CJ students visit the Essex County Correctional Facility

Norwich CJ students visit correctional facilityThe NU Club of the North Shore, Mass., sponsored the Norwich University Criminal Justice Association's (NUCJA) visit to the Essex County Correctional Facility. The students enjoyed the opportunity to experience a different perspective of the criminal justice system - the world as seen by those who go through the conviction and sentencing process. The following is a personal account of their visit, written by Norwich freshman and CJ major Courtney Bishop.

On February 12, thirty-two students and two professors were welcomed by Major Backry '66 of the Essex County Correctional Facility. We began in the briefing room where Major Backry explained the role of the correctional facility in the criminal justice system. We learned that the Essex Facility is a maximum-security, all-male facility where criminals from all walks of life are incarcerated. The inmates included gangs, rapists, murderers, child molesters, robbers and drug dealers. Major Backry explained in detail what the facility does for all of the inmates and what the inmates themselves have to do; i.e., rehabilitation programs. He told us that out of the facility's 455 corrections officers, about 30 were females and noted that women officers in the criminal justice field in general and corrections specifically are highly sought after as employees.

On our tour, we received a demonstration by one of the German Shepherds and her handler, Joanne, one of the facility's female officers. Joanne told us that all of the dogs at the facility (they had somewhere around 16 canine teams) had been trained in Europe and were exceptionally smart and alert. Joanne and her dog "Ringo" showed us just how highly trained the dogs were by putting on a brief exercise in crowd control and control of an inmate during a pat down. Her commands, both by hand and in German, were instantly received by the dog and acted out on cue.

Major Backry and NU student Matt RodmanAt lunch, and I soon realized what Major Backry had explained earlier--that the color of the inmate's uniform described the level of "freedom" which the inmate enjoyed in the facility. Tan meant convicted and sentenced, orange meant pre-trial, and the color of the inmate's uniform before me--white--indicated an inmate that worked in the kitchen, laundry service, print shop, etc. The white uniforms were inmates that could be trusted to carry out a duty and further their road to rehabilitation.

We saw the infirmary, "super 120" (where the worst of the worst are placed), the central control boardroom, the command stations of each cell block and the drug rehabilitation block. It was in the drug rehabilitation block where we walked into a room with about 65 prisoners who were no more than ten feet from us. We talked with a couple of the inmates for a few minutes about their convictions and what they had to do in prison before being released.

We all met again in the briefing room just as we had started our day, and Major Backry entertained a few questions and gave a few last words of encouragement to those of us in the criminal justice field. Visiting the Essex County Correctional Faculty was something that the students of Norwich University Criminal Justice Association will carry with us into each of our careers in the justice field. We would like to thank the NU Club of the North Shore for the generous support (and the great breakfast as well) that made this trip possible.

pubrel@norwich.edu, March 2004

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