The Belize Central Prison hosted its first-time ever online corrections academy graduation on October 20, 2022, for the first graduating class of 27 staff members. Corrections One Academy training is available through a one-year contract, and 30 prison officers may go through the training at a time. The graduation was a special event attended by Belize’s media outlets and prison managers.
How This Training for Belize Central Prison Happened
The Belize Central Prison, the only prison in Belize, is a shining beacon for effective prison management in the Americas. The Kolbe Foundation, a faith-based, non-profit organization, operates this prison for the government of Belize. In 2002, the Kolbe Foundation took over the prison’s management due to its deplorable conditions and has significantly altered the lives of inmates and corrections officers.
The Kolbe Foundation has maintained a low recidivism rate of around 10% through effective faith-based rehabilitation programs that help
s inmates address and resolve the factors that led them to prison, such as drug addiction, anger problems, and a lack of employment opportunities. The Kolbe Foundation accomplishes this goal by using counseling programs and teaching inmates trade skills that they can use obtain gainful employment upon release.
[Related article: Belize Central Prison: Teaching Vital Skills to Officers]
What is most remarkable about this transformation is that the Kolbe Foundation has accomplished it with very limited financial resources. To manage the prison, the Kolbe Foundation receives around $9 USD per day per inmate. To put that into perspective, the United States spends $107.85 per day per federal inmate, according to the Federal Register.
One consequence of having such a limited budget is that Belize Central Prison does not have extra funds for training. However, this training is essential to provide inmates with adequate care – including the proper treatment of inmates within the prison – and to equip prison officers with the necessary knowledge to effectively perform their duties.
Getting to Know the Inmates and Officers of Belize Central Prison
In February of 2019, I toured Belize Central Prison. I also got to know the Kolbe Foundation staff and spoke to inmates who have had their lives turned around because of the rehabilitation offered by the Kolbe Foundation. As a result, I became more involved in helping Belize Central Prison to meet its training needs in any way that I possibly can.
Over the past two years, my church and I formed small teams from Southwest Florida who came to Belize Central Prison. Our teams provided various training to the prison’s 250 staff members in areas such as emergency response, CPR, first aid, defensive tactics, personal finances and leadership. While we received positive feedback on our training, more training was needed than what we could provide as a small team.
Providing Online Training for Officers through Church Sponsorship
In April of 2022, my church, Grace Community Bible Church, sponsored the first-time online corrections academy training for the prison staff of the Belize Central Prison. This training was provided through Corrections One Academy and offered in-depth training in various areas, such as:
- Professional skills
- General safety for inmates and staff
- Leadership and management skills
- Ethical behavior for corrections officers
- Contraband control
- Corrections officer safety
- Basic prison security principles
- Dispute resolution
- Crisis management
- Communication skills
- Effective supervision of inmates
- Managing security threats in the prison setting
- Working with juvenile offenders
- Mental health for inmates
- General health and wellbeing
- Patrol procedures
A Celebration for the Graduating Officers
During the graduation, there were several speakers. Belize Central Prison’s director Virgilio Murillo, Kolbe Foundation board member Francis Woods, and I discussed the importance of this valuable training and how it has had a positive impact on daily operations at Belize Central Prison.
Virgilio Murillo noted, “With my 20 years of prison experience and as Director of the prison for the last eight (8) years, I can attest that training for staff is the most important attribute in a prison environment, considering that all of society’s social ills are dumped on us. Let us not forget that the prison is the final sanction available to the courts to manage those persons who often has failed alternative punishments and prison staff plays a key role in this.
“In this environment there is a dire need for prison staff to respect inmates’ human rights and the rule of law; therefore, we cannot overemphasize the need for professionalism! This training, therefore, could not have been more appropriate and timelier as we are now seeing a higher level of knowledge and professionalism amongst those employees who have graduated thus far.
“It is our aspiration to continue professionalizing our staff so that they can continue impacting lives and doing the right thing. We are also hopeful that by the time the one-year contract expires, we can have the entire 250 staff graduate the training courses. In the event this does not happen, at least we can get it renewed for new staff as well as for refresher training courses for our career prison officers.”
We commended prison officers for their efforts in completing the training, which has helped to strengthen the mission of the Kolbe Foundation in “Providing a secure, humane facility geared towards meaningful rehabilitation and successful reintegration.”
Also, we invited each member of the inaugural graduating class in Belize onto the stage to receive a graduation certificate. Here are some of the graduates:
In total, 27 prison officers graduated in Belize in the first class. This rate of graduation is a major accomplishment, since each officer had to take 30 courses. In addition, each officer graduated with an 85% GPA or higher.
Officer Training Will Continue
This training opportunity for Belize Central Prison officers is ongoing and the next group of officers will graduate on December 15, 2022. The prison officers, prison management and I are very grateful to Grace Community Bible Church for making this first-time ever training at Belize Central Prison possible.
The efforts to support the Kolbe Foundation’s mission are continuing. If you are interested in in getting involved in Belize Central Prison’s training or providing support to the prison, you are welcome to contact me.