The purpose to conduct a qualitative empirical phenomenological study was to explore and understand the lived experiences of prison volunteers who have witnessed the decline of prison programs and prison funding in California. The prison volunteers of community-based organizations provide reentry resources and educational tools to inmates who desire to live a productive life after release from prison. The participants were 20 individuals from the state of California that provided lived experiences as prison volunteers. Eight themes emerged from the data: (a) motivation to volunteer, (b) personal growth and achievement, (c) benefits of volunteering, (d) personal challenges, (e) personal perception of leadership characteristics, (f) the need for change, (g) identifying community-based organization challenges and issues in in a correctional facility, and (h) critical factors for improving volunteer training. Findings from the study reinforced the essential role of community-based organization leaders to inspire individuals to volunteer in a correctional facility and to help ease the cause of prison overcrowding and aid toward reducing recidivism. Data from the study may provide effective training and recruiting strategies by leaders of community-based organization to sustain committed prison volunteers. DR. DONNA MADISON-BELL
What I would do differently is based on the following recommendations:
Findings in this study revealed several recommendations for leaders of community-based organizations providing service in a correctional facility should closely explore their relationship with prison volunteers. I feel that it is also important that leaders measure the outcome of prison programs operated by volunteers. Another recommendation is to help advance the cause of awareness to leaders desiring to start prison programs and understand the challenges to manage prison programs with limited or no financial support. Now, prison volunteers come from a diverse background and have different motivational factors to volunteer in a correctional facility. Therefore, before thinking about volunteering in a prison system, prison volunteers could: (a) become a prisoner advocate, (b) obtain training to understand and recognize inmates with mental illness, (c) help dispel the misconceptions of inmates and the correctional system, and (d) practice and engage effective leadership skills as a volunteer. I feel that these recommendations could ensure potential prison volunteers to incorporate leadership skills when the leader of a community-based organization is overwhelmed with other obligations. DR. DONNA MADISON-BELL
To continue the development of this study, future researchers should replicate this study in other regions of the United States including International regions and other areas within the correctional system. Since this study was limited to prisons outside the state of California and excluded county jails, juvenile detention centers, employees affiliated with California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, and personal perspectives from inmates and ex-offenders, I feel it is important that future researchers should replicate the study with the same outlook, but in areas that could identify the problems to a different audience and population. The expansion of this study may also provide more in-depth information regarding: (a) volunteerism on reentry and education programs in county jails and juvenile detention centers, (b) personal challenges on the impact of budget cuts toward employees affiliated with California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, and (c) the results of reentry and education programs on ex-offenders outside the state of California.
DR. DONNA MADISON-BELL