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Home > Uncategorized > Does Your Jail Pass the “Smell Test”? Part II: Staff

Does Your Jail Pass the “Smell Test”? Part II: Staff

November 11th, 2013

Recently I wrote a column for my blog “Tales from the Local Jail” titled “Does

Your Jail Pass the Smell Test”? I discussed certain aspects of jail life and services

that if not handled properly will make your jail “stink”. These aspects necessary

to escape liability under the Eighth Amendment that guards against cruel and

unusual punishment, per the U.S. Supreme Court, are: food, clothing, sanitation,

shelter, medical care, personal safety and recreation. If not afforded properly to

inmates in accordance with established case law, the jail can be held liable in a

civil action.

Now it is time for Part II: staff. Let’s talk about what staff can do to cause a

figurative odor in the facility. Problem staff members may display “red flags”-

warnings that you may see; giving you a chance to correct effectively deal with

the problem. Others may explode without warning and all of a sudden there is a

major problem.

According to Jeffrey Ian Ross, Associate Professor of Criminology at the University

of Baltimore, there are twelve primary types of correctional staff deviance. Some

are more severe than others, but they all can contribute to a climate of staff

incompetence and bad publicity (Ross, 2008).

Let’s look at each in detail (Ross, 2008):

  • Improper Use/Misuse of Agency Equipment and Property: This can range from photocopying personal material to using agency vehicles for

    personal use.

  • Mishandling/Theft of Inmate Property: While officers must search inmate property in the battle against contraband, officers who steal

    inmate property or intentionally mishandle or damage it must be


  • Drinking and drug abuse on the job: Being hung over, drunk, or under

    the effects of abusing drugs can negatively affect the job. Not only is

    the officer less safe and alert, the staff and inmates who depend on

    him for safety are in danger also.

  • Accepting gifts: Correctional staff must be able to say “no” and not

    accept favors and gifts from inmates and any businesses. This shows

    favoritism and weakness-staff can be “bought”.

  • Discrimination: This can appear ugly. Tax paying citizens will be upset

    when they hear reports of correctional staff being members of groups

    such as the Ku Klux Klan or the Aryan Brotherhood. If inmates are

    mistreated, are injured or die because of bigoted, racist staff, how can

    anyone view the jail as safely and professionally run?

  • Abuse of authority: Correctional staff members are in positions of

    power, and cannot let that “go to their heads”. If jail staff members

    verbally harass inmates, embarrass them, humiliate them, and grant

    favors to certain inmates and mistreat others, this will result in a

    negative jail climate and ill feelings among the inmate population.

  • General boundary violations: Jail staff must be able to resist

    manipulation by inmates. This must be part of a comprehensive

    training program for sworn and non-sworn staff. Inmates are great

    schemers and have lived their lives by using people. Staff must be

    aware of this and learn techniques to resist manipulation.

  • Sexual harassment of colleagues: Sexual harassment means a hostile

    work environment. A jail should be a professional place to work

    without staff making unwanted sexual advances, date requests, sexual

    jokes, etc.

  • Smuggling contraband: Contraband in the hands of inmates is

    dangerous for all. Staff who smuggle in drugs, weapons, cell phones,

    etc. should be fired.

  • Theft of facility property: If staff is stealing office supplies, food, etc.

    this sends a bad image to the public-it says that such officers are not

    any better than the inmates.

  • Sexual misconduct: It is hard to understand why staff becomes

    intimately involved with inmates for two reasons: first, it is against

    the law as most if not all states have criminal statutes against carnal

    knowledge of offenders in custody. Second, considering the lifestyle

    and the physical and mental health problems of inmates (intravenous

    drug use, alcohol abuse, mental health problems, communicable

    diseases, poor hygiene, etc.) why would any correctional staff member

    risk his or her health and well-being? There are some red flags that

    can clearly indicate that a staff member is heading down the “slippery

    slope” of sexual misconduct including: flirting with inmates, neglecting

    duties to socialize with inmates, absences off post for long periods of

    time, accepting and sending notes to inmates, accepting gifts from

    inmates, coming in on days off to see an inmate, calling inmates by

    nicknames, inmates using the staff member’s first name, getting overly

    “made up”, or being seen in out of the way areas with an inmate. I am

    sure that you can think of others. It is important to have blunt, plain

    talks to staff about sexual misconduct, combined with a warning about

    criminal charges, disciplinary action and termination from the job. In

    other words-a zero tolerance policy must be in place.

  • Violence Against Inmates: This “smell” will arise when the public

    reads about jail officers injuring inmates through physical beatings

    and misuse of restraints. According to Ross-and it makes sense-most

    violent acts against inmates by correctional staff are psychological.

    These include: tearing up mail, searching more often than necessary,

    denying privileges, etc., all showing the inmates “who is in charge”.

    When this attitude turns physical-trouble results. In class, I discuss

    examples of jail officers being criminally convicted and losing their

    careers and their freedom because of physically abusing inmates.

    One example is the Oklahoma jail officer who in 2012 pleaded guilty

    in federal court to excessive force, violating the civil rights of an

    inmate, falsifying records and making false statements to the FBI.

    The officer was 26 years old-and his law enforcement career is over

    (, 2012).

Oh-and let’s not forget this category: “Glued to the chair”: Jail inmates

will take advantage of staff laziness. Does your jail have officers that do

their required checks in a lazy, halfhearted manner? Does it appear that

they are “glued” to their post chair? Inmates will take such opportunities

of staff laziness to do several things, none that put the jail in a good light:

manufacture/smuggling of contraband, sexual and physical assault on other

inmates, work on escaping and unfortunately, suicide.

Is anyone in your jail paying attention to what staff is doing? Do we see

warning signs of some staff behaving in the ways I just described? Are

supervisors counseling officers, taking disciplinary action and communicating

to staff what will happen when they behave in such negative ways?

If you are a jail staff member and see the bad behaviors that have been

discussed in this article, you must let your supervisors know. Is the smell

going to get worse? Are you going to eliminate the source of the smell, or just

ignore it? If you ignore it, it will not go away.


  1. Former jailer pleads guilty to assault of inmate. May 17, 2012. Phoenix Staff

    Reports. (Accessed May

    19, 2012).

  2. Ross, Jeffrey Ian Ph.D. (2008). Special Problems in Corrections. Upper Saddle River:

    Pearson Prentice Hall.



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