first sighting of David — a rapidly rising star in the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Department, and the profession in general — occurred at an American Jail Association conference in Clearwater, Fla., in the mid-1980s, where he spoke passionately about an emerging cultural shift in inmate management toward direct supervision. His acknowledgement of me, a fellow panelist, was as the only person he knew with two Mont Blanc writing devices; he possessed only one.

Hillsborough County’s Falkenburg Road Jail is master planned for 4,032 beds.

From that humbling introduction, we have together populated many committees and panels, shared many professional and personal concerns and engaged in myriad conversations in countless corridors at innumerable conferences. We have sought solutions for inmates in New South Wales and enjoyed an audience with the President of Israel.

Through more than two decades of both observing him from a distance and interacting up close on the evolutionary changes in jail management and design, I have grown to appreciate the difference between leaders and managers. Both are absolutely essential but without the former, there is no need for the latter. 

His desk drawers are full of awards, citations and recognitions, and a quick search of cyberspace will yield some indication of the raft of accomplishments that have regularly punctuated his long career of public service. Many of these acknowledgements were bestowed for re-defining boundaries, yet David never allowed past accomplishments to obscure his vision of the next opportunity to improve the quality of corrections.

Of course, in retirement, all of us want to feel that people, places and conditions are better as a result of our year-on-year efforts to overcome the many challenges.

The awards and citations generally memorialize these accomplishments. More important, however, are the insights left for those who will stand on our shoulders to sustain and refresh these accomplishments in an evolving future.

David’s insights into how local governments can resist the temptation to devalue inmates, the staff that supervise them and the families that support them, will provide a large part of the legacy he leaves in Hillsborough County.

The Falkenburg jail, opened in 1998, features a 250-bed infirmary.

Again, leadership inspired by an understanding of who are the constituents, the innovators and the benefactors assures that his footprints in the sand will endure.

By the time I first met David Parrish, he was well into puncturing the dominant inmate-management paradigm in correctional facility design. The Orient Road Jail had just opened and in the eyes of the architectural community, another milestone in the quest for normative environments had been negotiated.

From this well-conceived facility, David acknowledges that he learned how staff and inmates interact, and the impact that crowding and fiscal constraints can render over time on both groups.

His commitment to direct supervision never wavered, but his interpretation of the means and methods to improve the concept grew from an evidence base at Orient Road. David loves data!

I have been a part of so many tours of the Hillsborough facilities that were it not for my omnipresent consultant sheen, I might be considered staff — of course, in that case, I’d be eligible for retirement.

On a recent tour, I saw yet another innovation that could alter our opinion on the management and design of sub-acute health care for inmates. In addition to an initiative that established a new community standard of care for sick and mentally ill inmates in jails, other paradigm shifts that David oversaw include:

  • An objective classification system, which eliminated the housing of inmates by custody level and resulted in a major shift in design approach that reduced construction time and costs, and operating costs.
  • The implementation of an open-booking process that eliminated costly separations by custody level and gender — Hillsborough books one detainee every seven minutes. 
  • A recognition of staff challenges to find and maintain quality childcare, and the consequent development of a licensed childcare center for more than 65 children.
  • The development of a master plan for more than 6,000 inmates with a de-centralized approach to service delivery based on management clusters of 256 inmates.
  • The concentration of efforts to offer inmates the opportunity for self-improvement through more than 20 active programs — more than half of the programs involve local school board instructors.
  • The implementation of a work release program, which includes electronic monitoring and day reporting, to prepare inmates for transition back into the community.
  • The initiation of a comprehensive program of pretrial diversion that has resulted in a 13% drop in the average daily inmate population during the past two years.

These are but a short-list of the accomplishments that have rippled through jails of all sizes in the United States, and David’s message for visitors from Singapore to St. Paul has always been that scale is less important than willpower the number of inmates only dictates. how many meals you have to serve, not how you cater for their care and management.


As attractive as the deck chairs may seem, after dimming the office lights at 1201 Orient Road, David won’t be spending a lot of time contemplating the past. Following a jaunt in his restored Plymouth hotrod to visit his mom, he is to become involved in the most massive project in the correctional community today.

Col. David M. Parrish

Col. David M. Parrish, CJM, joined the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office, in Tampa, Fla., in 1974. He served as commander of the county’s Department of Detention Services from 1981 to 2008. A graduate of the F.B.I. National Academy, Parrish earned a master’s degree in criminology from Sam Houston State University. He is a former president of the American Jail Association and chair of the jail manager’s certification commission. Parrish has served on the American Correctional Association’s board of governors and was appointed to the National Institute of Corrections’ advisory board by former Attorney General John Ashcroft.

A previous edition of Correctional News reported from California on the $8 billion plan to construct seven regional medical centers and add 10,000 new healthcare beds in the state prison system.

In 2006, U.S. District Court Judge Thelton Henderson ruled the standard of care in the state’s prison health system — with an average of one unnecessary inmate death per week — violated constitutional protections against cruel and unusual punishment.

Henderson established a federal receivership to improve conditions, care and facilities and return California’s prison healthcare system to constitutional levels. Staff from the California Prison Health Care Receivership Corporation visited Hillsborough County on a fact-finding mission and toured the healthcare units at the Falkenburg Road Jail.

In the short term, David will become involved with a diverse team of medical, mental health, rehabilitation and security professionals to develop an operational plan for the seven new 1,500-bed facilities. A particular focus for David will be direct supervision management training for healthcare and security staff.

In the long term, I hope he stays involved with the various boards of AJA, ACA and NIC, and that he effectively demonstrates that after retirement from a day job you have held for 30 years, a lot more time is available for mentoring.

David is but one of the correctional community visionaries retiring from long careers that have changed the face of corrections in the United States.

In addition to David, I salute you all.

Now for about an hour, I’m going to retire to that purposely-uncomfortable deck chair.

Stephen A. Carter, AICP, is principal of Carter Goble Lee LLC in Columbia, S.C., and a member of the Correctional News Editorial Advisory Board.