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Clipboard or Sounding Board?

January 19th, 2011

Jail officers carry an array of equipment-personal alarm devices, radios, pepper spray, etc.  One piece of equipment is the good old fashioned clipboard.  Why discuss a clipboard?  Well… you can put your post log on it to write, you can use it to complete forms, etc.  It’s handy.  It’s convenient.  And-it can be symbolic. More later on that.

As I look back over a career in the jail, I recall that when I transferred to work release from confinement, my thinking had to change.  I was going from a strict, punishment environment to community corrections.  In other words, my thinking had to shift from keeping inmates locked up in a more secure setting (punishment) to affording them opportunities to get ready for release (treatment and prevention).  The jail proper, while affording inmates program opportunities, realistically just kept them secured.  Community corrections, such as work release, is concerned with providing treatment for the inmate and subsequently preventing future crime.  In jail, inmates are securely confined.  In community corrections, inmates are carefully selected and screened and released into the community to work, obtain treatment (such as a community education, substance abuse or vocational training program) and they are to get ready to return to the community.

Now-let’s take a look at one of the primary duties of a jail officer is to enforce the rules.  In the jail many officers say “write em up!”  I am not naïve; most jail inmates who violate the rules should be disciplined through the system starting with a report.  However-in community corrections, an inmate has a lot to lose for a violation such as income, progress made towards release and a chance to straighten out.  The consequences are more severe.  Still, some work release inmates violate the rules and should be dealt with.

I can recall receiving a call from substance abuse counselor about a young inmate who was not keeping his appointments.  Investigation revealed that the inmate was showing up for work, his urine and breath tests were clean, and he was not a management problem.  The on duty shift supervisor, a good officer and a recent transfer from the jail, grabbed a clipboard and a report form and was ready to “stroke” this inmate.  I, as programs director, said to wait and hear out the inmate.  When the inmate returned from work, I confronted him in private.  He acknowledged his substance abuse (alcohol) problem, but was reluctant to talk about it and some other problems.  I convinced him that cooperating with the counselor was better than returning to the jail.  He started making his appointments and we had no further problems with him.  To this day I hope that he started down a road to living crime free.  I deflected the clipboard-and was a sounding board.

In another example, a work release inmate returned to the pre release center after quitting his job at a local auto service center.  I again deflected the clipboard (and the write-up) and asked him why.  He said –and it was true-that he was a certified master auto mechanic and the work performed by others at his job was sloppy, the customers were getting cheated, and as a matter of pride he did not want to work there any longer.  I advised him of the correct way to quit a job such as discussing his concerns with the staff and not just walking off the job. 

Like I said-I am not naïve.  Some inmates deserve the write-up, the hearing and all of the consequences that result.  But-in some correctional environments, it may be advisable to set down the clipboard and be a sounding board.

By being a sounding board, we can correct behavior whenever we can…..isn’t that what corrections is about?