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Everything Old is New Again

April 7th, 2015

Not too long ago, I was contacted by an old friend, corrections trainer and veteran Joe Marchese. I had not spoken to Joe in a while, and he called to invite me to address the Empire State Law Enforcement Training Network in Albany, New York, last December about corrections officer stress and manipulation by inmates. It was a great trip; the Network members were gracious and very hospitable. But-in the phone conversation Joe said something like “Gary-us old guys still have a lot to offer”. And in retirement-we still do.

Joe is a veteran of the New York Department of Corrections and was one of the first presidents of the International Association of Correctional Training Personnel (IACTP). In doing some research I came across an essay that Joe had written for The Correctional Officer Resource Guide, 3rd Edition for the American Correctional Association. Although published in 1997, what Joe wrote then is still true today, 18 years later.

Titled Standard Responsibilities of All Officers, the article discusses the twenty standard responsibilities of all corrections officers (COs), regardless of rank, assignment or position. They made good sense in 1997 and they make good sense now. All officers will (Marchese in Bales, ed., 1997, p. 12):

  • Report to work promptly: COs report to work sober and not under influence of drugs or alcohol. If they are sick or cannot work due to an emergency, they must notify their supervisor at least one hour prior to reporting time.
  • Report to work when recalled or called in due to emergencies: COs will keep supervisors up to date with current phone numbers, cell phone numbers, addresses, and any other contact information. COs are always on call.
  • Wear and maintain the uniform professionally: COs should look neat and not be in uniform when they are in any establishment that serves alcohol or is a gambling place of business.
  • Secure privately owned vehicles (POVs) in parking areas: COs should not bring weapons, ammunition, alcohol or anything that could be used as a weapon onto the grounds while at work. Escaping inmates could break into cars. POVs should be locked.
  • Bring only necessary items to work: COs should not bring the following into the institution: alcohol, knives, large sums of money, weapons, magazines, portable radios or televisions, books, newspapers or controlled substances. Some reading material could be permitted, and COs must stay within supervisors’ guidelines.
  • Report any incapacity to the shift commander prior to the shift starting: If a CO cannot perform his or her duties, he or she must tell the supervisor before, not during the shift.
  • Respect the following: post orders, all policies and procedures and instructions from supervisors: Follow the chain of command.
  • Remain on post, performing all duties in a professional manner until properly relieved: Keep the post clean and orderly for the next shift.
  • Report to supervisors in writing any equipment, tool, or weapon malfunction: Document it and do not attempt to repair it. Let the professionals handle it.
  • Be well spoken: Address all staff appropriately and when necessary and appropriate- by proper title and rank. Do not use sarcasm, ethnic slurs, sexual comments or profanity.
  • Use all institutional communications systems professionally: Use them for official purposes only. Do not tie up post phones with personal calls.
  • Not engage in activities that take attention away from the job: Watching television, reading, listening to a radio, talking on a cell phone, texting or surfing the Internet can all distract the attention of a CO. If allowed to bring in reading material, COs should stay within guidelines. The first priority however, is the job and always the job.
  • Notify a supervisor if becoming sleepy: Arrange or request a relief, get some coffee or get some fresh air.
  • Request supervisors’ advice if uncertain of what action to take: COs should rely on veteran superiors and learn from them.
  • Always address inmates professionally: Just as with staff, COs should not use profanity, sarcasm, nicknames or sexual remarks towards inmates. Using ‘Mister’ or ‘Miss’ makes the job easier and shows respect.
  • Not develop personal, intimate relationships with inmates or give inmates special privileges: COs should keep a professional distance from inmates and not discuss personal details about themselves or other staff with inmates. If approached by an inmate to break a rule or act inappropriately, this, as well as any contact from inmates’ families, friends or visitors must be reported to a supervisor.
  • Not accept anything from an inmate or give anything to an inmate: Gifts from inmates should be reported and turned in. If a CO makes a mistake and accepts something from an inmate, he or she should report it and not lie about it. Things always go better when one tells the truth.
  • Report in writing to supervisors any relationship, acquaintance or friendship with an inmate prior to the inmate’s incarceration: The inmate no doubt will try to take advantage of this.
  • Report in writing any unusual inmate activities: Unusual inmate activities should be reported to supervisors for the safety of all in the facility. COs may be observing inmate plans to escape, assault other inmates, engage in gang activities or smuggle contraband.
  • Report in writing any unusual inmate behavior or changes in appearance: For example, a sociable inmate now appears withdrawn; a neat inmate now is sloppy. Qualified staff must be alerted to see what is going on with that inmate. Is he a suicide risk? Is she depressed?

Twenty good correctional officer guidelines from almost 20 years ago-they still hold up today.

Everything old is new again. Please think about it!

Marchese, Joe. Standard Responsibilities in All Officers, in Correctional Officer Resource Guide, 3rd Edition, Don Bales (ed.) (p. 18). Lanham: American Correctional Association.



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