A Look Behind Bars

Former jail warden pens book about the corrections system

Rees’s story tells about his
four-decade career in the system

LA GRANGE, Ky. (December 2015) – After spending four decades working in the corrections system, John DeWitt Rees decided it was time to retire. Over the years, he had collected stories and valuable information he wanted to pass on to future corrections employees, so he penned a book about his life.
Throughout his career there have been many social changes that have made a huge impact on the field of corrections. “This is a book of stories, real stories with real people and real occurrences,” writes Rees in the preface of the book.

Photo provided

Rees writes about “real stories with real people and real occurrences,” he says.

Rees began his career in the 1960s, a time of social, political and cultural upheaval. He had been attending the University of Kentucky as a Sociology and Political Science major, but was unsure as to what he really wanted to do.
He was encouraged by his advisor, Dr. Charles W. Dean, to consider a career in Corrections. Rees said he actually “had a couple of professors who got me interested.” He did well in his first few classes in the field, and his advisor recommended him for a paid fellowship with the Federal Bureau of Prisons. 
Originally from the Ft. Mitchell area of northern Kentucky, Rees was selected to work at a Federal Youth Center in Ashland, Ky., where he gained valuable knowledge and knew this was the career path for him. He attended Florida State University, earning a graduate degree in Criminology.
Throughout his long career in the corrections system, Rees heard a recurring comment about his ideas and experiences, “You should put that in a book.” He has done just that with the release of “My Life.”

Rees spoke about his book and signed during a September event at the Trimble County Public Library in Bedford, Ky., and again in late September at the Oldham County Public Library in La Grange, Ky. Earlier last summer, Rees spoke about his book at the Jefferson County Public Library in Madison, Ind.
Rees also wrote his book for people in the field or those interested in learning more about the field of corrections. From his author programs audiences can learn about “corrections as I saw it,” said Rees.
In 2004, Rees began a job as head of the Kentucky Department of Corrections. “I was over the entire Kentucky corrections system,” he said. At the time there were 20,000 inmates, 40,000 parolees, and it was part of his job to inspect all jails and develop parole standards for jails.
Under his leadership, the Kentucky Department of Corrections underwent significant changes and produced numerous accomplishments. In a press release sent out at the time of his retirement from the commissioner’s post in 2008, it stated that one of his most significant contributions was the “national accreditation for the Division of Probation and Parole – a first in the department’s history.”
Drug treatment programs have been important to Rees during his career. When he took over as commissioner, there were a little more than 400 drug treatment beds in state prisons and fewer than 50 treatment beds in jails. After his tenure, the number of prison and jail-based drug treatment beds has more than tripled.
Another of his major accomplishments was the development of the Kentucky Corrections Health Services Network. He also made major strides in the recruitment and retention of employees.
Rees left the state for a few years in 1976 to work for the Oklahoma Department of Corrections. He returned in 1980 to fill a position as warden of the Kentucky State Reformatory in La Grange until 1986. He then worked for Corrections Corporation of America, a private correctional management firm managing facilities in New Mexico, Texas, Louisiana and Tennessee before becoming vice president of business development. His last position in the corrections system was as commissioner.
“Corrections has changed significantly over the years,” Rees said. “It’s hard to compare it.” People today “don’t realize where we were 40 years ago. There are more programs and improvements, integration into the community and the field of corrections has expanded.”
Rees said that when he finished graduate school, there were 3,000 inmates in three prisons in Kentucky. Today there are 22,000 inmates and the system has come a long way.
Still wanting to contribute to the field of Corrections after retiring, Rees restarted a consulting business, Rees and Associates Correction Consulting, in Madison, Ind.

“My Life” can be purchased at the Oldham County History Center in La Grange and online at Amazon.com. Several electronic versions are available.

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