Department of Corrections and Community Supervision

Remarks of Commissioner Brian Fischer
National Association of Blacks in Criminal Justice
Adams Mark Hotel, Buffalo
July 23, 2007

I want to thank everyone for coming this morning and welcome you to the 34th Annual Criminal Justice Conference. I’m honored to be the opening speaker today.

The agenda for this conference speaks to the complexities of our criminal justice system. There are no simple answers to the issues that confront us every day. All of us are asked to work with some of the most difficult people in society. Our hours are long and often dangerous, yet we come back day after day and do our best.

Few people outside corrections and law enforcement understand what we do; this presents a major problem for all of us. The lack of information forces society to see us through the eyes of the media; the newspapers, movies, television, and, increasingly, the internet. To some degree society’s lack of understanding is our fault in that we don’t get out the right kinds of stories. In the past, the walls that surround our prisons were meant to keep people out as much as they were meant to keep people in. We need to do better.

A conference is meant to be a place where information is shared, ideas discussed and new friends made. I suggest that one idea we should consider is how we get the message out to the public about who we are, what we do and the fact that we do it very well. We need to understand that if we’re not speaking out for ourselves, the message rarely gets out. While we all know that far too often we are judged by our failures, not our successes, we nevertheless need to present ourselves to the public as the professionals that we are.

Another issue that I know will be discussed at this conference is the matter of race. Minorities are over-represented among inmates and under-represented among staff. Part of the problem is historical. Part of the problem is the lack of minorities seeking careers in corrections. Over the years the number of minorities in most correctional systems has either remained flat or, as is the case in New York, actually dropped. The reasons are diverse: recruitment, salaries, location of facilities, advancement opportunities, and many others.

We owe it to ourselves to accept the fact that we need to do more to encourage minorities to join our profession. Diversity is not merely a good thing, it’s a critical need for any system to grow and be strong. I ask that everyone here consider what they can do to reverse the trend that we’re seeing and encourage more minorities to pursue a career in corrections or law enforcement.

One last item that needs to be mentioned: prison radicalization. You have all heard of the concern. You will be hearing about it more and more. I personally think the problem is overstated in the media, but nonetheless, it exists. There are a lot of angry people in our prisons and in our communities. As law enforcement professionals, we need to be aware of the potential problems some individuals can cause. Too often those who become radicalized are those with unresolved mental health issues believing that they can change the world by an act of violence.

Thank you all for being here, and thank you for this opportunity. Let the discussion begin.