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Inside a Military Prison


Navy Prison

NAVCONBRIG Miramar houses up to 372 prisoners.

Official Navy Photo
Like any well-trained leader, Boatswain’s Mate 2nd Class Brandon Wickersham spends the majority of his day smoothing the edges on his troops. His men are just rougher around the edges.

Every day, he makes sure they wear a squared-away uniform, eat chow and receive counseling about educational and military opportunities. Like any leading petty officer worth his salt, he ensures they get to work on time, make all of their appointments, have enough rest. At taps, he personally inspects each man with standards that would make a recruit company commander flinch, says goodnight and turns out their light.

Then he locks them away in their prison cells.

His men are prisoners at the Naval Consolidated Brig (NAVCONBRIG) Miramar, a Navy command with a multi-service staff comprised of Sailors, Airmen, Marines and Soldiers, and Wickersham is a staff correctional officer. Like all of the nearly 200 NAVCONBRIG Miramar staff members, he was handpicked specifically for his leadership abilities demonstrated in the fleet, field or sky.

NAVCONBRIG Miramar, which houses up to 372 prisoners, is part of the Navy’s corrections system, run by the Navy Corrections and Programs Division at Naval Personnel Command, Millington, Tenn.

The Navy uses three levels of incarceration, a tier system that is based on the length of a prisoner’s sentence. Waterfront brigs, afloat brigs, correctional custody units (CCU) and pre-trial confinement facilities house Tier I prisoners sentenced up to one year. Tier II prisoners are transferred to one of the Navy’s two consolidated brigs, located at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, Calif., and Naval Weapons Station Charleston, S.C., for sentences of up to 10 years.

Additionally, all female prisoners within DOD serve their time at NAVCONBRIG Miramar to better facilitate the rehabilitative process.

“Before DOD sent all of the female prisoners here,” said NAVCONBRIG Miramar Executive Officer CDR Kris Winter, “it was difficult to run successful female-specific rehabilitation programs, because there weren’t enough women in any one place. By housing them in one central location, we maximize their potential to be fully rehabilitated.”

Level III offenders–prisoners with sentences greater than 10 years, who pose a national security risk or are sentenced to death, are sent to the U.S. Disciplinary Barracks, Ft. Leavenworth, Kan.

In addition to being exceptional Sailors, all Navy NAVCONBRIG Miramar staff members are required to earn the NEC 9575, correctional specialist, at a four-week school held at Lackland Air Force Base, San Antonio, prior to reporting for duty. Despite being a prison, only the rated Master-at-Arms Sailor at the brig wears khakis. The rest of the Sailors come straight from sea-intensive ratings like personnelmen, machinist’s mates and yeomen. And if you consider yourself a serious leadership scholar, then a three-year course at NAVCONBRIG Miramar is probably the best education you can get.

“These Sailors are trained to fix people with some pretty serious problems,” said NAVCONBRIG Miramar Training Director Charles Lyles, “… so, leading good Sailors on a ship afterwards is going to be a piece of cake.”

Culinary Specialist 2nd Class Augusta Vistavilla specifically chose brig duty to concentrate on developing his leadership skills.

“I wanted a new challenge in my career,” said Vistavilla. “We don’t cook here as a staff; we concentrate more on security, leadership and how to work with the different branches of the military. That’s a nice change of pace from the galley, and it makes me a better Sailor.”

“Brig duty is wonderful duty to hone your leadership skills,” said CDR Jim Cunha, commanding officer. “Staff Sailors here aren’t swabbing decks or cutting veggies. They supervise, that’s it.”

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