My turn: Corruption not a problem in corrections department

Posted: Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Last week the Alaska Department of Corrections became the first corrections department in the nation to receive Integrity Certification through the National Institute of Ethics. This is a notable achievement, for which the men and women of the department and citizens of the state can be rightly proud. Unfortunately, an article in Tuesday's Juneau Empire leaves the reader with the impression that the department was pursuing this course in response to incidents of corruption, violence, and theft. That simply isn't true.

The Alaska Department of Corrections was one of the most capable and professional corrections departments in the country before it embarked on the integrity certification process. Its employees are dedicated and honest, and do a very difficult job very well, as evidenced by our low rates of escape, inmate-on-inmate violence, and staff injury. Certification was not undertaken to "fix" a broken department or expose legions of "dirty" officers, because that is simply not the case. Pursuing certification was a proactive and positive effort to take a good department and make it even better, to the point of becoming a national role model for the profession. That is our desire, and we are well on our way to that lofty goal.

Integrity certification through the institute is a process of self-examination and improvement. The requirements of the program focus on making the department a place where employees develop and thrive. As such, it calls for improvements in hiring practices, training, and employee recognition, among other things. It places great emphasis on enhancing mutual support and trust within the department, and developing leadership that creates such a culture. The institute's research has found that this sort of climate creates the most effective, ethical public service.

Historically, few public agencies have performed such self-examination, let alone posted the results openly. We are committed to transparency in this process, but it is disappointing to see that commitment abused. Presently, there are no comparable statistics against which to judge our initial data, either in Alaska or the Lower 48. In and of themselves, isolated statistics can be made to paint any picture a reporter desires.

It is to the credit of our employees that the department achieved certification in a shorter period of time than smaller police and sheriff's departments in other jurisdictions, and before any other department of corrections. Our challenge is to stay the course and complete the process of improvement ahead. We intend to do just that. The members of the department and citizens of the State of Alaska deserve no less.

• Marc Antrim is the commissioner of the Alaska Department of Corrections.

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