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NCJ Number: 77972 Add to Shopping cart Find in a Library
Title: What Went Wrong at Walla Walla?
Journal: Corrections Magazine  Volume:7  Issue:3  Dated:(June 1981)  Pages:37-41
Author(s): G Tyrnauer
Date Published: 1981
Page Count: 5
Sponsoring Agency: Ithaca College
Ithaca, NY 14850
US Dept of Justice
Washington, DC 20531
Format: Article
Language: English
Country: United States of America
Annotation: The experiment in inmate self-government at the Washington State Penitentiary at Walla Walla is described, and possible causes of its failure are reviewed.
Abstract: For 4 years, beginning in 1970, the facility served as a laboratory for the reform ideas of the State's director of institutions, Dr. William R. Conte, an enthusiastic believer in the ideal of rehabilitation. Inmate participation in prison administration was realized through the Resident Government Council (RGC), an 11-man body elected by the inmate population for a 6-month term. Regularly scheduled agenda meetings were held with the prison superintendent, and representatives sat in on disciplinary committees and classification hearings. The councilmen had free access to their inmate constituents and to the outside world. They could contact the media directly, hold press conferences, go on lecture tours, and organize social events for outside vistors. The RGC had control over a budget, and a citizens' advisory committee provided a link with the free world. The principal changes made by Conte and the RGC were liberalized hair and dress codes, abolition of censorship, increased contact with the outside world, and the sanctioning of ethnic and special interest clubs with limited power over the daily operation of the prison. Eventually, however, the leadership of the RGC and the clubs went to 'strong arm' people, and violence increased at the facility. Most of the RGC's powers were removed in 1974, and the experiment was officially ended in 1977 when a new State governor entered office. The prisoners attributed the failure to administrative sabotage, and Conte blamed it primarily on the resistance of the increasingly powerful prison officers' union and on the reluctant cooperation of administrators. The prison's superintendent and most of the custodial staff believed that Conte went far too fast with an unworkable scheme. Some of the professional treatment staff felt it was a good program but that it had never been given a chance or an adequate budget. Others sympathetic to the rehabilitation concept maintain that such a program can not be accomplished in such a grim custodial setting. Photographs are included. A reference list is not provided.
Index Term(s): Correctional reform; Corrections management; Failure factors; Inmate attitudes; Inmate self-government; Washington; Work attitudes
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