Recently, Major General Scott D. Berrier, Commanding General of the U.S. Army Intelligence Center of Excellence and Fort Huachuca, Arizona, and Cochise County (Arizona) Sheriff Mark Dannels were discussing the practice of housing Fort Huachuca’s military inmates in the Cochise County Jail.
Military service members are housed in the Cochise County Jail because there are no military detention facilities located within several hundred miles. Sheriff Dannels asked if there was a big difference between the way military jails and prisons were operated verses civilian facilities. In response, General Berrier offered to arrange a tour of the United States Disciplinary Barracks (USDB) in Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas for Sheriff Dannels and myself (Commander Kenny Bradshaw).
The purpose of this tour was to observe first hand, the operation, security, staffing and programs in a maximum security military prison and compare them to the practices in Cochise County.
The United States Disciplinary Barracks at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, is the only maximum security correctional facility for members of the United States Armed Forces. It houses male service members convicted at a Court Martial for violations of the Uniform Code of Military Justice. Those incarcerated at the USDB are enlisted personnel with a sentence of ten of more years, all commissioned officers and service members convicted of an offense related to national security. The USDB was built in 1874 and has been in continual operation since that time. A modern facility was built in 2002.
In June of 2017, Sheriff Dannels and I arrived in Kansas to tour the USDB. On the drive to the USDB from the hotel, there was an air of anticipation, having heard rumors and preconceived notions of what the DB would be like. We approached the Disciplinary Barracks not knowing what to expect. Would the inmates be in spotless uniforms marching from place to place, breaking rock at hard labor, or any of numerous stereotypical activities? We were met by Chief of Staff Peter Grande, who graciously took time out of his busy schedule to conduct the tour. After an informative briefing about the history and general operation of the Disciplinary Barracks, we began a complete tour of the facility.
The Sheriff and I quickly realized that even though this prison is operated and staffed by the military, well-run prisons and jails are very similar throughout the country. All prisons, including the Disciplinary Barracks, face the same issues of mental health, racism amongst inmates, and inmate violence against staff and other inmates. The rising issue of caring for mentally ill inmates is a huge issue for all corrections and detention facilities. This includes a wide range of mental health conditions; disorders that affect mood, thinking and/or behavior. Some common conditions include depression, anxiety disorders, schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. When an inmate is admitted to a facility with a severe mental illness, correctional officials, regardless of location, must decide if they are stable enough to go into general population. Inmates must not present a danger to themselves or other inmates, and they must be mentally competent enough to avoid being preyed upon by other inmates. Treatments, to include medications, addressing these illnesses are expensive and long term.
Another common problem in correctional facilities is that inmates tend to self-segregate by race. Although the jails and prisons within the United States strive to integrate inmates of all races, the inmates choose not to, and consistently segregate themselves by race, with each race creating a hierarchy within the prison population. For example, inmates often create rules for where inmates of a specific race are allowed to sit in the dining facility or when watching television. Inmates decide which race may use specific recreational equipment and areas during specific time periods. Inmates dictate segregation by race as a rule. Inmate driven racial segregation is very common throughout the prisons and jails within the United States.
Violence against staff and other inmates is another issue that the USDB shares with civilian facilities. Causes for prison violence can include gang-related activity and retaliation for inmates informing on other inmates (or being a snitch). Gang-related violence is a reality in most correctional facilities, whether military of civilian. If a prisoner supplies staff with information about another prisoner, he or she is known as a snitch. In some cases, snitches can be assaulted by other prisoners for their behavior, as it goes against ‘prison code’.
Other causes of prison violence are less preventable, depending on the prisoner and particular situation. An inmate’s mental health can also affect their propensity for violence; therefore, some violent prisoners must be kept in solitary cells to protect staff, themselves, and other inmates. The USDB and Cochise County have many of the same policies and procedures to address these common issues.
In contrast, the USDB has several differences from a civilian correctional facility. Chief Grande pointed out that as a result of prisoners being in the military, the USDB could be among the safest places for criminals to carry out their sentences. The prison benefits from the fact that every inmate has been exposed to military discipline before he arrives. All of the inmates have been trained physically and mentally to be soldiers and have additional training in their specific military fields prior to becoming an inmate. This is a distinct advantage compared to civilian prisons. One of the major differences in the Disciplinary Barracks is they have a 0% recidivism rate. Inmates in Leavenworth are all in the process of removal from the military. Once they have been separated, some of the inmates may be transferred to civilian federal prisons throughout the country to finish serving their sentence, however they never re-enter the military and therefore cannot return to the DB.
Military inmates, with some rare exceptions, are not career criminals. This is vastly different from civilian correctional facilities. (According to the National Institute of Justice, a generally accepted recidivism rate among civilian inmate populations is 76%). Inmates have to be enlisted personnel with a sentence of ten or more years, commissioned officers, or service members convicted of a national security related offense to go to the USDB. As a result, inmates convicted of less serious crimes and/or sentenced to less than 10 years, do not end up in the DB. Sexual offenses account for more than half of Disciplinary Barracks inmates’ convictions. This is not the case in civilian prisons and jails where only 8 – 12% of the prison population has been convicted of sex crimes.
Another difference between USDB and civilian correctional facilities is that staffing does not seem to be an issue, as it is with most civilian prisons and jails. Many prison systems and county jails throughout the nation are reporting their staffing is at crisis levels. Civilian correctional facilities are finding it more difficult to recruit qualified staff, then, have to allocate significant budgetary resources to train and retain them. The USDB utilizes military staff, mostly U. S. Army personnel, to operate its facility. These individuals arrive with previous training, few (if any) background issues and a working knowledge of military structure and discipline.
A distinct advantage the USDB holds over civilian facilities is the vast resources at their disposal. The United States Disciplinary Barracks is supported by the infrastructure of Fort Leavenworth Army post. They have medical, dental and mental health staff attached to the DB; and, if necessary, they have access to these military services outside the DB on Fort Leavenworth. This is very different from civilian facilities who struggle to deal with these issues due to budget constraints and difficulty in recruiting these professional positions.
As Law Enforcement professionals, the Cochise County Sheriff’s Office is continually striving to improve our level of service to the public from all of our divisions. This involves ensuring we run a constitutional detention facility that serves all our customers including our local military base.
If any Sheriff or Jail Commander has the opportunity to tour the United States Disciplinary Barracks in Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas, we would encourage them to take advantage, as it was a great learning experience from both a historical and modern correctional point of view.
About the Author–
Kenny Bradshaw attended the University of Arizona, then went to work for the Arizona Department of Corrections as a Correctional Officer. He worked his way through the ranks, retiring as a Captain in 2006. Kenny then returned to the Department of Corrections under a different retirement system and left in 2010 as an Associate Deputy Warden to take the position of Jail Commander for Cochise County Undersheriff Larry Dever. In January of 2013, Mark Dannels took over as Sheriff and he chose to retain Kenny as part of his current Command Staff. In 2014, Commander Bradshaw was selected as Jail Commander of the Year for the State of Arizona. He has been a member of the Arizona Jails Association since 2010 and was president of the Arizona Jail Association in 2015. Commander Bradshaw currently serves on the Jail Committee for the Western States Sheriffs Association. He is a past board member of the Legacy Foundation of Southeast Arizona and the Board of the Bisbee Mining and Historical Museum.