During program start-up, every aspect of service delivery—from staff hiring to the timing and location of every program activity—had to be agreed on in collaboration with each correctional facility partner. All grantees, even correctional agencies, had to “reach in” to facility wardens and superintendents to negotiate prison-based program operations. Even in facilities where corrections staff were highly enthusiastic and program staff were highly knowledgeable about institutional constraints, some aspects of the service delivery plan had to be adapted before programs became operational. This negotiation process included securing each facility administrator’s initial approval for participation, identifying recruitment avenues at the facility, securing classroom space for all activities, securing officer coverage or other security arrangements for all activities, working with detailed facility-specific regulations and procedures, and then building familiarity with correctional officers and other line staff. Challenges to prison-based service delivery continued long after the start-up phase. These included facility closures, temporary lockdowns, changes in administrative regulations, facility space shortages, and limited correctional officer availability, all of which directly impacted MFS-IP activities.
“I came from corrections and can appreciate where [corrections staff] are coming from. I’ll compromise. I don’t ask things on principle; I ask for what’s essential, listen to them, and find the middle ground.”
—former MFS-IP grantee (NY)
Even when the grantee was the state correctional agency (about one quarter of MFS-IP grantees), the grantee still had to conduct facility-level negotiations and work within facility-level constraints and procedures to achieve the desired programming conditions at each facility. Due to the structure of state correctional systems, in which individual facility wardens and superintendents retain significant local decision-making authority, even state departments of correction did not get everything they wanted for program implementation at the facility level. The wishes of program implementers were typically secondary to facility routine and security considerations. However, their right to deliver the program was not questioned.
In addition to the facility-level negotiations outlined above, human services agency grantees had an additional challenge: they had to first build relationships with the departments of correction, before they could reach out to correctional facility staff. Gaining buy-in from correctional partners took longer than expected for most community-based grantees, and maintaining access and goodwill required substantial attention throughout the grant period. Stakeholders cited state-level correctional leadership initiatives (such as improving programming in prisons or reducing recidivism) as exerting a strong positive influence on the welcome that was extended by state departments of correction and local correctional facilities to community-based grantees wishing to deliver MFS-IP services. Whether such initiatives were present or not, successful “reaching in” relationships tended to arise when the MFS-IP program:
- Fulfilled a high-priority unmet programming need for the state department of correction or local correctional facility
- Built on a longstanding relationship between the grantee and correctional agencies that predated the grant
When one or both of these conditions was met, the program was perceived as a joint venture between the correctional department and the grantee organization, and partners were jointly invested in finding timely solutions when difficulties arose.