Recruitment of many female officers in prison system should be reviewed
Stabroek News
March 22, 2002

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Dear Editor,

On Saturday 23rd February 2002 while the majority of the nation celebrated the advent of the anniversary of our republican status, a young son of our soil was left to die in a pool of his blood, in the percincts of our main prison.

His workmate and fellow custodian was shot and wounded. Most likely, she is destined to bear the marks and impediments of that encounter for the remainder of her life.

Traditionally, prison services have been viewed as being organisational hybrids. They are usually not regimented sufficiently to be deemed military entities, neither are they participatory enough to be classified as civil service agencies.

This uneasy matrix of prescribed orderliness and operational flexibility aways creates problems of institutional control, definition of role objectives, as well as proneness to low prioritization of needs in the schema of the state's resource allocation.

This nation ought to be grateful that, considering the massive deterioration of standards which had taken place in this department since the tragedies which befell prison officer Canzalar and prison Trade Instructor Belle, an event such as the one which occurred on February 23rd did not happen before.

Over the past two decades the resident inmate population of the penal system has increased by an average of 15% per annum. Conversely, the staff population declined on average, at a rate of 19.8%. Thus supervision spread and depth of control, essential elements in the context of penal management, have all but disappeared. The already precarious balance, which normally existed within the system because of inherent manpower scarcities, became even more troubling.

The attempt to overcome this department's manpower inadequacies by recourse to the recruitment of women was a disastrous decision, which not only fails to address the root cause of the shortage of male applicants in the first place, but actually worsened the overall security profile of the institution.

By the very nature of the dynamics which inhere in the relationship which tends to exist between males and females, coupled with the very intimate circumstances under which prison routines must be conducted, the employment of women in a preponderantly male environment engenders the creation of an atmosphere of vulnerability, a situation which cannot help being subversive of the maintenance of penal integrity.

Male officers become competitive amongst themselves for the favours of their female counterparts. This distorts and minimises the levels of respect and reserve which should exist between the various ranks and does not contribute to the elevation and maintenance of standards of discipline. Concurrently, male inmates also become competitors amongst themselves as well as against the male members of staff, subtly courting the favours of the female officers and subverting their affections.

These realities configure to create a dysfunctional status within the penal system, leaving it wholly open to the opportunistic violation of its integrity, through no conscious fault of either its staff or administrators.

It has long been recognised that two strong and sustainable walls are necessary in order to keep inmates in prison. The first is represented by the material presence of wood and stone and steel and brick. The second, and most important, is the human resource wall which is best constructed on the basis of numbers, discipline, skill and integrity. The retention of persons in custody is a labour intensive activity, and regardless of the level of technological sophistication which may be employed, a factor which really does not have much of a presence in our system anyhow, the paramount need is for good men to manage the bad ones.

Innovative measures to address this problem are now the urgent necessity. And the last thing which the few diehard stalwarts who man the breaches in our penal system need is a headhunting party, goaded by public hysteria, accusing them of failures which should really be laid at the doors of the inadequacies which are plaguing and subverting the efficacy of the system itself.

Yours faithfully,

CRB Edwards