Carlson takes expertise to Europe
Local PO speaks on corrections, mental health in Poland
A Fort Dodge-based probation and parole officer recently spent some time in Poland, where she spoke at a corrections conference.
Tennie Carlson, an officer with the 2nd Judicial District Department of Correctional Services, was in Poland from May 10 through May 21 as part of a delegation that served a multi-purpose mission that included corrections matters and economic development.
And Carlson said she ended up being part of the delegation by a complete fluke.
She met with Bruce Vander Sanden, director of the 6th Judicial District Department of Correctional Services, based in Cedar Rapids.
She said Vander Sanden asked her to be a part of the delegation after a representative from the Cedar Rapids Economic Alliance, who was scheduled to go, had to back out.
“At the last minute, I got asked to take the spot,” Carlson said. “I found out in January, actually, that I was going.”
Her role as part of the delegation would be to represent the Iowa Department of Correctional Services, which she did by speaking at the conference.
“It was part Cedar Rapids Economic Alliance and the other part was probation and parole,” she said.
Carlson spoke at a two-day conference dedicated to probation and parole.
“I gave a speech over there,” she said. “And my speech was entitled ‘Working with Mental Health Offenders and Incarceration.'”
Mental health and corrections is a big issue in Iowa, she said.
Poland’s correctional representatives were also interested in other topics, including Iowa’s assessment tools.
Assessments are given to every person who is assigned to a correctional facility to help determine what level of supervision they will need.
According to the Iowa Department of Correctional Services’ website, “Supervision levels range from minimal to intensive, and may involve electronic monitoring. Referrals to correctional programs, local treatment providers, and other resources occur as appropriate.”
Carlson said some parts of Poland’s correctional system are antiquated, but the country wants to learn how to improve.
“They really asked a lot of questions in my piece I presented on assessment tools,” she said.
The final topic she discussed with Polish correctional officials was residential correctional facilities.
While Iowa has a number of residential correctional facilities, including one based in Fort Dodge, Carlson said that’s not the case in Poland.
“They don’t have those there, so they’re very interested in that piece as well,” she said.
Carlson was struck by several differences between Iowa’s way of handling corrections and Poland’s.
“They had a concern about their safety,” she said. “They’re expected to do home visits alone. Our policy is never to visit a home alone. We just don’t do that.”
Carlson said their filing system is different.
“Our court system is all filed EDMS (Electronic Data Management System),” she said. “They have huge paper files. They’re still filing.”
Other places she visited included a 250-year-old prison and a police station where the officers don’t use guns. Instead, they’re armed only with pepper spray and police dogs.
According to Carlson, Iowa is sought-after when it comes to matters related to corrections, because she said the state is very forward-thinking when it comes to that topic.
“We are very, very up on assessment tools,” she said. “We’re very modern. We’re looking for new tools.”
She added that’s because the Department of Correctional Services uses its funding carefully.
“Our motto is ‘Protect the Public,'” she said. “How do we do that? We don’t want to waste resources.”
Besides the correctional conference, Carlson said she and the delegation visited different parts of the country. They saw castles and basilicas.
They also visited an artistic school, which Carlson described as similar to a school for students in Talented and Gifted programs.
While there, Carlson was asked a question about her job and whether, being a woman in the corrections field, she is ever concerned about her safety.
She said that’s not the case, and said, according to Vander Senden, 66% of Iowa’s correctional employees are women.
“I feel very confident,” she said. “There are times I’ve been uncomfortable, but I love my job.”
She also loved meeting the people of Poland.
“Poland’s a very generous, giving country,” she said. “The people in Poland treated us like royalty.”
As for the aftermath of the conference, Carlson said she and the other delegation members formed what she hopes are lifelong friendships.
In fact, they’re already planning the followup to the conference.
“We will have a delegation coming in October,” she said, adding that the Iowa Corrections Association and the Polish-American Development Council are working together to make it happen. “We have formed a partnership, and so they will be arriving here for our fall conference.”
The conference will be held Oct. 2-4 in Riverside, near Cedar Rapids.
“I see a lifelong friendship, relationship here that we’ve formed,” Carlson said.
She added that she greatly appreciates her coworkers and supervisor for helping her out while she was gone.
“When you’re not here, somebody has to put out the fires,” she said, adding her coworkers and supervisor did just that.