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Corrections Reform

Correction leaders from the Dominican Republic toured state and local jails and programs in a visit hosted by CMIT.

The Dominican Republic is undergoing a reform of its national corrections system, and it turned to the Correctional Management Institute of Texas at Sam Houston State University for an opportunity to explore prison management and rehabilitation programs.

“In the last seven years, the Dominican Republic started a big reform to make sure that its prison and correction systems insure that inmates not only serve their time, but also provide programs that rehabilitate offenders and reduce recidivism rates,” said Roberto Obando Prestol, Director General of the Department of Corrections in the Caribbean nation.

During a whirlwind, five-day tour, Obando Prestol and Rafael Monegro Betemit, Director of General Services, were given an overview of the federal, state and county prison and jail systems as well as parole and training in Texas. They visited the Estelle and Hamilton units at the Texas Department of Criminal Justice; the Windham School District; the Minnie R. Houston Training Academy; The Federal Bureau of Prisons Work Camp; the Brazos County Jail; and the Huntsville Parole Office.

The Dominican Republic delegation met with officials from the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. “It was a tremendous honor for the Correctional Management Institute of Texas to host Director General Obando Prestol and Mr. Betemit with this opportunity to visit correctional facilities in our state and engage in very productive discussions with correction officials at every level of prison programs and management,” said Doug Dretke, Executive Director of CMIT. “We look forward to continuing our relationship to exchange ideas and meet challenges in the corrections field.”

As Director General, Obando Prestol oversees 40 prisons and 22,000 adult inmates incarcerated in the Dominican Republic from pre- to post sentencing. With the prison population growing, he plans to build 10 new prisons over the next seven years. He is particularly interested in the infrastructure and programming at Texas institutions.

“We want to explore a collaboration with Texas,” said Obando Prestol. “We are interested in every aspect of it.”

The Texas Department of Criminal Justice provided an overview of the state system, including correctional institutions and rehabilitation programs. The group also toured the Windham School District, which provides academic, vocational and technical training to incarcerated inmates, and received an overview of infectious disease protocols from the regional medical facility. Finally, they visited the Minnie R. Houston Training Academy, where correctional employees receive the information and skills to perform their duties safely and effectively.

Obando Prestol said he was impressed with the infrastructure of the state prison system, including the laundry and kitchen facilities as well as maximum security features and perimeter fencing. He also said he would like to replicate the efforts of the Windham School District, which handles a wide variety of programs for GEDs, inmates with disabilities and college courses. He also was interested in on-site medical facilities to help reduce the risk of escape by inmates going to local hospitals as well as the policies and procedures from the training academy.

The delegation toured two TDCJ prisons, the Estelle Unit outside Huntsville, a maximum security facility for 3,000 male inmates, and the Hamilton Unit in Bryan, a minimum security treatment facility with 1,000 prisoners. Obando Prestol said he was impressed with the programming at the facilities, which included work in agriculture and textile industries.

State and federal prison officials meet with the Dominican Republic leaders over lunch. In Bryan, the group also visited the Federal Prison Camp, one of eight minimum security institutions for females in the country. The facility, which includes a residential drug abuse treatment program, is work-oriented and program-oriented and is located close to larger institutions or military bases where inmates help serve the labor needs.

With a growing number of female offenders in his country, Obando Prestol said he was anxious to explore the federal program. He also was interested in the drug treatment component, since a majority of crime in his country is related to drugs.

“Twenty years ago, it was rare for a woman to go to prison,” said Obando Prestol. “Now female inmates are growing at a considerable rate.”

For an overview of the county jail system, the delegates toured the newly constructed Brazos County Detention Center, which was built with an architectural model that allows more direct supervision of offenders. They also received an overview of the parole system from the Huntsville Parole Office. Prestol wanted to see how Texas handles its pre-sentencing and short term offenders as well as its parole system.

In the Dominican Republic, parole is handled by the judiciary, which has challenges monitoring parolees. Obando Prestol was impressed with how the Parole Division of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice keeps track of thousands of offenders.

“From my experience, the public doesn’t appreciate enough what corrections does for them,” said Obando Prestol. “With the police, they see them every day. But they don’t see the importance of corrections. To ensure a safe society, you have to have strong corrections programs.”

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