interested in joining authors network, email us for more information.

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,



Tales From the Local Jail: The Salvage Business

July 24th, 2018

I am a ‘programs guy’. But I was also a jail deputy. Maybe there are some in the jail field that think that you cannot be both-one must be one or the other. To them you must think security all of the time, that inmates put themselves in jail by making bad choices, and jail programs and the staff that run them are trying to climb a hopelessly high mountain. Programs people do not appreciate security, etc.

A true corrections professional has a makeup of both security and rehabilitation. It is true that many inmates attend programs….and many get out and return to jail with new charges. Most jail inmates are released to the street, and if we do not try to change them while they are inside, our careers will be like we are stuck in a revolving door.

State prisoners come to the local jail before their cases are adjudicated. According to recent statistics from the United States Justice Department released in May, 2018, approximately 68 percent of state prisoners were arrested within 3 years of release. An estimated 79 percent were locked up again within 6 years of release and 83 percent within 9 years (Alper, Durose and Markham, 2018, 1.)

It is discouraging to see inmates who have attended programs, done well in them, behaved well in the jail and say to staff that they will not be back return in handcuffs. It is easy to write them off. But-corrections at all levels-federal, state and local-are in the people business. We offer criminal offenders the tools to fix their lives. This toolbox-programs-is always open. Some inmates take advantage of these tools, and some do not. With some inmates, change may take some time.

On more than one occasion I have met inmates on the street that attended jail programs and stayed out of trouble once released. They were clean, sober, and had families and good jobs. I do not wear blinders-I realize for every jail inmate who has ‘made it’, there are ones that like being a criminal, are immature and will always come in and out of the jail.

I can also see why jail correctional officers (COs) and deputies get a little ‘jaded’ and discouraged. They get to know the inmates, and many hope that the inmates will succeed. But in reality-many do not.

Hence the title! To be in corrections, you must be a type of people person, hoping that the inmates will turn their lives around and salvage what is left. You keep inmates safe, you are responsible for their safety and welfare, and when they do ‘straighten out’ many of us feel good. So-we keep trying and sometimes change in an inmate takes time. But change is not impossible. Recently I was talking to a good friend of mine, Dr. Kevin Courtright from my alma mater, Edinboro University of Pennsylvania. He told me about the twenty fifth anniversary of the Pennsylvania state prison, Albion SCI. One of its former superintendents, Ed Brennan, said that he was advised early in his career that he was in the ‘salvage business, not the garbage business’. At the State Correctional Institution (SCI), Albion, inmates can learn building and construction skills, data entry, Microsoft programs certification and how to drive a forklift. The institutional climate is positive, with little or no unrest. Only one escape has occurred since 2007, and inmate fights and infractions do happen occasionally among the 2,270 inmates. The warden, Michael Clark, stated:

“The goal for any of us in corrections would be that they [inmates] leave here and don’t return. We know one of the ways to ensure that is that they leave here with some skills that they could get gainful employment.” (Last, 2018)

This can be true for the local jail as well. There will always be crime-and there will always be inmates. That said, jail officers and deputies will always have job security. But-in my view-we have a moral duty to offer the inmates the tools of change. Jail programs offer inmates’ hope and the possibility that their lives will not be placed on society’s garbage heap, but may be salvaged. Some do want to get out and stay out. They are the ones that are at the cellblock door ready to go when you call out the programs list. They are the ones who treat programs staff and volunteers with respect. They are the ones that earn their GED, get clean and sober by attending the jail’s substance abuse programs or change their ways of criminal thinking. They are the ones who are working on their reading homework, while their friends are playing cards. Or-sometimes inmates change through religious programs, finding a higher power to guide them. And yes, I know-some attend programs just to get out of the cellblock or unit. Some manipulate staff or use program sessions to meet up with their friends and pass contraband. But if a jail programs staff works closely with good, professional COs, many of these insincere inmates are weeded out. I am not naïve; there are many inmates that due to their charges, criminal histories, risk of escape, being assaultive, being incompatible and showing negative behavior should never be allowed to attend programs. Programs should be for the inmates who have earned the privilege through respecting staff, respecting other inmates, following the rules and trying to make something of themselves.

In the eight years that I supervised jail programs at the Fairfax County, VA Adult Detention Center, I was and still am, very proud of the work my staff and I did, working with treatment agencies, educational agencies, offender help organizations and religious organizations to bring both hope and a ‘light at the end of the tunnel’ to inmates who are sincere about change. Supervising programs requires staff to be balanced-both recognizing the value of programs and the security needs of the facility. While resisting inmate manipulation must be a key component of this training, other areas must include wearing proper identification, jail rules, contraband, emergencies and adhering to jail policies. But-one of the most important aspects of programs training in the jail is the existence of an open two way communications system between volunteers, civilian programs personnel and sworn staff. They have to both respect the others’ jobs and be open minded.

My staff and I worked with the local school board, local churches, the Good News Jail and Prison Ministry, the local community services board and several other rehabilitation organizations. One nonprofit agency, Opportunities, Alternatives and Resources has a great motto: Breaking the Cycle of Crime with Opportunities, Alternatives and Resources. ( Another is the Good News Jail and Prison Ministry. Included in its jail programming are the topics of acceptance as a person, getting along with those around us, forgiveness, how to handle both incarceration and getting out and responsibility and accountability to family, job and authority ( I urge any jail CO reading this column to check out both of these organizations.

These and other programs organizations have good people-and through their efforts, that person behind you in line at the grocery store is going to pay his bill, not bother anyone and behave. He may have at one time been in jail-and maybe his life was ‘salvaged’.


Alper, Mariel, Ph.D., Matthew R. Durose and Joshua Markham. (May 2018). Special Report: 2018 Update on Prisoner Recidivism: a 9-Year Follow-Up Period (2005-2014). U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics.

Good News Jail and Prison Ministry.

Last, J. (2018, April 19). A Rare Look Inside the Walls of SCI-Albion. Erie News Now. Retrieved from

OAR Fairfax.



The Twenty Minute Trainer: Inmate Rights: They Have Them! (Like it or Not)

May 31st, 2018

The following article has been reprinted with permission from IACTP’s Correctional Trainer, June 2018.

I teach an in service course for jail officers-Avoiding Liability. I am not a lawyer-but I am a jail veteran with many years of experience. Inmate rights can be discussed often in training; the important things for correctional officers to remember is that number one-inmates, through the courts have been granted limited rights under the United States Constitution, particularly the Bill of Rights-the first ten amendments. Number two-if personnel through gross negligence, deliberate indifference or just plain stupidity violate these rights and are found liable-they may lose their jobs. In addition, staff who are found liable may be criminally charged and may be ordered to pay out large sums in punitive damages. Many cases involve the Eighth Amendment, prohibiting cruel and unusual punishment. Denying inmates medical care, mental health care, and using excessive force on them are the big violators of this amendment. Mail, visiting and religion fall under the First Amendment, searches are under the Fourth, and lack of due process concerns the Fourteenth.

There are various ways to present training about the constitutional rights of inmates. Some agencies have an attorney come in and conduct training. On line videos can be presented. Finally, a training officer can research court cases and references and present. It is an interesting subject, and court decisions are coming down frequently that have an impact on the field of corrections. My approach is not to take the time to divide up the courts into federal, state, appellate, the U.S. Supreme Court, etc. I ‘lump’ all of the courts together, saying that courts consult each other’s cases, and their decisions taken as a whole can provide insight into what the courts are thinking about inmate rights.

But-back to the central issue. Inmates have rights. Why? Because the corrections system in the United States is arguably the most humane in terms of providing services to inmates and treating them like people. However, there are cases where corrections staff have made mistakes-some deliberately and the courts have found in favor of the inmates. Inmates can still sue. But filing a lawsuit is one thing-but winning is another. Due to the passage of the Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA) inmates must exhaust all “administrative remedies” or grievances, before filing in federal court. The PLRA is designed to reduce the number of frivolous lawsuits from inmates and channel their complaints into the institutions’ grievance systems (Cornelius, 2017, pp. 296-298). It does not curtail or reduce the constitutional rights of inmates. If a lawsuit is filed, and the court thinks that it is a serious issue that could have an impact on inmates’ well-being-the case will be heard.

Every corrections staff member that is responsible for the confinement of inmates must have a working knowledge of inmates’ constitutional rights. Many of us have heard remarks such as “Inmates have more rights than we do”, or “Inmates should have thought about their rights before they did what they did to get locked up”. Another remark may be something like “The courts can’t tell us what to do”. These are views that are narrow minded and ignorant-and if followed can get your staff into trouble.

There are many sources where the rights of inmates are clearly listed or discussed. One of these sources can be your own facility’s Inmate Handbook. Also, there are sources on line from organizations such as the American Civil Liberties Union that put inmates’ rights into a clear, readable format.

One source that I came across was the website for Indiana County, Pennsylvania. In the section concerning the jail, inmate rights, privileges and responsibilities are clearly written. It can serve as a handy guide for any jail officer. I will summarize inmates’ rights (Indiana County, PA):

Inmates have the right:

  • To be treated impartially, fairly and justly.
  • To a nutritious diet, clean and adequately fitting clothes.
  • To personal grooming choices, which must meet facility guidelines for safety, security, hygiene or clear identification.
  • To send and receive personal and official mail, subject to facility limitations concerning contraband and/or inflammatory materials.
  • To engage in visits with family or friends, subject to facility rules.
  • To be addressed by name in a respectful, not derogatory manner.
  • To be free from discrimination based in physical or mental limitations, political views of jail administration’s decisions and access to privileges, services and programs. Inmates will not be discriminated against based on their race, religion, national origin, sex or age.
  • To exercise, subject to correctional interests and restrictions.
  • To be supervised by staff, not other inmates.
  • To be free and not subjected to deliberate personal injury, corporal punishment, deliberate damage to property, excessive force by staff, inmate assault and harassment.
  • To have voluntary access to religious services and clergy.
  • To have access to a grievance procedure or system.
  • To have access to legal materials, legal counsel, correspondence and private visits with attorneys.
  • To have access to medical, dental and mental health care.

But having just a working knowledge of inmate rights is not enough. Correctional staff should be aware of The Ten Steps to Protect Against Inmate Lawsuits. They do not guarantee that you will never be sued, but they can work to both prevent the possibility of lawsuits and your defense in court. They are (Cornelius, 2017, pp. 346-347):

  1. Recognize potential problems: Inmate safety, self-harm, inmate medical problems, inmate mental health problems, substandard conditions, etc.
  2. Education and training: Trainers and supervisors must keep up with developments in case law, legal statutes, standards, etc. concerning inmates’ constitutional rights and present staff training.
  3. Selection and hiring: Staff who may cause problems or are potential ‘hotheads’ should not be hired. Use performance evaluations to correct bad behavior.
  4. Correct policies and procedures: All should be in compliance with correctional standards, court decisions, legal statutes and case law.
  5. Supervision: All supervisors must be mobile and know what is going on inside the facility, and take corrective action.
  6. Discipline: Problem staff who are not respecting the rights of inmates must be dealt with firmly and swiftly. This includes counseling, suspension, demotion or termination.
  7. Communication: Staff must communicate with each other concerning the care and safe custody of inmates. Supervisors must respond to inquiries about issues and incidents that could incur liability.
  8. Documentation: Written records may help you defend yourself and the agency in court.
  9. Watch the attitude!: Courts punish inmates, you do not. Staff with attitudes of punishing and demeaning inmates are dangerous.
  10. Watch Out for Each Other: If you see a fellow staff member making a mistake or acting in a way that violates inmates’ rights, you have a duty to report it. Do not stand by and do nothing-you may be held liable.

In summary, we all know that inmates are entitled to limited protections under the United States Constitution. They have rights-whether you like it or not. Everyone who interacts with inmates should have a basic knowledge of these rights. Also-they must know how to protect themselves from the possibility of inmate lawsuits. We all know that being sued is an occupational hazard. What we must do is work to lessen that possibility.

Cornelius, Gary F. (2017). The Correctional Officer: A Practical Guide, Third Edition. Durham: Carolina Academic Press.
Inmate Rights, privileges and Responsibilities, Indiana County, Pennsylvania,



Tales From the Local Jail: ‘They Don’t Just Sit Around’

April 13th, 2018

It’s interesting what you read in the local newspaper about your local jail. There are stories about escapes, contraband, and unfortunately at times-inmate suicides and sexual misconduct involving staff and inmates.

But-once in a while you read a comment-though well meaning-that is inaccurate. In a way it shows what the good citizens do not know about our local jails. I am not in any way calling our citizens ignorant. They do pay our salary, but at times appear misinformed. All they may know about the jail in their community is based on what they see on the news, or what they see in the movies or on a television show.

Jails are a part of the community, especially in public safety. Every jurisdiction has a local or county police; all have access to a local court. They serve the taxpayer-by enforcing the laws and adjudicating cases of those people who have violated the law. The local jail is no less important.

When a citizen sees a police car, he or she is thankful that a law enforcement professional is watching out for their safety. When they see a courthouse, they may think ‘those wrongdoers will get their just desserts’.

But-when they pass by the local jail, what do they think? Hopefully they think that they are safer due to the professional dedication, training and high standards of the men and women working inside them. They keep us safe, by keeping the bad people-the criminal offenders-locked up.

So-imagine my surprise recently when I read an email to my local newspaper from a citizen. The newspaper has a feature that prints e mails from the local citizenry-some complain, some praise the things and people in the community.

Titled ‘Litter Pickup’, this person (anonymous) wrote that while driving on one of the main roads in a neighboring community, he or she saw inmates picking up trash on the side of the road. The e mail went on to say that the county [apparently where he or she lives-Author’s note] “got a whole jail full of people sitting down there doing nothing. Why don’t they use them to do it instead of paying a contractor with tax dollars to pick up the trash?” It ends with a question-asking the reader if he or she is the only one that this does not make sense to and opines that the powers that be in the county does not see it either.

So-I asked myself if this opinion and view of the ‘jail full of people doing nothing’ is widespread. And-in my life I have heard people saying “get the inmates to pick up the trash-they just sit around all day watching television and playing cards!” I guess that they think that jail officers just sit around all day as well.

As a corrections professional who has worked inside a jail, including supervising an inmate community work program, I can assure mister or missus taxpayer that not all inmates are suitable to be in the community picking up the trash. I do not think that the good citizens want an assaultive inmate, a drug dealing inmate, a sex offender, gang member or a mentally ill inmate out in the community-even under guard.

To me-and I bet many jail officers-this presents an opportunity to ‘shine’ to our taxpayers. Many citizens are not familiar with their local jail-who is locked up, the training of the men and women who serve, and the careful screening that takes place before we just put those ‘sitting around’ inmates out in the community. Let’s look at the facts:

  • If you ask any jail officer what types of offenders are locked up in his or her jail, the most probable answer will be: mentally ill, drug users, sex offenders, hard core repeat offenders and substance abusers. Others include minor offenders-traffic offenses, property crimes, etc. Jails are a potpourri of criminals-a ‘mixed bag’. Due to their behavior, criminal histories and nature of their crimes, not all are suitable to take out into the community to perform work. Jail staff must carefully screen out those who could pose a problem-such as bringing in contraband, resisting authority or escaping. To the folks who say that there is a whole jail full of inmates just sitting around and put them to work; they are the same citizens who would complain that a serial burglar is out on the roads picking up trash. Not all inmates are suitable for community inmate labor programs.
  • Inmates are screened: An inmate inside a jail cannot just say: “Hey! Put me out there because I want to work and repay my debt to society!” There is criteria. A good example can be found at the Washington County, Oregon, Sheriff’s Office. Inmates are carefully screened to work outside the jail. They must have exemplary jail behavioral records, have no violent criminal histories and are nearing the end of their sentences. Other criteria that most, if not all jails look at include being medically able to work, not charged with sex offenses and having no violent offenses. Substance abuse histories are also looked at carefully. Inmates are interviewed carefully by staff to see of both their attitude and behavior are suitable.
  • Inmate community labor programs do save money-the inmates do perform work usually accomplished by paid employees or by a contracted company. For example, the Fairfax County (VA) Office of the Sheriff recently reported an annual savings of almost $1.5 million to the taxpayers. This was a result of inmates performing work on public roads, playgrounds, parks, bus stops, etc.
  • Jails strive to cultivate a good public image. That is why inmate candidates for community labor are carefully screened. No sheriff or jail superintendent wants incidents of inmates committing crimes in the community or escaping being reported to the news media. The system is not foolproof, but if staff is carefully selected, professional and trained, this risk is minimized.

In closing, the next time you drive by a jail inmate work crew, wearing those orange jumpsuits, being guarded by a jail officer-remember this: A lot of planning and screening went into letting those inmates work in the community. Yes-some inmates are just sitting in the jail-and those are the ones that the taxpayers DO NOT want out in the community.
Cut your local jails some slack-they have earned it.

Cut your local jails some slack-they have earned it.

Fairfax County (VA) Office of the Sheriff
The Virginia Gazette, (2018, March 10). Last Word, p. 5D.
Washington County Sheriff, Oregon.