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Tales From the Local Jail: Some Thoughts for the ‘New Boots’

January 20th, 2022

You cannot stop the clock, and as one retiree who is getting older, I think about the field of corrections. It has changed and is facing challenges that were not thought of not that long ago. One wonders what advice could be given to the new generation, the ‘rookies’ (as we used to say), the ‘newbies’ or the ‘new boots’.

In September of 2010, The Corrections Connection ran a column of mine titled: The Twenty Minute Trainer: What Do You Tell a Rookie? Several civilian and sworn staff gave great advice about safety, attitudes and boundaries. The article has withstood the test of time and the advice is as important now as it was over 10 years ago.

So, as I think about the field that I worked in for over 27 years, I want to throw these thoughts out for your consideration; advice for the new personnel in the field. No theories, no statistics-just some observations that I hope are viewed as common sense.

  • Race relations: The death of George Floyd during an arrest in Minneapolis in May 2020 sparked tension between law enforcement and minority groups, notably African Americans. This situation, combined with tensions, is still in the news. Corrections is an important part of the criminal justice system. Corrections staff, sworn and non-sworn, work inside facilities that are tense-inmates do not want to be there. Many are angry, abrasive and cause trouble. My advice to new staff is to be professional, and not engage in any form of racial bigotry. Why turn up the heat in a facility that is already simmering on a stove? Do not play the ‘race card’-and keep your opinions outside. Be professional and treat all inmates of all races and ethnic groups with respect and human dignity-even if they do not treat you in the same way. Keep politics OUT of the workplace.
  • Social Media: I teach an in-service jail staff class on social media etiquette. THINK BEFORE YOU CLICK!! If you post a derogatory comment or photo about the offenders that you maintain custody of, or the department you work for, you can be disciplined-including termination. If you injure the image of the agency or denigrate or defame its mission and values, you are not protected under the First Amendment-freedom of speech. Remember-it is like they told you on the firearms range. Once you fire the bullet, it cannot be brought back. It is the same with a distasteful, negative posting on social media. Once it is out there-it is out there. You can delete it, sure-but who took a screen shot of it? Or forwarded it? Before you click, take a breath-and think about how the post makes you and the department look. We live in a republic-and enjoy freedom of speech. However, political views and views about current events can be decisive. It is best to keep them to yourself-and not post them on social media.
  • COVID-19: The pandemic of 2020-2021 has altered our lives in many ways. Some COs have died from contracting COVID-19. Take all precautions possible, including the careful consideration of getting vaccinated. I am not advocating vaccinations-that is your decision.
  • Inmate safety: You are in the ‘people business’. Inmates are to receive adequate medical care, dental care, and mental health care. They are not to be mistreated, have their grievances and problems ignored and are to receive services established by standards, laws and case laws from the courts. Keep up with the latest developments with standards, statutes and case law. Have a good working knowledge of your standard operating procedures. Inmates must also be kept safe from ‘rogue’ staff. There have been cases where out of control and negligent correctional officers have harmed inmates, sometimes fatally. If you see or know of staff mistreating inmates, you have a duty to speak up to your supervisors.
  • Special populations: There is no ‘one size fits all’ when discussing inmates. Thanks to research and better training, we now know more about suicidal inmates, female inmates, elderly/mature inmates, LGTBQI inmates, youthful/juvenile offenders, inmates with disabilities and substance abusers. Also, many offenders suffer from various mental disorders. Some inmates are suicidal. Special populations also include security threat groups such as gangs, and escape risks. Learn ways to safely handle them and get as much training as you can about them.
  • Staff safety: Staff safety, and the safety of the public is everyone’s job. Everyone in the facility must practice situational awareness. They must realize two things: inmates may be dangerous and prone to anger and violence, and no one is 100% safe. Be aware of your position around inmates, know where other staff members are and always have your safety and the safety of your colleagues in mind-both sworn and civilian.
  • Inmate manipulation: Remember-no matter how much time you have on the job, or how well you did in the academy, you are a target for the inmate manipulator. Inmates live by a different moral code than you-lying, cheating, using people, and having little or no remorse. Every staff member-including you-has what the inmates want. And that is access to the outside. They, will through promises of friendship, lies, flirting, romance, and saying that they care about you, try to get you to perform favors for them and bring in things. These things include cell phones, drugs, weapons, messages, and so on. Stay on firm ground-adhere to your policies and procedures. Never trust an inmate, no matter how sad they look or how friendly they are. You may think that ‘it will never happen to me-I am too smart for them’. As I say in my in-service inmate manipulation classes: ‘If there was a university for street smarts, some inmates would have PH. Ds’. Watch out for each other! If you observe a colleague getting too friendly with inmates, talk to them and if necessary-your supervisor. Do not tell inmates about your personal life, including problems. Inmates will feign friendship and concern-and will manipulate you.
  • Stress Management: Corrections is not an easy career. You will work shift work, work overtime, and ‘juggle’ many tasks at once. On a post, you will handle inmate arguments, fights, suicide attempts, mentally ill inmates, inmate requests, inmates having medical emergencies, and so on. Combine these with more routine tasks like counts, feedings, sick call, medical staff rounds, inspections, searches, programs, recreation and so on and you realize that you are constantly busy. This takes its toll. Learn how to manage your stress, take care of your physical and mental health and recharge your energy. Attend stress management training; learn how to manage your stress on and off the job. Strive to stay mentally and physically healthy. If the job is getting to you, do not hold it all in. Talk to your colleagues, friends, family, spouse/partner, peer support staff and employee assistance program personnel. Do not go to inmates about your stress-they will befriend you, only to use you for their manipulative ends.

Finally-never stop learning-get all the training you can. Corrections is an ever-changing field-and you must keep up with the changes! Good luck and have a great career!



Manipulation and the Five ‘F’s

June 15th, 2021

In my correctional teaching career, including post-retirement, I make notes and have them handy up on the lectern. Like any criminal justice instructor, I consider notes and acronyms useful ‘tricks of the trade’. This is especially true when you are on a topic and want to clearly illustrate a point based on a true event.

I teach a class called Manipulating the System: How Inmates Get Ahead. I discuss the topic of inmate manipulation. And corrections veterans will tell you that they know of many examples of inmates manipulating and fooling staff into doing the wrong things. I am not saying staff members, both sworn and non-sworn are blameless. It is a choice and a conscious decision to break the rules, do inmates’ bidding and not engage in common sense.

When teaching correctional topics, it is always a good idea to bring in actual events. Nothing illustrates manipulation better than objectively reported, factual events where staff allowed themselves to be used by inmates. The results have included contraband smuggling, sexual misconduct, escapes, and inmates being granted the power to do time on their terms. Unfortunately, when a trainer looks online for this topic, many events ‘pop up’.

In addition, these incidents are timeless. What I mean is that the facts and investigations about the event can withstand the test of time. For a trainer, discussions about them in online or classroom training sessions can be used many times. In addition, the more the event has notoriety, the more the trainees will recognize it. This can spark interest in the discussion and enhance what can be learned. Even though it is now 2021, and the escape I will discuss happened in mid-2015, the lessons that corrections staff will hopefully learn from it can be taught and discussed for a long time in the future.

The Clinton, New York Correctional Facility Escape

In June of 2015, two convicted inmates serving life sentences for murder escaped from a New York state prison, aided by a civilian prison worker, a sworn correctional officer (CO) and breakdowns in security policies and procedures. For several weeks, the nation was captivated by a massive law enforcement search for the fugitives, Richard Matt and David Sweat, and the circumstances under which the escape took place. The result was one escapee (Matt) was shot and killed by law enforcement, the other (Sweat) was shot and recaptured. The civilian, surviving inmate and CO were convicted of criminal offenses related to the escape.

I use this case in several classes, including the manipulation class. It is a textbook case of inmate manipulation, and how staff should not conduct themselves. The case is and should continue to be well-known in corrections. Events like these must be discussed honestly, showing what went wrong. Correctional staff, both sworn and non-sworn should know what the ‘slippery slope’ is-and how they can take steps to avoid sliding down that hill. What is at the bottom of the hill? Loss of job, loss of reputation, loss of liberty and freedom, and dangers to public safety.

The inmates in this case were inmates Richard Matt and David Sweat. The staff members were Joyce Mitchell, civilian tailor shop supervisor, and Correctional Officer Eugene Palmer, at the time a 27-year veteran.

The Five ‘Fs’:

Flattery: Joyce Mitchell, the civilian tailor shop supervisor, was reported to be too friendly with the inmates Matt and Sweat. According to the investigation of the escape, she flirted with the two inmates, bringing in food and treats for them. She said that they were always ‘nice to her’ and made her ‘feel good’. Flattery is an important tool for the manipulator. Once the staff member responds favorably to flattery by an inmate, most if not all objectivity is gone. Inmates are not seen as criminal offenders anymore-individuals that a staff member should be wary of. They are viewed as ‘nice people’, or the proverbial saying- ‘They aren’t that bad’. I have heard this from both officers and civilians-and to this day I am still shaking my head. In life-you live and learn. Once you get burned a few times by inmate lies and schemes, you wise up. Compromised staff can also indulge in self-flattery. Matt and Sweat not only built up how nice Mitchell was, but they also flattered CO Palmer, who described himself as the ‘go to guy’, that ‘everybody looked up to’. Flattery inflates the staff member’s ego. Inflated egos are dangerous. Palmer and Mitchell were blinded. This does not let them off the hook; both made choices to do what they did.

Friendship: Once flattery takes hold, and objectivity goes out the door, it becomes easy for the inmates to start friendships with the staff. You know when you become friends with someone, you overlook some behavior. How many of us have not said or done anything that would get a friend into trouble? The two ‘lifers’-Matt and Sweat, were known as ‘Palmer’s Boys’, who looked out for each other. The relationship between Matt and CO Palmer was described by inmates as ‘tighter than two peas in a pod’. Palmer’s interactions with the two inmates were described by investigators as ‘unauthorized and improper’. In addition, Joyce Mitchell became too friendly with the inmates, who exploited her naivete when planning the escape. In 2012, three years before the escape, staff noticed that she was too friendly with inmates. Mitchell herself told investigators it was difficult to maintain a proper distance from inmates, saying that a rapport develops because one is with them every day of the week. Efforts by management to correct her shortcomings were unsuccessful, which had consequences later. It was reported by investigators that management was reluctant to take strong action concerning her unprofessional behavior.

Favors: Favors are a dangerous two-way street. Once the inmate does favors for you-he or she will expect favors in return. One of the things a corrections professional, either uniform or non-uniform, learns is the importance of saying no. This means no to special requests, favors or ignoring policies and procedures. In the Clinton Correctional Facility escape, Matt and Sweat put their art talents to work. Described by investigators as ‘prolific artists’, both inmates produced paintings and drawings for staff members. This they used as a type of ‘prison currency’. Sweat stated that these artworks were given exceptionally cheap to staff; knowing that in the future staff will owe them a favor if they (Matt and Sweat) were in a ‘bind’. Security is compromised when staff performs favors. CO Palmer would escort Matt from the tailor shop, and bypass metal detectors. Matt and Sweat, thanks to Palmer, were given access to the catwalk behind their cells. Inmates wanting to have their electricity in their cells upgraded to facilitate hot plates were accommodated by Sweat and Matt, assisted by Palmer. Palmer, according to investigators, warned Matt of upcoming cell searches, so that contraband could be concealed. Night rounds by officers were not regularly conducted, and cell searches were described as ‘cursory’. Containers carried in and out of the front gate of the prison were not regularly searched. As a result, when Mitchell brought in packages of food with escape tools hidden within, and Palmer was the staff person who helped transport them.

Mitchell, the civilian worker, was also a key player. She developed relationships with both inmates, brought in food, and called Matt’s daughter on his behalf. Favors also included sexual favors, such as genital fondling, oral sex, and kissing. Matt and Mitchell engaged in sexual encounters. Matt told her that he loved her. Mitchell had a negative view of her marriage and discussed with the two inmates the possibility of murdering her husband, who also worked at the prison. The three-Mitchell, Matt and Sweat devised an escape plan; one of the destinations discussed was living in Mexico. The favors-getting around security, accepting gifts and sexual encounters-made the escape plan very do-able.

Fly-Away or Flight: This is the fourth ‘F’. On the night of June 5, 2015, the two inmates, David Sweat and Richard Matt, descended three levels down under the prison. They escaped through holes in their cells that they had cut. The two navigated through dimly lit tunnels and a steam pipe. They exited through a street manhole about a block from the prison, in the town of Dannemora, New York. However, one key thing went wrong-Joyce Mitchell, the civilian worker who obtained their escape tools, did not show up as planned to drive them away. She said that she had experienced a ‘panic attack’ and went to a local hospital. She was admitted for observation. The two escapees were abandoned and had to flee on foot. The resulting manhunt lasted for three weeks, put the community on edge and cost an estimated $23 million.

Joyce Mitchell pleaded guilty to charges relating to the escape and received a sentence of 2 and 1/3 to 7 years in prison. She was ordered to pay restitution, including a sum to the state for damages to the physical plant of the prison. Palmer pleaded guilty to several charges and resigned from state service. He received a sentence of 6 months in the county jail and a fine of $5,000. Sweat was transferred to another New York prison, and was placed in special housing for a six-year term, with a loss of several privileges. He pleaded guilty to two felony counts and received a sentence of restitution and 3 and ½ to 7 years on each count.

However, there is a fifth and final ‘F’: that is failure. Security failed, ethical behavior failed, staff failed, and in this case, the inmates won.

Inmate manipulation and staff misconduct are serious issues. Inmate manipulation and the tangled web it weaves must be discussed in meetings, seminars, basic recruit schools, orientations and in both basic and ongoing in-service training. It applies to sworn staff-and non-sworn staff. As I say in my manipulation classes, to sworn officers, civilian facility staff, and volunteers:

“Inmates are not stupid. All staff have what the inmates want-access to the outside. And remember…. if there was a university for ‘street smarts’…. many inmates would have Ph.Ds.”

Please take this event-and learn from it.

State of New York, Office of the Inspector General. (June 2016). Investigation of the June 5, 2015 Escape of Inmates David Sweat and Richard Matt from Clinton Correctional Facility. Catherine Leahy Scott, Inspector General.



The Three Stairways to a Professional Staff

December 21st, 2020

In life, both professionally and personally, we climb heights. In our personal lives, we climb heights in school from elementary school to middle school to high school though college. We are told to always do our best and strive to succeed. Do your homework, get good grades, and do the hard work! Make the honor roll, and so on.

In our professional lives, we climb hills as well. We are hired, attend the academy, go through our on the job training and make it through our probationary year. We are transferred, learn new jobs and go for promotions. A true professional corrections officer (CO) always tries to achieve goals and grow, learning new skills and acquiring new knowledge.

Recently, I spoke to Professor Kevin Courtright and students of the Department of Criminal Justice, Anthropology, and Forensic Studies at Edinboro University of Pennsylvania. I presented a Zoom lecture on deviance in the corrections profession. Edinboro is my alma mater, and I thank Dr. Courtright for the opportunity and compliment him, the faculty and the criminal justice students for their interest in learning about corrections.

Unfortunately, like in many professions, there are deviant officers. They are disciplined, demoted, suspended, or terminated. Moreover-when their deviant acts make the news, it is embarrassing to our field. We, as a profession, must take steps to hire good people, train them, retain them, and invest in their professional development.

Think of this process as a stairway to the top floor-that being having a professional staff. No staff is perfect; corrections officers are human, honest, and make mistakes. However, what every agency wants is to have are staff members who take pride in their profession, are well trained and continue to grow and develop.

The First Stairway

Let us begin with the first stairway. The first step is to hire the right people-mature, level-headed, are in good physical and mental health, have stable work histories and possess a sense of public service. While many corrections agencies are short staffed, I have in my classes encountered supervisors who have said that they would rather work short than be fully staffed with the wrong people. With the hiring process, a clear picture of the profession must be illustrated. Corrections is not the same as police work, in some respects, but just as important. However, dangers exist. COs do not patrol the streets and engage in high-speed vehicle chases. They patrol inside one of the unique buildings on earth-the correctional facility. Whether for juvenile offenders or adult offenders, these buildings have one central thread. The people housed inside do not want to be there-and many constantly work to subvert the security practices, procedures, and policies of the staff. Included in these steps must be a realistic, plain approach to training. Correctional training curriculum has greatly improved in the past several decades, along with developments in technology. However, some topics should be covered, such as inmate manipulation, the inmate lifestyle and subculture, and stress management.

The second step makes it clear that corrections is a people profession. Inmates in our custody are to receive the services they are due, as per case law and statute. They have limited constitutional rights, and the intentional or deliberate denial of these rights can lead to a CO being found liable. COs must realize, clearly, that inmates, no matter their behavior or temperament, are people in our custody. Their well-being is in the COs’ hands. Inmates are to receive adequate food, clothing, shelter, recreation, sanitary living areas, medical care, dental care and mental health care. They are to be free of harassment and dangers to their personal safety. Trainers and supervisors must discuss court cases involving inmates being denied their constitutional rights, due to staff negligence and deliberate indifference. Cases should discuss what staff did or did not do that resulted in mistreatment, injury or death. For example, in recruit basic class an instructor discusses the Eighth Amendment, cruel and unusual punishment. Cases where staff did not exercise good judgment and practices, and an inmate was attacked or died have to be clearly discussed. Topics include lack of medical care, inmate suicide, sexual assault, etc. In addition, trainers must keep up with the times. The needs of housing and maintaining safe custody of LGTBQ inmates must be made clear. A challenge for corrections is the safe management of trans-gender inmates. Times are changing, and staff training must keep up with the changes.

Another step in the first set of stairs involves ego-and this may be observed early in the training academy. Trainers and agency supervisors must be on the alert for CO trainees on ‘power trips’. COs with runaway egos must be given a frank and clear ‘sit-down’ session by supervisors. Out of control egos and ‘power trips’ will result in lawsuits down the road, punitive damages, discipline and termination. Correctional officers can be charged criminally. Make this very clear.

The Second Stairway

The second set of stairs deals with on the job training (OJT). Supervisors must choose their best people to be field-training officers (FTOs). To be designated a FTO should be based on an exemplary work record, the ability to communicate clearly with trainees, patience, maturity and a clear working knowledge of the agency’s policies and procedures. FTO positions should not be solely awarded based on favoritism, such as ‘Officer ___ has been on 30 years; he knows the ‘ropes’ and all the brass like him’. Some officers with less time on the job may be better FTOs that the ‘old timers’. Remember-your FTOs shape and mold the staff.

While going up the second flight of stairs, supervisors and trainers should bluntly discuss ethics, including how officers can be disciplined, including demotion and termination, for mistakes in social media. Postings, comments and photos must not denigrate the mission of the agency or embarrass the agency. Every agency should have a clear policy on the proper usage of social media. There are limitations; it is not a simple First Amendment issue. Even off duty, the CO represents the agency. Staff must use common sense. For example, a CO posts on social media that he believes that all offenders should be ‘roughed up’ to teach them a lesson. This sheds negative light on his or her agency, which states that all offenders in custody shall receive humane treatment and be afforded due process in accordance with their constitutional rights and the law. The CO posting says the opposite-and the public image of the facility takes a negative ‘hit’. He or she does not have First Amendment protection; and cannot claim ‘freedom of speech’.

Also included in this stairway is the proper use of the probationary year. Most recruits make it through the academy, graduate and go on to OJT. Regrettably, a few do not. No one likes to see a person lose employment, but if a new CO cannot do the job-a dangerous job-and is making serious mistakes, it would be a disservice to the agency and facility staff to keep him on. Use the probationary year as a continuum of training. If the new CO is not quite ready to be ‘cut loose’ and work independently, then take the time to correct mistakes. The academy, OJT and the probationary year all serve as a foundation for staff development.

The last step is mentoring. Good mentors are the ‘dream’ of every correctional supervisor. Officers who are mentors may not necessarily have rank. They are the calm, mature, thorough and hard-working officers who know how to handle the inmates, and how to get the job done. In war movies, they are the ‘old hands’ that take care of the new replacements. They give good advice, and when they see new or problem COs making mistakes, they patiently teach them the right way to do things, based on their experiences. They take pride in their work, attend trainings with an open mind and are a credit to the agency. Develop and support your mentors-and remember to thank them.

The Third Stairway

You have made it up two flights and pause at the landing. You have hired the staff, trained them and sent them down their career path. The last flight of stairs includes keeping them not only on the job, but proficient at their job. This approach includes good in-service training, evaluations, and preparing them for different assignments.

A critical step is the availability of good in-service training that both maintains certification in accordance with standards, and develops the CO. While Cultural Diversity and Legal (court cases and statutes) are required, other topics should include, but not limited to, resisting inmate manipulation, avoiding liability, interpersonal communications, verbal judo, preventing suicide, stress management, ethics, special populations (including trans-gender, mentally ill, elderly, etc.), escape prevention, officer safety, documenting and communicating critical incidents and managing the inmate populations. This training must be constantly revised to keep up with the times. It must be presented in a way that keeps trainees interested, and not just sitting there to ‘get their hours in’. With the current COVID pandemic, many agencies are using on-line venues-but whatever the medium, good, interesting training is necessary.

Evaluations should be honest, and not ‘sugar coated’. Some COs do take criticism constructively; others argue every point. Make sure your reasoning is well documented, and covers only the rating period. How many times have we supervisors heard: ‘Hey! Last year’s evaluation was better than what you are now rating me!’ Job performances can go up-or down. If a CO is not performing well, the evaluation can be a critical tool to remedy the behavior-if possible. Do not rush evaluations; do not just ‘get them over with’ if a CO is a problem employee. This does not help your agency and is not fair to the good people who must work with that CO.

Finally, prepare staff for other assignments. Staff transfers should be implemented in ways that facilitate good transitions and training for new assignments. If COs are transferred into new jobs, such as from confinement to community corrections, they should receive adequate OJT; they should not be given the assignment with little or no acclamation to the new duties. Also, COs should understand the different philosophies of corrections. Working on a squad is part of the punishment philosophy; inmates are punished through incarceration and the courts taking away their liberties (this does not mean that inmates should be mistreated). COs who are transferred into programs should be trained in the treatment philosophy-inmates working through programs to correct their criminal behavior. If a CO transfers into community corrections, community service, etc., they should be given orientations in the prevention philosophy. Community corrections staff works with inmates to prevent future criminal behavior.

When a CO is promoted, he or she should attend supervisors training-how to manage people, evaluations, coaching, employee discipline, problem employees, leadership, etc. Gone are the days where a new sergeant gets the stripes and is told: ‘you have been here a while-you know what to do’. Supervisors training must address the issue of supervising the people that you worked with, and now you are their boss. Remember-promoting and developing good supervisors is a positive legacy for your agency.

In summary, the three flights of stairs to a professional staff develops your staff, maintains good professionalism in your staff, and prepares them for promotions, new job assignments and better job performance. When you get to the top, taking your time on each step, your agency will benefit.



Cellblock Door Visits: They Are Not ‘House Calls’

April 27th, 2020

If you have worked inside a local jail for any length of time, you are well aware of the problem of the mentally ill coming into the jail. You are called to booking for backup as fellow jail correctional officers (JCOs) or deputies struggle to maintain control of a psychotic offender who is clearly out of touch with reality. Managing the mentally ill offender is one of the most difficult tasks for correctional officers. In local jails, some inmates with mental health issues are transferred in from other facilities-they may have court, etc. Some may return from the prison system for reconsideration of sentences, and so on. They usually have been seen and managed by mental health professionals, usually by medication. Managing means checking with them frequently-but cell door visits are not ‘treatment’; they are not like old time doctor ‘house calls’. There will be more about that later.

However, most mentally ill offenders are coming into local jails fresh off the street and from the arrest. The scenes of arrest can be a public park, a store, a movie theater or inside a home where families have dealt with the person for long periods. Mental illness is tragic, and unfortunately deadly in the cases of injuries or death to family members, people on the street, and law enforcement personnel. Sadly, we read too often news stories of a mentally ill person brandishing a weapon, or hurting people.

The seriously mentally ill in (SMI) in our nation’s jails are a problem. Some we can talk to, and will follow our instructions. They will not ‘bang their heads’ against cell walls, not yell and scream for hours, or will not smear themselves with feces and excrement. They will keep their jail uniforms on and not exhibit nudity. Some may be so manageable that they can be placed with other inmates, thus saving segregation cells for violent, dangerous and out of control inmates. This compliance may be due to medications, therapy sessions, counseling and other methods from the hard working, professionally trained and experienced jail mental health staffs.

As a classification jail deputy, my staff had to devise ways to safely manage mentally ill inmates. Some we placed in general population-housing units after screening by the medical staff and mental health personnel. Other we had to place in segregation-for the safety of other inmates and staff. Mentally ill inmates in segregation must be observed every 15 minutes-or as I recommend-sooner. Medical staff generally have had some mental health training. Managing the mentally ill inmate safely requires teamwork. The front line are the police officers and jail correctional officers-some JCOs are in booking and some are assigned to general population. Many articles talk about mentally ill inmates being booked into the jail. Many are brought in by arresting police officers, who pick up the signs of mental illness and relay this information to the jail. However, an inmate may get through booking, is classified and moved into the jail general population. The signs of mental illness may appear and be seen by the JCO working the unit. The JCO notifies his or her squad supervisor, the medical and mental health staff are advised, as is the classification staff. A team approach requires several things. First, a concern about staff and inmate safety has to exist. Second, open, clear and two-way communications and actions between line officers, supervisors, medical, mental health and classification is crucial, especially written communications. Third, ongoing training has to address the problems of housing and managing SMI inmates. Included in that training is dispelling the view that a mental health staff member seeing the inmate in a hallway through a cell door window or food slot is treatment. It is not.

So-let us explore in more detail the aforementioned ‘team approach’ within a jail setting, when dealing with mentally ill offenders.

Concern: Mentally ill inmates can be frustrating, as many refuse medications and exist in their ‘own world’. However, they are still people, with limited protections under the U.S. Constitution, as put forth by statute, case law and correctional standards. Mental illness is a sickness-it cannot be cured, just managed. Mentally ill inmates, especially in restraints must not be ignored, even in segregation, on restraints and/or on high observation.

Open and clear communications: Per the Bureau of Justice Statistics, an estimated 64% of jail inmates have some type of mental health issue or problem [1]. I have asked jail veterans in my in-service classes if this is accurate, and often they answer-at least and significantly higher than that percentage. Large jails, small jails-it does not matter. Everyone has to communicate with each other-from the line JCO being relieved to classification discussing the housing and conditions of confinement of mentally ill inmates. While oral communications are easy and fast, written communications-your logs, incident reports, classification files, mental health evaluations and medical records-are the best in both planning on how to deal with this inmate and answering questions in a civil lawsuit. Included in these communications are staff precautions, suicidal behavior, medications, etc. But these communications must be clear and accurate.

Training of staff is critical: Recently, the development and use of Crisis intervention Team training (CIT) for law enforcement officers, including jail staff has markedly improved the understanding of the mentally ill offender. A good example of a CIT program can be found at the DuPage County, Illinois Sheriff’s Office. With assistance from the DuPage Health Department and the DuPage Northern Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMU DuPage), a 40-hour training program was developed and approved by the Illinois Law Enforcement Training and Standards Board. The topics are wide ranging, including the signs and symptoms of mental illness, community resources, verbal de-escalation and tactical responses, risk assessment and crisis intervention skills, medical conditions and psychotropic medications. Other topics include older adults, intellectual and developmental disabilities, autism and self-care for law enforcement [2].

However, two areas need further discussion. First, I mentioned that the mentally ill inmate cannot be ignored while in restraints. An example can be found in the case of Andrew Holland, a 36-year-old mentally ill inmate that died in the San Luis Obispo (CA) County Jail in January of 2017. He had been diagnosed as schizophrenic when in his 20’s, and had been transferred back and forth from the jail to a county treatment facility since he entered the jail in September of 2015. A judge had ordered psychiatric treatment for him 12 days prior to his death. He had been booked in on resisting arrest and public disturbance charges. Although beds were available in a mental health facility, he was not transferred. He was observed, while in solitary confinement, punching himself in the face. He was placed, naked in an observation cell, in view of the central control center, and restrained in a seven-point restraint chair. According to the coroner, he refused, on several occasions, food and water. However, he was in the chair for 46 hours and no reason was reported for why he was in the chair for so long. County policy says that the facility manager must approve the restraining of inmates for long periods of time. State law stipulates that if the inmate cannot have restraints ‘safely’ removed within 8 hours, further evaluation from medical staff is necessary. Although the sheriff’s office said that he was under observation in a glass observation cell, the cause of death was reported to be a pulmonary embolism, related to deep vein thrombosis. The coroner found a five-centimeter clot in the inmate’s lung, possible from blood clots in the legs because of immobility from being restrained for a long period. He died 20 minutes after being released from the chair. The sheriff’s office settled with the inmate’s family for $5 million [3].

I am not passing judgment on the jail staff in the Holland case. They are tasked with managing the SMI inmate. No one wants inmates to die. However, our local jails are not mental health facilities, but are tasked with the care and custody of seriously mentally ill offenders, keeping them safe, other inmates safe and the staff safe. The last thing a jail department or sheriff needs is a news story like the Holland case, where staff mistakes are scrutinized. That is why more training and developing proactive attitudes among staff are so badly needed-to prevent such tragedies.

Second, it is important not to view ‘cell door visits’ from mental health staff as a form of treatment. An Indiana inmate filed motions in court to obtain a preliminary injunction to receive adequate mental health care. He claimed that his treatment needs were ignored by the staff. In the case of Robertson v. Deputy Commissioner, 2019 (N.D. Ind), the federal judge noted that records indicated that the inmate refused out of cell treatment. Also recorded were weekly checks with mental health staff at the inmate’s cell front, which were considered as treatment by the judge. In my experience working inside a large county jail, mental health staff talking to mentally ill inmates through a cell door window or food slot is not really treatment-but an information gathering tool and assessment observation for staff. The obtained information lets classification, custody, courts, attorneys, medical and mental health staffs know how the inmate is acting, if precautions are necessary and if he or she can be moved from segregation to general population. In addition, the mental health professional can recommend medication, commitment to a mental health facility or other assistance. Often, these visits take place in the noisy environment of a jail corridor, and may last for only a few minutes or a little longer. These visits must be recorded, and recommendations and information gained from them be placed in the inmate’s classification file. By doing so, informed decisions can be made. However, the mental disorders that we encounter among inmates in jail cannot be treated in just a few minutes in a cell door encounter. That is not treatment-and jail training staff and supervisors must advise officers-especially new ones-that treatment takes a long time, in a much more structured setting. Cell door visits cannot be compared to the ‘house calls’ of the past-where the family doctor drops by, checks the vitals, gives the patient medicine and tells the family to ‘call me in the morning’ [4].

Jails are different-very much different.



Helping Each Other: The Magic Questions

October 10th, 2019

In my 27 plus years as a jail deputy, I worked inmate housing units,
work release and classification. I use the knowledge and experience I
gained in my jail in service classes. One of the classes that I present is
Suicide Prevention. Those of us who have worked inside a jail and
encountered inmates [and their problems] on a daily basis were trained to
ask about suicidal ideation. By doing so, hopefully the inmate will open up,
talk and be receptive to qualified staff talking to them and not committing
suicide. Corrections officers would rather have inmates talk to them about
suicide rather than taking their own lives. A big part of our job is
maintaining the safety and protection of the inmates-from other inmates,
and from themselves.

I also teach stress management for staff. I stress the importance of
staff looking out for each other. In corrections, we speak of the
‘brotherhood of the badge’. In the jail, we are supposed to be watching out
for each other, especially the veterans looking out for the inexperienced
‘newbies’. We may say: ‘Hey-slow down on your searches’, or ‘don’t spend
a lot of time socializing with inmates, keep your mind on the job’.
There is another aspect of this-looking out for each other as the stress
of the job sets in. I have encountered jail officers in my classes saying that
they do not have any stress in their lives. I respectfully counter with the
fact that stress is a part of life; Hans Selye defined it as the nonspecific
response of the body to any demand made upon us (Cornelius, 2005, 5).

The demands-stressors are everywhere-and one cannot escape them. They
include things off the job-such as traffic, illness, family issues and things on
the job. Things on the job can be argumentative inmates, shift work,
overtime, a mentally ill inmate, inmates fighting or an upset supervisor.
If we do not manage our stress effectively, it can wear us down; tire
us out and burn out will result. Stress can have an effect on both our
physical and mental health. However-not all stress is bad. Physical exercise
or going on vacation are examples of positive stress. They are demanding,
but are beneficial to us. Negative stress may be the things on the job that I
described above. The key is to have effective stress management
techniques in your life-family time, exercise, relaxation, hobbies and so on.

Some COs prefer to keep the stress in-they do not want to appear
weak. After all, from the time that they go through the academy through on
the job training, they learn to be firm when among inmates. Be no
nonsense-keep your mind on the job. Never show weakness; never let your
guard down.

However-those of us in the field, as well as many mental health
professionals, have come to the realization that it is good for us to vent, to
let off ‘steam’ and to talk about our stress with others who may be able to
help. Everyone faces crisis in life; I have as well and so have you. I
discovered when you talk to people, you feel better, you let tension out, and
you feel a renewed sense of hope.

The field of corrections is struggling with stress, and its negative
effects on staff, both at home and on the job. According to Dr. Michael
Pittaro of American Military University, a 2013 U.S. Department of Justice
Programs Diagnostic Center Study stated that corrections officers have a
much higher rate of suicides than in other fields. During their careers,
correctional officers may likely experience some type of post-traumatic
stress disorder or PTSD. In addition, corrections officers, on average will not
live to reach age 59 (Pittaro, 2015). No job, especially corrections, should
shorten your life or affect your health. As I say to my classes, ‘working in
corrections will eat you up and spit you out-if you let it’.

Nevertheless, there is hope. Many agencies have instituted peer
support officers and employee assistance programs, or EAPs, to help
correctional staff deal with stress. They can help employees avoid burnout,
divert a marriage from divorce, and help to point the staff member in a
positive direction. There are many publications and on line resources.
Correctional officers and civilians can get the help they need. As like any
serious problem life throws at you, the first step is acknowledging that a
problem exists. The second step is opening up to people in our lives that
can help.

Moreover, this brings me to the main point of the article: The ‘Magic
Questions’. If a correctional staff person, either sworn or non-sworn,
appears to be stressed out, colleagues must throw a lifeline. Stressed out
staff may be sitting in their cars before or after a shift, going to a bar after
work, not going home or sitting alone in the staff break room, staring into
space. They may be people who are usually sociable, positive and always
helpful-but now their demeanor and mood are dark. Open and honest
concern from friends and family may be just the thing to stop the stressed
out employee from the ‘brink’, such as suicide, drinking, etc.

The Magic Questions

Just as with suicidal inmates, the ‘Magic Questions’ are simple and
direct. A helpful CO does not have to be a therapist. Approach the person
quietly and if possible in private, and ask:

  • Are you OK?
  • Is something wrong?
  • Do you feel like talking about it?
  • You seem down-is there anything that I can do?
  • Hey-you don’t seem like yourself today. Are you all right?
  • Is everything all right at home?

One more thing-if you ask a ‘magic question’ to a stressed out friend,
colleague or supervisor, make the time to listen to the answer. You are
throwing the lifeline. If the person opens up, they are asking for help, just
like a depressed inmate. If you cannot talk at work, because of the
workload, etc., arrange to follow up over a cup of coffee or a meal. If you
say to come over after work, or the person invites you over-make sure that
you follow up. In corrections, we have a tendency to hold things in; we
want the person to let us in. Moreover, if that person opens the door-we
can help.

Finally remember-we are all brothers and sisters behind the badge.
Ask the ‘Magic Questions’ and let us help each other. No one has to go
through stress alone.



Tales From the Local Jail: Respect

August 22nd, 2019

If you are a baby boomer like me, you have heard the hit song by the late and great Aretha Franklin, ‘Respect’. We in corrections have also hear this word repeatedly. In training, we are told to treat the inmates with respect. In addition, we are told that to receive respect from the inmates, we have to give respect to the inmates.

And-let’s be honest. Despite our best and sincere efforts to give respect to inmates, there are some inmates that will never, never treat staff with respect. I am not naïve.

Nevertheless, we work every day with inmates. In my jail in-service training classes I emphasize that jail correctional officers (COs) must strive to achieve a ‘Smooth Shift’. The ‘Smooth Shift’ is a shift with little or no incident reports to write, no inmate arguments to break up, no fights between inmates and all of the inmates do what we ask (or tell) them to do. In my working jail floors days, I, along with my colleagues, always strived for this. I discovered that no matter the type of inmate-the hard-core, first timer, or immature, I received respect for the most part when I gave it.

In my Managing the Inmate Population-General Population in service class I discuss respect as a useful acronym for training. Here is my view:

R: This means regarding inmates as human beings. They are people with problems. I realize that some are uncooperative and defy authority. The majority just want to do their time and either go into the state prison system or be released. They want very little difficulty.

E: Educate yourself on how inmates do time and what they are feeling. In my class, I discuss the Seven Needs of Inmates (Johnson, 2002). Inmates need:

  • Activity: such as programs, recreation, libraries, television, etc.
  • Privacy: as much as possible the environment should be quiet, peaceful and inmates can get away as best they can from things and people that irritate them.
  • Safety: inmates do not want to be hurt, harassed or have their property ‘messed with’.
  • Emotional feedback: inmates, as all of us would like to be appreciated, cared for, and be thought of as people with value-not just criminals. They would like relationships to reflect these along with staff showing empathy.
  • Support: many inmates like programs and opportunities to improve themselves-and deal with the problems that resulted in their difficulties with the criminal justice system.
  • Structure: inmates are more calm and cooperative if the facility is run fairly, and events such as recreation, meals and visiting occur on time.
  • Freedom: inmates want to be treated as adults, and appreciate opportunities to govern their own conduct. In other words-they like to be treated as adults.

Jails are not perfect. Many inmates defy the rules and make the COs’ workdays miserable. They use some of these needs against us. They may lie to get a private cell to themselves. They may ‘con’ or fool staff for entertainment for a twisted sense of activity. On the other hand, they may ‘butter us up’, using emotional feedback in order to try to get us to sympathetically believe that they are not ‘that bad’. Nevertheless-if these seven needs are met and staff exercises command presence and authority, things do go along more smoothly.

S: Speak to them like adults-and most likely, they will speak to you like adults. Do not be condescending or sarcastic.

P: This means being a professional, maintaining your guard against manipulation, and not divulging personal information. Professionalism means looking and acting like a correctional officer that knows the job-and knows security, policies and procedures. It also means keeping calm and not acting like a ‘hothead’.

E: Practice empathy – not sympathy. Empathy is understanding or identifying with the thoughts and feelings of a person. Sympathy as mutually sharing the feelings of another and feeling compassion or sorrow for another’s situation. Empathy is objective. An inmate says ‘my whole life is ‘crap’ because I am in here-I lost my job and my wife is threatening divorce’. An empathetic person understands-but still knows to act professionally and not cross boundaries. A sympathetic CO says, “Oh-I am so sorry! Do you want me to call your family for you? How terrible! Whatever can I do?’ (Cornelius, 2009).

C: Exercise both clarity and common sense. If you give inmates orders, make sure that it is clear and they understand. Conversely, if they come to you with problems, make sure that they clearly state the situation to you-and listen. Good listening skills shows respect of others. Also-use common sense when interacting with them. Treat them as you would like to be treated. Do not run ‘hot and cold’; be calm.

T: Think about the ‘fallout’. The results of your actions can be both positive and negative. If you disrespect inmates, two things will happen. First, word will get around among the inmates that you are a negative CO, and one to e avoid. Second, inmates will not approach you with problems or information about inmate activities (such as contraband, etc.) If you respect inmates, inmates will talk to you-and may let you know what is going on, both with themselves and their surroundings. You need inmates to talk to you.

Thank you for reading this. And-please think about respect, and how much ‘smoother’ the jail runs if everyone, inmates and staff, respect each other.


Cornelius, Gary F. Managing the Inmate Population: Day 2, General Population. In Service Training Class, 2019.
Cornelius, Gary F. (2009). The Art of the Con: Avoiding Offender Manipulation, Second Edition. Alexandria, VA: American Correctional Association.
Johnson, Robert. (2002). Hard Time: Understanding and Reforming the Prison, Third Edition. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth/Thomson Learning.



Cultural Diversity Training: Achieving the ‘Smooth Shift’

July 8th, 2019

Any correctional officer (CO) that works inside an institution wants ‘The Smooth Shift’-the tour of duty where there are minimal problems with inmates, everyone gets along and there are few incident reports. Wouldn’t it be nice to work a 12 or 8-hour shift where the inmates are quiet and cooperative? The more years a CO has on the job, the more he or she just wants to work a quiet shift and go home safely.

Cultural diversity training can factor in to trying to achieve a ‘smooth shift’. I present an in service training class in Cultural Diversity, required by the Commonwealth of Virginia. Not only do I discuss the behaviors and customs of several ethnic groups, I also discuss racial profiling. This column will give the corrections trainer some advice on presenting cultural diversity training.

First, I advise COs to keep a level head. The problems along the United States southern border are in the news every day. I have encountered COs that are frustrated; some say that if a person enters the United States from another country, especially in the case of illegal aliens, he or she should speak English. In a perfect world, perhaps that is true. However, COs and staff must work with the ‘hand that they are dealt’. Some illegal aliens and legal immigrants are arrested-and some do not speak English. We still must provide safe and humane confinement. What can the line CO do to get more inmates from other countries to learn and speak English? Other than suggesting to the inmate to take English as a Second Language classes, very little. I advise COs to use their training and deal effectively with the problem.

Second-realize that we are a mobile country. People from other counties can travel anywhere, thanks to our Interstate Highway system, air travel, etc. As a result, if illegal aliens come in through the southern U.S. border, they can go anywhere in the United States. A trainer should get statistics of the ethnic and race breakdowns in their state and locality. It is important for COs to know the population make-up of the jurisdictions they serve.

Third, I discuss the customs of people from other countries or ethnic groups. Many do not look people of authority in the eye. Many are shamed by being arrested and incarcerated; depression and despair may set in. For any cultural diversity trainer, it is advised that you discuss how people from other countries and ethnic groups act. Some are quiet and reserved; others are more animated. Some like to be in close proximity to each other, while people in the U.S. like a little distance between them. Some distrust people in law enforcement because they may have been told by relatives and friends from the ‘old country’ that police and corrections officers are brutal and corrupt. I call this ‘The Front Door Syndrome’. For example, a young person comes into the U.S. and lives with or is raised by an extended family under one roof-parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, etc. Some of them remember the old country and may have opinions about the police and prisons-and many are negative. This is what the youth hears when at home-and then goes out the front door into the U.S. community. In an encounter with law enforcement, he or she remembers what their relatives said-it is something to consider.

Fourth: Racial profiling, discrimination and using racial/ethnic slurs have no place in law enforcement, including corrections. Racial profiling or the targeting of people for law enforcement stopping, arrest and detention based on race or ethnicity is unconstitutional and illegal. Racial profiling acts under the belief that members of a specific race or ethnic groups are engaging in crimes. Many laws provide relief to individuals who claim that they were targeted by law enforcement in this manner. (Feder, 2012). This is similar to saying that “all young black males are members of a street gang”, or “all Hispanics are illegal aliens”. It uses race instead of looking at facts uncovered in a proper law enforcement investigation, such as eyewitness descriptions, physical evidence, interrogations, etc.

Using racial and ethnic slurs is despicable, and any CO that uses them towards staff and inmates should be disciplined and counseled. To get this point across, I play a clip from the 1982 film The Twilight Zone. The clip features the late actor, Vic Morrow ranting to his friends in a bar about the blacks, Asians, and Jews. He did not get a promotion at his job; the promotion went to a Jew. Morrow angrily uses several racial and ethnic slurs in just under five minutes. After the clip-I ask the class if they would like to work with a person like that. Furthermore, I ask them what the inmates would think if they heard a CO speaking that way to them or about them. I state that our ‘smooth shifts’ depend on the inmates receiving respect from us, and treating them as people. We want them to do what we want, and communicate any problems or concerns to us.

Treating them as people also means having an understanding of their customs and beliefs. For example, a foreign inmate approaches a lazy CO who has his feet up on the desk (Hopefully this is very rare in many facilities). To that inmate, having another person’s feet pointed at the head is insulting. Or-we use some gestures that we take for granted, such as the ‘thumbs up’ (OK-great!) In some cultures, this gesture means ‘up yours’ (Cotton, 2013).

I wrap up the training with advice:

  • COs should remember that a person’s honor, dignity and reputation are important. It is degrading to be incarcerated, and that feeling should not be made worse.
  • Communications with people of other ethnic groups, nationalities and cultures should be courteous. Some staff may be bi-lingual or from ethnic groups represented in the inmate population. They can be an asset as interpreters. Smile at someone form another culture-it is the universal sign of friendship.
  • Swearing, insults and obscenities can be very offensive to inmates from other cultures. Inmates may not understand the language, but they probably sense that they are being insulted.
  • Some of our habits and gestures may be offensive, avoid sensitive symbols. For example, the Confederate battle flag-the ‘Stars and Bars’ may symbolize history. To others-it represents racial hate groups and bigoted views of some concerning minorities.
  • Use interpreters, either from an outside source or with bi lingual staff members. Always get as much clear, accurate information as you can. You can find out adjustment, medical and mental health problems.
  • Do not engage in racial profiling; treat all individuals with respect.
  • Racial bigotry has no place in corrections. If you are working with a bigot, especially one who likes to push inmates’ buttons and get them agitated, report this behavior to your supervisor. If you do not-and it continues unchecked, you will not have a ‘smooth’ shift with that CO-you will have a long, ‘bumpy’ one. This CO must be confronted and counseled about his or her behavior, including remedial training and discipline.

Everyone wants the ‘smooth shift’-and by practicing respect to inmates of minority groups, ethnic groups or from other countries, the smooth shift is a reality. To get respect from inmates-you must give respect.

Cornelius, Gary F. Cultural Diversity. Jail Staff In-Service Training Seminar, 2018.
Cotton, Gayle. (June 13, 2013, updated August 13, 2013). Gestures to Avoid in Cross Cultural Business: In Other Words, ‘Keep Your Fingers to Yourself’. The Huffington Post, Retrieved from
Feder, Jody. (April 16, 2012). Racial Profiling: Legal and Constitutional Issues. Congressional Research Service.
The Twilight Zone, 1982 Feature Film.



Time Management: Managing Yourself in a Stressful Age

March 13th, 2019

As a trainer, you get to know the people that attend your classes and what their concerns are. When I present a stress management class, I ask attendees what stresses them out-or more simply what is stress to them. In corrections, besides the pay, shift work, lack of recognition-and I could go on-they always answer-without fail-the lack of time. Therefore, I get a discussion going, talking about the lack of time to get household chores done, get the bills paid, etc. If probation and parole officers attend, they speak of the amount of time it takes to conduct field visits and finish pre-sentence investigation reports for the court. Many complaints are heard about not having enough time, lack of time management, etc.

However, the real problem is how does one manage something that cannot be stopped, slowed down, or affected in any way? This something is time itself. The seconds ticking by on a clock, the hour that has passed and the day itself cannot be stopped or slowed down. What can be learned is self-management. How we conduct ourselves in the context of time is time management. Alternatively, more simply, time management is self-management.

Here is an example. You are sitting in the waiting room of your dentist, and plan to go to the grocery store after your checkup. You check the messages on your smart phone. Your supervisor from the jail has called you and left a voicemail-he needs clarification on a report that you submitted yesterday. The dental hygienist comes out and tells you that the dentist is running behind and it will be another 15-20 minutes until you are seen. So-now you have a choice. You can sit and read old magazines in the dental office waiting room until you are called. On the other hand- you can call your supervisor back and make your grocery list, which will resolve both the loose end from work and make your grocery shopping go much more smoothly. The smart choice is to use those 15-20 minutes wisely. Return the phone call and make the list. But-many of us will sit and read the magazines, then rush to return the phone call and make the grocery list up right as we walk into the store, most likely forgetting some items. If we forget some then we will take another trip to the store, which takes more time. In our personal lives, there are demands on us-fixing dinner after a long day, doing the laundry, cleaning the house, etc. If we let these stack up-we feel worn out.

Professionally, the corrections field-no matter where you work or what you do, is just as demanding. We have many tasks to perform-and perform well during a shift. Correctional officers (COs) must search inmates and areas, conduct headcounts, pass out meals, etc. Probation and parole officers (POs) have to schedule field visits, office offender sessions and write up pre-sentence investigation reports per the schedule of the courts. Moreover, there is the unexpected-the demands that ‘pop up’ that we do not expect, and we must have the time to deal with those.

The effects of this lack of self-management, not time management are very negative. We feel rushed, anxious, angry, overly apprehensive, and may be abrasive to our loved ones and colleagues. In addition, we may angrily ‘lash out’ at offenders. When we do so, people will not want to come near us.

Self-management means using common sense and will lessen your stress. Here is a short list of pointers, and after reading it I am convinced that using the ‘think outside the box’ method, you can come up with some more:

  • Use the magic word: NO: Many of us think that the best way to do things is to do them ourselves. We do not delegate; we get frustrated and take on more tasks. This crosses over into both our personal and professional lives. Sometimes we have to step back, take a break and say no. However, we must be conscientious. Sometimes our agency needs us to fill in for someone who is sick. Sometimes a friend needs help. We do not want to say no all of the time-but sometimes we must.
  • Watch the ‘drop bys’: These are the friends and colleagues that drop by and want to talk. It is all right to be sociable-but if you have a report to write, rounds to make, or if at home, a pile of laundry to do, social visits can get you behind. It is acceptable to say-politely-that you cannot talk now, or you can use a reason such as the lieutenant is waiting for this report, I have a meeting, etc. If you do not watch the socializing, what you thought was going to be a five-minute conversation could turn into a thirty-minute gabfest. Then you will have to catch up.
  • Get to the point: Why e-mail back and forth when you can make a phone call? In meetings, have an agenda, stick to it and limit discussion. I have found that in some-and certainly not all-meetings in my career, discussions would drone on and on and on with no resolution. A good rule is if a matter cannot be resolved in a reasonable time, table it for later discussion. The stakeholders can discuss it later and resolve the issue. In addition-the best time to hold meetings is early in the workday or shift. Closely related to getting to the point is to throw away junk mail, not answering telemarketer phone calls, etc.
  • Watch distractions: Thanks to the Internet, we can look up anything, from music to movies to travel. However, distractions-while breaking up the monotony, can be distracting. Like socializing, the five-minute ‘surfing the web’ session can last a lot longer.
  • Delegate: Have teenagers at home? Why can’t they do the laundry or prepare dinner? On the other hand, can they clean the house? At work-do, you have staff that welcome extra work or new assignments? Use this energy. You do not have to do everything yourself.
  • Do the hard tasks first: A CO reports to his post and is told by a colleague that a particular inmate has to see him. The CO knows that this inmate has a reputation for asking for favors, will argue, debate, etc. But-it is better to see that inmate early on, rather than at the end of the shift. A PO schedules the worst offender home visit first.
  • Be organized: Keep one calendar. Have a set place for daily essentials such as keys, phone, wallet, etc. Also, keep you address book up to date. In this information age, smart phones, computers, etc. are great tools to use in organizing yourself.

Are you thinking of other time savers-or self-management tools? They will reduce your stress.



The Ten Commandments for Correctional Staff: Good Guidelines for All

January 16th, 2019

When I present a jail safety class, the audience is usually sworn staff. And that is good! It is beneficial to have a refresher in safety-no matter how many years you have on the job. Correctional officers (COs) are a close-knit group. We watch out for each other. Often on post, we ask where our colleagues are, if they need assistance, can you watch my post for a few minutes, etc.

In view of the several CO deaths in recent years, CO safety-like police officer safety takes on a special meaning. We want to come home safe, hug our loved ones and breathe a sigh of relief that we got through another day.

I thought a review of the Ten Commandments for Correctional Staff would be beneficial, as refreshers sometimes are. There is a lot out there in print and on line about CO safety measures. That is good-these measures keep you safe. However, what I would like to do in this column is to apply these measures to the civilians in our correctional facilities. This group includes administration personnel, medical staff, mental health staff, maintenance, programs staff, chaplains, and volunteers. They need refreshers as well, and they run risks every time that they enter our facilities.

In 2002, correctional authors and experts Bill Elliott, Ph.D. and Vicki Verdeyen, Ed.D. wrote the Ten Commandments for Prison Staff in their book, Game Over: Strategies for Redirecting Inmate Deception (2002, American Correctional Association). These rules are good for anyone-sworn and non-sworn-that work inside a correctional facility.

So let us refresh our view of safety by looking at these rules, and applying them as good advice to the civilian staff:

  1. Go Home Safe and Sound at the End of the Day: Do not take unnecessary risks with inmates, such as being alone with them inside a classroom, or walking in front of them in a corridor. Know and follow the rules. You may be a volunteer, and may not fully understand the rules of the facility. Nevertheless-obey them! The rules are written to keep you safe. For example, a CO appears at your office or classroom doorway. He announces “All inmates are to return to their units immediately; all civilians must leave the facility”. It could be an escape, a disturbance, etc. Do not argue-do what he says. Also, do not bring ANY unauthorized items in for an inmate. Know how to call for help and do not hesitate to do so. Trust your ‘gut’. For example, if an inmate is getting too close and too friendly-try to get away, find a CO and let him know what is going on. If you see inmates congregating and you think that they are up to something or you hear an inmate talking about a missing tool, etc., report this to staff. Remember where you are! Dress appropriately for business, and not for a ‘night out’.
  2. Establish Realistic Expectations: Have a view of being skeptical to a degree. Remember that inmates have lived their lives for a long time in a dysfunctional manner. Many are substance abusers, cannot hold a job, and use people to survive. If they say, they have changed, look at how: have they completed a program or even signed up to participate in one? Have they obeyed the rules? Change takes effort-and not ‘lip service’.
  3. Set Firm and Consistent Limits: What should inmates know about your personal life? NOTHING! You are there to provide a service-that is all. You can treat inmates with guarded civility-but they should know nothing about your marriage, relationships, family, etc. Inmates use this information to get you to lose objectivity and to lower your guard. If something is stressing you out, by you confiding in inmates, they become your “new best friends.”
  4. Avoid Power Struggles: Inmates are very skilled at pitting staff members against each other. They may criticize COs and supervisors, and want you to be on their side. Avoid this-manipulative inmates, especially psychopaths-are very good at playing games and creating dissension for their entertainment.
  5. Manage Interpersonal Boundaries: You can be empathetic, but not sympathetic. Empathy means you can objectively understand the inmates’ problems and predicaments. Sympathy means that objectivity is lost, replaced by an overwhelming desire to help the inmate-even doing favors and tasks for him. For example, you are working with an inmate who is an alcoholic. The inmate relates his tales of woe, lost jobs, divorce, etc. He asks, “Can you get me into a substance program?” What he means is that you do all of the heavy lifting. He should be writing to the programs staff, etc. Interpersonal boundaries means that any sexual or romantic talk is off limits including ‘buttering you up’ and flirting. If an inmate makes a sexual flirtatious remark to you-report it immediately. This how it starts-inmates casually flirting, etc.,-and nothing is done. Be friendly-but formal. Keep it business-like.
  6. Do Not Take Things Personally: Inmate behavior such as lying, deceitfulness, resisting your suggestions should not be taken personally. Resisting the good intentions of positive people is a lifestyle for the criminal offender. They have lived this way.
  7. Strive for an Attitude of Healthy Skepticism: Be a little skeptical. Do not be gullible. Like setting realistic expectations, you do not want to take everything that the inmate does at face value. As I tell volunteers in my resisting manipulation classes, when you enter your classroom and see 15 inmates sitting there, you do not know which ones really want to change (unless you are psychic). A manipulative inmate will often say what you want to hear.
  8. Do Not Fight the Bureaucracy: Work within the rules-even though you may not see their logic right away. Rules, chain of command, etc. keep you grounded-and safe. Inmates love conflict, and if you fight the staff and circumvent the rules, you will be manipulated. Remember that security takes precedent over programs-it is the number one priority of any correctional facility. If inmates behave in as negative fashion, such as breaking rules or committing crimes, they will be removed from programs and activities. Respect the job of the CO.
  9. Ask for Help: It is imperative that COs and civilians have open lines of two-way communications. Every person in the facility must be kept safe and adhere to policies and procedures. Civilians, in training sessions and orientations, must be instructed where to go for assistance and clarification-a CO post, the shift supervisor, a programs director, etc. Civilians should not feel isolated; they should be checked on by COs and supervisors. However, if they are confused, they should feel comfortable in asking for guidance and assistance. This is especially true if inmates are violent, resistant and unruly. Finally-the inmates should see a close cohesiveness between civilians and sworn staffs. Back up to civilians should be fast with plenty of COs.
  10. Do Not Take Your Work Home With You: In your efforts as a civilian in programs, or as a volunteer, you will discover that corrections can be very frustrating. You see inmates who want to change, while many do not. Do not let your life be defined by your role in corrections. Take time off, and have balance in your life. Cultivate family, friends and activities. Get away from the job as much as you can. Do not become so involved in corrections that you alienate the people in your life that are important to you.

In closing-the same advice that trainers and supervisors give to sworn correctional staff should also be afforded to the civilians. We are all on the same team-and want the best for each other. Follow this advice, whether you wear a uniform-or not.


Elliott, Bill, Ph.D. and Vicki Verdeyen, Ed.D. (2002). Game Over! Strategies for Redirecting Inmate Deception. Lanham, MD: American Correctional Association.



Tales From the Local Jail: Partnerships

December 24th, 2018

Recently, I visited the Charles County (Maryland) Jail in La Plata Maryland. I was there taking photos for the third edition of my book, Stressed Out: Strategies for Living and Working in Corrections. I wanted to get photos of staff at work, and they were very cooperative. It is a well-run, efficient and professional facility, and any corrections professional needing assistance would be well served by contacting them.

I especially wanted to take photos of civilians in corrections. There is a lot of material in print and on line about improving the job performances and stress management of uniformed staff. Too often, the non-sworn staff are overlooked. The probation/parole officers, teachers, mental health personnel, medical staff, substance abuse counselors, records personnel and maintenance staff undergo stress as well. They need a partnership with the sworn staff. Partnership can mean friendship, concern and a belief in what the other is trying to do- a reciprocation.

I met a very nice substance abuse counselor at the Charles County Jail. Being a former jail programs director, we talked for a few minutes about inmates, and how some want to change. There are some that want to get out and stay out, and others do not. We agreed that trying to help inmates can be a frustrating job-but we still try.

As I was leaving this area, a uniformed jail deputy entered on his rounds. He warmly greeted the substance abuse counselor and what struck me immediately is that they were not just fellow staff members, they were friends. We all know what the ‘gut’ is-and my ‘gut’ told me that the deputy respected the counselor and vice versa. They were glad to see each other, and were engaged in a nice conversation as I left the area.

Correctional sworn staff should realize that the term ‘corrections’ is not just a job description or words on a shoulder patch. It means to change behavior. While I think that there will always be a need for correctional facilities, corrections in its true sense means that inmates can be provided the tools to change-but only if they want to.

There are ‘unsung heroes’ in the criminal justice field-from the court security deputies keeping our courthouses safe to the patrol police officers that lock up the ‘bad guys’. Finally, there are the jail deputies and prison officers that patrol cellblocks, enforce the institutional rules and deal with mentally ill and violent inmates. However, there is another group of unsung heroes-the civilians who work inside juvenile detention centers and adult facilities. They conduct rehabilitation programs, teach inmates and counsel them. This group includes the volunteers from the outside who come inside our correctional facilities to try to make a difference. It is frustrating-sometimes they succeed, and sometimes they do not.

As a jail corrections veteran, I recall seeing many inmates, both male and female, many of them young, displaying the signs of alcohol and drug abuse. We see the delirium tremens, the shakes, the sickness from withdrawals and the tracks on the arms from needles-just to name a few. We see ruined lives, poor health and neglected families. We see mental health issues resulting from drugs and drinking. We see lives wasted from doing ‘life on the installment plan’. In addition, we see inmates go to a program, be released, be rearrested and continue the cycle. We know that many inmates who come into jails display the acute symptoms of substance abuse-right off the street. According to a 2010 Center on Addiction study, an estimated 85 percent of inmates or 1.5 million out of 2.3 million incarcerated inmates, in our nation’s jails and prisons meet the criteria in the DSM-IV for substance abuse and addiction. Almost a half million (458,000) had histories of substance abuse and were under the influence of drugs or alcohol when committing their crimes. This group also included offenders who committed crimes to buy drugs, violated an alcohol or drug law, or were involved in a combination of both. Illegal drugs were implicated in about three fourths of incarcerations in correctional facilities, and alcohol at an estimated 50 percent (Center for Addiction, 2018). The bottom line-drugs and drinking are serious problems.

Correctional systems will always have programs and people willing to work in them. Inmates will say that they want to change-but they have to prove it in actions. Completing a program, doing the hard work, looking hard at one’s self, paying all the court costs and fines, staying clean and sober-these actions say that an offender has changed. Combine these actions with completing probation or parole, getting and keeping a good job, meeting family obligations and staying out of involvement with the criminal justice system (in other words-not being re-arrested), an offender can then say with all honesty: “I’ve changed”.

Partnerships are important. The correctional officer/deputy must be a positive role model for inmates-and must encourage them to get involved in programs. They must provide a safe and secure environment for the non-sworn staff. The non-sworn staff must see through the inmate’s bravado, ‘BS’, manipulations, lies, and steer the offenders the right way. Both the CO and the civilian will see the benefits of change through programs-offenders will live longer, more productive lives-and will not be a threat to our communities. Regrettably, this is not the case with many inmates-but we still must try. Non-sworn staff must let COs know if there is a serious problem with an inmate-such as depression or anger. The COs, though classification and observations, ‘weed’ out problem inmates, who have shown through negative behavior that they should not be in programs. Plus-COs must get around into the areas where civilians work and maintain an atmosphere of security.

In closing-partnerships are what makes corrections-corrections. This is not a cliché-COs and the civilians, from the teacher to the volunteers to the substance abuse counselors, must look out for each other. Moreover-they must appreciate each other. This is a core principle of corrections.

I would like to thank the staff of the Charles County, Maryland Jail in La Plata Maryland. In addition, I would like to thank both sworn and non-sworn staff, who work with offenders every day-a tough job, but a noble one.

Behind Bars II: Substance Abuse and America’s Prison Population, February 2010, Center on Addiction,