Ask The Warden

Correctional News columnist Tony Turpin offers expert advice for the corrections industry. Turpin retired with 30 years of service with the Georgia Department of Corrections, beginning as a corrections officer in 1980 and finishing as a state supervisor. In 2007, Turpin became a founding partner and principal with Detention Management Group, and a principal with Southern and Associates.

Q: How do you manage inmate mail? Is everything screened?
A: Yes, everything that enters the secure facility must be screened. It is a very tedious and time-consuming task but one that cannot be ignored. Of course, staff must be trained correctly in this process. There are different kinds of correspondence, such as privileged mail, that must be handled in an appropriate manner. A trained officer knows where to look in the battle to keep contraband from entering the facility via inmate mail. Technology is making great progress in this area. Eventually, all mail may be received and sent by means of secure touch screens and kiosks eliminating the need to physically handle mail. This would include money orders and photos, allowing staff to monitor and archive correspondence, thus closing an avenue of contraband introduction. Architects need to look at designs that do not allow packages and mail to go behind the secure control, but instead allow these items to be checked and cleared before going downrange.

Q: What are the greatest challenges for county jails having to hold long-term prisoners under California Gov. Jerry Brown’s realignment mandates?
A: Typically, county facilities are designed and built to house inmates — both pretrial and sentenced — for a shorter period of time. As a result, county facilities have less designed space that is needed for the incarceration of long-term inmates. Program space, counseling services and recreation yards are scaled back in most county facilities because of the transient nature of the population. Inmate idleness is a major contributor of problems in correctional facilities and from county facilities that don’t have the staff or physical plant capabilities to house long-term inmates.

Q: What measures do you recommend when it comes to finding contraband weapons?
A: The search and control of contraband is not haphazard. The process is a part of daily facility operations and must be consistent. Both staff and inmates need to understand the vigilance of this effort. Contraband control starts with training of all staff in appropriate control measures. Visibility of command staff ensuring policies are followed is a basic, as is a sanitation and housekeeping plan that includes inmate living areas and common areas. Routine and surprise searches must be a part of the security plan.

Q: What is your opinion on the use of TVs in correctional facilities?
A: Televisions are a privilege that serve a purpose. The use of TVs can be an incentive as well as occupy time of inmates when idle. As with most everything inside a facility, strict policies must be in place that dictate time, programs and channel selection. Administrators must be aware of news and events that will be received via television and the effect they may have on an inmate population.
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