By Senior Master Sgt. Larry A. Schneck, 9th Air and Space Expeditionary Task Force - Iraq Public Affairs
/ Published April 15, 2011
They travel to bases with names like loyalty, justice and shield. However, their job deals with checking on guys with behavior much less than honorable.
They are the five Soldiers permanently-assigned to the U.S. Forces - Iraq provost marshal office corrections assistance transition team. In the past three months, the team and a handful of additional Soldiers and Airmen, like U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Kaylin Haywood Zapata, Iraq Training and Advisory Mission - Police oil advisor, have assessed the facilities and quality of life for more than 27,200 prisoners and detainees at 22 of the Ministry of Justice prisons throughout Iraq.
"We see some of the same problems here as in the United States," emphasized U.S. Army Capt. Mark Weber, CATT officer in charge from Greenfield, Iowa. "It's a slow process getting detainees through the court system in Iraq. It would be a huge win here for everyone if the Iraqis could beef-up their ability to handle a larger volume of court cases. Some of these detainees have been waiting two to three years to be sentenced or released."
An assessment of conditions at any one of the facilities takes between two and four hours. The five-man team has a set schedule and handful of standardized checklists when they arrive.
"We go back and review past reports to see if there's improvement or if something's deficient," described U.S. Army 1st Sgt. Ed Hammond, CATT first sergeant and native from Dingman's Ferry, Penn., with 20 years of experience as a gang investigator in the New York City Department of Corrections. "All of my Soldiers are a subject matter expert in the area they assess during a visit."
The review of a prison focuses on key infrastructure and quality of life items like engineering, upkeep and improvement of the facility, medical care for inmates, protection and extracurricular programs for the prisoners, training of the staff and guards, management, budget, process overview and improvement.
Some of the Iraqi prisons do better than others. More than one facility offers vocational programs for inmates, including barber school and basic literacy-improvement programs.
"I assess the life support for the prison," said Sgt. 1st Class Todd Berenson, CATT engineer assessor, deployed from the 455th Military Police Brigade Liaison Detachment, Uniondale, N.Y. "Things like electricity, water and fire safety. I check if they have enough space in the cells for the prisoners, emergency plans are written, and the heating and air conditioning systems work."
The assessment reports coming from the CATT go directly to the U.S. forces provost marshal office, headed by Maj. Gen. Adolph McQueen. The reported information is made available to the International Criminal Investigative Training Assistance Program and will be made available for the MoJ's Iraqi Correctional Service and U.S. State Department.
Senior U.S. forces leaders can take the information and help address the deficiencies with more precise advisement and training or, in some cases, help the Iraqis get the equipment they need to better care for the inmates.
"At most facilities you can tell how well the inmates are treated by looking at the quality of the medical clinics," exclaimed U.S. Army Sgt. Jesse Jeannette, CATT medical assessor from Iselin, N.J. "I keep an eye out for injured inmates. I look inside their ambulances to see if they can transport inmates, if needed, and make sure there isn't loose medication lying around, something that could be a hazard."
The checklists come from the U.S. State Department and U.S. Forces - Iraq. A CATT assessor sits down with his ICS counterpart in the prison and asks a series of questions directly related to the subject area.
"I am an individual augmentee volunteer," said U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Benjamin Durham, CATT force protection assessor, who left behind a wife, seven-year-old son and four-year-old daughter at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash. "When I arrived in Iraq they interviewed me and picked me to join the prison assessment team because of my background."
Sergeant Durham holds the corrections specialist Army military occupational specialty. His MOS sent him to tours of duty at the Regional Corrections Facilities Mannheim, Germany, and Joint Base Lewis-McChord and the United States Disciplinary Barracks at Fort Leavenworth, Kan.
"Health and welfare has improved since the start of this mission," remarked Sergeant Durham. "We have raised the standards of care for Iraqi inmates."
Since Oct. 2010 when the current CATT began its mission, it has travelled more than 7,000 miles in the air and on the ground to get to prisons in the north, central and south regions of Iraq.
"There used to be a full company doing the mission that our squad-sized team does today," exclaimed 1st Sgt. Hammond, a 33-year Marine Corps and Army veteran with active duty and reserve service. "The best moment during this tour was the deputy commanding general presenting his personal coin to my Soldiers for the great job they're doing."
The CATT Soldiers will see their mission through until its scheduled end later this spring or early summer.
"I hope the Iraqi people can see in the job we do that we are here to help them improve their corrections system. We want to help them set innocent people free, punish the deserving and rehabilitate the willing," remarked Captain Weber. "My team loves its job and likes being very thorough. We also like getting away from the desk, getting outside the wire and working with the Iraqi people."
The team works with the Iraqi Prison Inspection Team that will take over the CATT mission.
"Everyone can continue to improve, but these guys ask good questions and look like they do thorough assessments," said Captain Weber. "In the end, we're all working toward the same goal, which is helping the Iraqis improve their safety, facilities, policies and procedures. My team has enjoyed our tour and the mission, and we're looking forward to redeployment and reuniting with our families."
Sgt. Melissa Thomas, a Calcium, N.Y., native and CATT logistics support NCO, who works at Camp Victory, Iraq, while her team travels around the country, says the mission is a rewarding.
"I see the cultural differences between the United States and Iraq," stated Sergeant Thomas. "Just being able to experience it is awesome."