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Tales From the Local Jail: A New Look at the ‘Snitch’

April 29th, 2016

We have all seen the Hollywood versions of police informants-snitches-you know, those shady characters meeting under a bridge by a river across from the big city at 3 AM. Or- in an empty parking garage, where the ‘snitch’ is on one side of the pillar, out of sight-talking to the plain clothes cop. And then the cop gives the informant some money for the information and they both quietly leave.

In jails, correctional officers (COs) also do have informants. Sometimes an inmate ‘snitches’ for favors from the staff, sometimes a confidential informant (CI) will lie or exaggerate information so he or she can look good to staff, and sometimes the informant just wants to do the time in the jail and either be released, go into the prison system and get on with their sentences. If a jail CO has a good confidential informant that has proven to be reliable in giving critical information, it is common sense not to ever divulge the informant’s name. If that happens-the CI becomes a pariah among the inmates and a target for assault or worse.

We can learn a lot from veterans in the jail field. I highly recommend a book by retired New York City Department of Corrections officer Larone Koonce, Correction Officer’s Guide to Understanding Inmates: The Forty Four Keys to Inmate Management (2012, Koonce Publishing). I use this book in my in service classes and have found it well written and very informative.

Key 16- Always Have an Informant, is particularly interesting. Koonce defines an informant as someone who gives a CO information about potential problems in the facility, and by doing so, keeps staff well informed as to dangers and problems among the inmate population. He also advocates doing so by having a good interpersonal relationship with these inmates, and rewarding them when you can.

Establishing good officer-inmate relationships, he says are the key-and I agree. Let’s take a look at some of officer Koonce’s observations with some commentary:

  • The best time to establish officer-inmate interpersonal relationships is when the inmate is first admitted to the facility, whether from another jail, from court or right after arrest. The inmate, even the most hard core and streetwise, may be unfamiliar with your jail. Over time, the inmate population changes, as does the makeup of the officer corps. This time in, the inmate may not know many of the COs due to retirements and staff turnover. Rules and policies may have changed since the last time he was inside, and new offenders are anxious. New inmates may be vulnerable to harassment and assault, and have to learn quickly who among the inmates may be dangerous to them.

  • Inmates must adjust when they arrive, and they do so through one of three ways: first-some may keep to themselves and try not to offend anyone. Second-some may affiliate themselves with a group or gang. Finally, some may think that their adjustment may go safer and smoother if they stay close to you-the CO. This third type-the one who always seems to ‘hang around’ you a lot of the time-gives you the best opportunity of forging a good relationship.
  • The third type-the inmate ‘hanger on’ will always try to be in your presence and keep you in his line of sight. He knows that he is safer with you around, and that the other inmates will not bother him because you are nearby. This is your chance to become a positive role model, asking this inmate how he is doing, taking an interest in his well-being and watching out for him. Try also to give him advice on how to survive jail and stay out of trouble. Even though this inmate will adjust and get used to the jail and the inmate ways of doing time, he may let you know what is going on. That information could be information about predatory inmates, contraband, gangs, escape plans, and so forth.

Over time, this inmate will hopefully be grateful to you for the advice. As your CO-inmate relationship develops, you may in passing conversation discreetly and quietly ask what is going on in a cellblock or unit. Or-you can just keep in contact simply asking “How are you?” “What is going on?” “Everything all right?”

This inmate, now having adjusted to the jail, may think that he is surviving and is doing time all right, thanks to you. In return-he really may let you know some information about an impending assault on a staff member or inmate, contraband, gang communications inside the jail, and so forth. He may think “I’m doing all right-and nothing around me going on is going to screw that up”.

Finally-handle critical information discreetly and talk to your supervisor about following up. Don’t just jump in with both feet if you find something out. Be cautious. Try as much as possible to keep the informant’s identity a secret. But if the inmate has to be moved or transferred, be loyal to the informant and quietly let the officers in the new unit know that this inmate “has been helpful.” Seasoned veterans will know what you mean and will also watch out for him. Be loyal to inmates who help you out-if the CI is found out, his safety will be compromised.

Remember-the bond that you form with an inmate can go a long way to keep you, staff, fellow officers and inmates safe.

Reference: Koonce, Larone. (2012). Correction Officer’s Guide to Understanding Inmates: The Forty Four Keys to Inmate Management. Koonce Publishing.

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Handling Jail Special Populations: A Thumbnail Training Guide

January 13th, 2016

Jail correctional officers (COs) must be “jacks of all trades”-being able to multi task and handle many different types of inmates at one time. During a shift, a jail officer may handle anything from a suicide to a mentally disordered inmate to one acting up inside a segregation unit. It is no wonder that many veteran jail officers, when talking about their careers, agree that no two days are alike-and one never knows what type of inmate he or she will be dealing with at any given time.

Recently, there has been much more attention paid by trainers, the media, researchers and trainers to special populations inside our nation’s correctional facilities. Special populations include mentally disordered inmates, female inmates, mature/elderly inmates, minorities and foreign inmates, youthful offenders and juveniles, gangs, inmates with sexual identity issues and inmates in segregation or isolation. Times have changed-we have come a long way in the last 50 years.

In jail officer training, more material and information are being included in officer in service training and basic training. Due to lawsuits and the development of corrections standards, corrections personnel recognize the sobering fact that mismanaging special inmate populations can result in injuries, death and litigation. If found liable, the agency may have to pay out money-a lot of money. Officers can find themselves out of a job, facing criminal charges or civil lawsuits. But-there should be no ‘rush to judgment’. Correctional officers have a tough job regarding the safe custody of special population inmates. It is easy to accuse COs of negligence and not properly doing their jobs-but proving it and winning a lawsuit is another matter. COs deserve their day in court with fair hearings-just like the lawbreakers that they keep locked up.

I teach an in service jail correctional officer training class throughout Virginia-from a jail veteran and practitioner standpoint. After going through statistics and incidents about special population inmates, I close at the end of the day with 13 common sense guidelines to effectively manage special population inmates inside a correctional facility. So-without further fanfare-let’s take a look:

  • Proper handling of special management inmates requires a mindset of “expect the unexpected”.

    Just because an inmate is locked away in a segregation unit does not mean you are safe when you open the cell door. There is a reason why that inmate is locked away. Just because things seem calm does not guarantee that events won’t suddenly change in the next 30 seconds. Mentally ill inmates can be unpredictable; a suicidal inmate can tell you that he is fine and try to hang himself. Your gut-and those little hairs standing up on the back of your neck, combined with your experience-are your best safeguards.

  • The problems of these inmates can affect your safety and also their well-being.

    In other words-their problems can give you problems. Inmates who are seriously mentally ill, such as suffering from paranoia may ‘lash out’ at you. Severely mentally ill inmates can resist you when you are trying to perform what you think are routine duties, such as taking them to the showers or transporting them to court or to a mental health facility. Youthful offenders-those in their teens or juveniles confined in adult jails may be so immature that they engage in fights or assaults on staff. In these two examples, COs may be forced to use force, and in some cases injuries to inmates and staff can happen.

  • Proper supervision means that you are in a ‘people profession’. If you cannot accept that-please leave.

    Correctional officers should view all inmates as people, and strive to treat them with basic human dignity. If some COs get amusement out of harassing mentally ill inmates, for example, or ignoring inmates on segregation-they should do the profession a favor and get out of the field.

  • Special management inmates must be afforded due process & protection from cruel & unusual punishment.

    Special needs inmates, especially those who may be vulnerable to attack and harassment from other inmates must be protected. That means making the best classification decisions possible with the most accurate information and staff input and perspectives. For example, you are faced on where to house a frail inmate in his 70’s. He should not be housed with younger, volatile and immature inmates. Inmates in segregation must have their cases reviewed by staff to ascertain if there is a continuing need for segregation, and if there are any problems such as physical and mental deterioration.

  • Special management inmates must be afforded proper medical and mental health care.

    Pregnant female inmates, mentally ill inmates, suicidal inmates and elderly inmates-these are a representation of special needs inmates. They are to receive good medical and mental health care, like all inmates.

  • Handling special management inmates takes time, concern, empathy and teamwork.

    Dealing with mentally ill inmates or suicidal inmates takes time. The same is true of inmates with dementia or ones that have cultural or language barriers. Be patient and empathetic. Impatience and a lack of concern shown by a CO may heighten the inmate’s anxiety. Regarding inmates in segregation or isolation, think about what they may be going through-limited or no social contact, no television, staring at the same walls hour after hour, etc. Asking how they are doing may make it tolerable. But always think safety and guard against being too sympathetic and being manipulated. Teamwork means working with and taking the advice of medical staff and mental health staff as well as passing along of crucial information between squads or shifts.

  • No one expects you to be an expert, but take action when things are ‘not quite right’.

    You have an inmate in tears-saying that he is not suicidal. You just booked in an inmate who is talking strangely to himself. You observe that another inmate in population who has been social with other inmates now sits and stares all day, never talking. You are not a qualified mental health professional-but your ‘gut’ says something is not right. Contact mental health and medical staff as well as your supervisor for further action and housing.

  • Remember that for many of these inmates, jail is traumatic and they many not handle it well.

    It is important that COs do not generalize and not view all offenders as inmates who readily adjust to incarceration. Even repeat offenders experience anxiety or depression, just as ‘first timers’ do. They may think “I’m back again-what will happen to me this time?” Or-a female is worried about her children, a mentally ill offender is deteriorating rapidly and poses a danger. An elderly offender has just been disowned by the family or an inmate faced with being locked up really will kill herself this time in.

  • Remember that the courts are very concerned with the proper care and handling of special management inmates.

    Corrections trainers now have a ‘gold mine’ of information thanks to the media, correctional organizations and the internet. An effective training tool would be to search for court cases dealing with inmate management and discuss them in training sessions, including roll calls. Recent court cases have examined inmate medical care, suicide and placement of inmates in segregation or isolation.

  • When in doubt, err on the side of caution and let qualified staff step in and do their jobs.

    A good rule to follow-if what you observe about an inmate and your experience leads you to think that this inmate may need special attention-get the qualified staff and supervisors involved.

  • Be prepared to answer for your actions; follow policies and procedures.

    Policies and procedures must be followed. They are there for the welfare of the inmate and also to protect you. Always keep in the back of your mind that with special needs inmates, many ‘players’ will ask you to explain your actions, including supervisors, attorneys, the courts-and let’s not forget internal affairs. Following policies and procedures gives you a solid foundation.

  • Document…Document…DOCUMENT!!!!!!

    The saying “If it was not written down, then it did not happen” is not just a cliché. It’s true-take the time, as tired and as busy that you are-to fill out the special housing logs or write reports. A year later-if the jail is sued about the handling of an inmate-you will be glad that your report or log is retrieved from a dusty old file box in storage. Also-it’s good to keep notes-they refresh your memory. Finally-document clearly and legibly.

    And now my personal favorite:

  • Jail is a closed environment. When in doubt…. ASK A SUPERVISOR. (There is always one around).

    In any correctional facility, there is no such thing as a stupid question about the handling of special needs inmates. Supervisors wear the stripes, the bars, the oak leaves and the eagles on their uniforms. They have been promoted because they show good thought, maturity and leadership. Ask them for direction and it is true-there are always supervisors around the facility.

Reference: In Service Jail Seminar: Managing Special Populations, by Gary F. Cornelius, February 2015.

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Tales from the Local Jail: Volunteers, Change and ‘Cupid the Cat’

November 18th, 2015

Recently a local jail near where I reside asked me to speak to its volunteers, who come into the jail and provide a variety of programs services, including tutoring, mentoring, substance abuse and religious instruction. They are a fine group of concerned citizens who want to help offenders stay out of jail. Corrections veterans know that volunteers are a positive influence in the otherwise negative existence of the jail inmate. They can give hope to those offenders who truly want to change.

The key word is change! As a former jail programs director I have heard that word used by counselors, chaplains and volunteers. It is all right and commendable that we have these folks in jails to help offenders change-from law breaking people to productive citizens. We want offenders to change-but what exactly is change?

In my presentation, I discuss that word. I tell the volunteers that you will hear inmates say that they want to change or they have changed. How can you tell, I ask? Are you psychic? Just because they attend programs and recite Bible verses does not necessarily mean change. Offenders have lived dysfunctional lives on lip service: wearing different masks to suit the situation. To a family member, they can be sorrowful, while at the same time ‘conning’ them out of money. Needing a place to stay because instead of paying the rent, they spent the money on drugs-they wear a mask if desperation. Their lives are a mess and if they can ‘con’ a person into believing that they will change-they will. I discuss in the training why people become criminals, explaining for some they learn it from a dysfunctional criminal family, substance abuse, peers, or they think it is ‘cool’ to be a criminal-“sure beats working for a living!” For some it is a thrill to have power-illegal power- over others. Not all offenders want to continue the criminal life. Faced with consequences such as loss of freedom, decline in their health or the disintegration of their families, many do want to sincerely change.

But to the jail corrections staff-what is change? I have been asked this question by my college students. I answer that change is dynamic, is tangible and not just ‘lip service’. Change in someone’s life must be seen and understood. Change means doing things like:

  • Respecting and cooperating with staff and not getting into trouble in the jail.

  • Attending programs and trying, really trying to get something out of them.
  • Working with, and not manipulating officers, volunteers and programs staff.
  • Trying to reestablish positive communications with families and loved ones.
  • When released, working at a job, not getting fired, paying fines and court costs. Bills are paid; money is saved.
  • Not being re-arrested.
  • Cooperating with probation and parole officers.
  • Staying clean, sober and drug free.
  • Participating in community programs, including mental health counseling.
  • Maintaining good health-mental and physical.
  • Raising a family and being in a strong, positive and mature relationship.

I also advise volunteers that the reasons that people break the law and the problems in their dysfunctional lives will take a long time to change, requiring hard work from the offender. Some offenders will do the work; some will manipulate the volunteers to do a lot of the heavy lifting. For example, an alcoholic inmate wants to join Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and get a sponsor-not because he wants to get sober and stay out of trouble, but because it will look good in front of the judge when he goes to court. So-he wants the volunteer to get him into the program, rather than applying himself through the jail programs section and being put on a waiting list for an interview. Or-instead of reading through the AA literature to find an AA group in his neighborhood, he asks the volunteer to find one. He may even ask the volunteer to testify for him in court before he even gets into the jail AA program. This may appear to be a trivial, small example, but some offenders think this way-appearing to ‘change’ and all the while manipulating is all right.

Speaking of trying to change someone, let’s talk about Cupid the Cat. I use this example because it shows an offender’s sneaky behavior about a cute little cat. In Houston in 2013, Cupid, a little cat, five or six months old, was found shot with an arrow, just under her bladder. A local veterinary clinic took her in; the story made the local news and monetary donations for her care came pouring in. The veterinarian was thrilled with the charity and turned over the management of the donations to her part time manager, a young woman who also worked for the City of Houston. Imagine her surprise when the veterinarian went to check on the accounts and discovered that the donated money had been transferred to a Pay Pal account with the part time manager’s name on it. The total amount embezzled from the clinic was reported to be almost $20,000. The part time manager was charged with aggravated theft. She allegedly set up three Pay Pal accounts under different names and e mail addresses. She then transferred the funds into her own personal account.

So I ask jail volunteers: if this woman had no qualms about cheating and lying about the care of a cute little cat, do you think this criminal behavior will just cease-‘poof’ and disappear because she is in trouble with the law? If she says to you “I have changed”- do you just believe it? Or will she have to prove it by never stealing funds again, participating in counseling, paying back the money she took and facing the consequences of her actions, etc.?

Only her actions….and time will tell.

Just some food for thought.

And by the way, even though I am a dog guy, I do think that cats are cute.

Reference:
KHOU Staff. “Woman accused of stealing $20K donated to help cat shot with bow-and-arrow”. KHOU, January 21, 2014. Accessed November 12, 2015. Retrieved from http://www.khou.com/story/news/crime/2014/07/24/12323412/

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The Twenty Minute Trainer: Treasure in the Trash

August 7th, 2015

It never ceases to amaze me how crafty inmates are when they are trying to get contraband smuggled into a correctional facility. Correctional officers (COs) have to look out for contraband sent in the mail, inside a package, or unfortunately by a fellow CO that does not wish to follow the code of conduct or the law. Contraband has been thrown over fences or placed outside in the community where inmates on work crews can find it.

But-this story out of Florida intrigued me enough to share it with you, as there can be a simple lesson to be learned. There is treasure in the trash.

Here are the facts as reported in the Pinellas, Florida news media:

  • In November of 2014, the Detention Investigation Unit of the Pinellas (Florida) County Sheriff’s Office received information from a confidential source that drugs were being smuggled into the facility by an inmate assigned cleanup at the jail Video Visitation Center.

  • In a follow up investigation, investigators discovered a suspicious looking parcel behind a steel box, located near the entrance to the Video Visitation Center. Upon further scrutiny, the package contained over 50 prescription pills, wrapped and sealed in plastic. The package was placed inside a McDonald’s Egg McMuffin wrapper.
  • According to investigators, a 47 year old man brought the package to the Video Visitation Center. The plan was to have a 45 year old female inmate assigned to the visitation center cleaning detail bring the package inside the jail.
  • The female inmate worker was supposed to deliver the package to a 26 year old female inmate who lived in the same housing unit.
  • All three were charged with conspiracy to introduce contraband into a county corrections facility. Investigators then found out, by interviewing the man, that he had made two successful drug drops in the prior week, involving the same two women.

(www.baynews9.com, 2014)

We all know that inmates are always looking to circumvent our best anti contraband efforts. They have the time and the intelligence to think up some innovative plots. That little piece of trash in the lobby or lying in the parking lot could be more than trash. Who really knows what that crumpled paper bag may contain? Or that discarded cigarette pack? What is really in that trash can?

What countermeasures could be taken? It’s time to think outside the box. I am not saying that with all of the duties that correctional officers have to perform, we stop and go through every piece of trash. Let’s think common sense. Maybe we can be in closer proximity when inmates pick up outside trash, or have a drug dog occasionally ‘drop by’ for a sniff when outside inmates are on trash detail. Maybe we should be aware in civilian lobby areas of ‘good citizens’ that may distract the officer, just enough to have him or her turn the other way from observing the inmates-for just a quick moment. Or-how about the next time that an inmate worker nicely says “I’ll take the trash down to the dumpster, deputy…save you a trip.” You answer-“no thanks, we will handle it ourselves.” Better yet, you can be right alongside them when the trash is dumped.

My compliments go out to the Detention Investigation Unit at the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office for a job well done. Only inmates can take something simple like a trash detail and turn it into a contraband smuggling operation. And only we can stop it.

Remember-There is treasure in the trash.

Reference:
Detectives: Trio used Egg McMuffin wrapper to smuggle pills into jail. (2014, November 14). Baynews 9, Retrieved from http://www.baynews9.com/content/news/baynews9/news/article.html/content/news/articles/bn9/2014/11/14/… Accessed May 30, 2015.

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Tales from the Local Jail: Forgetting the CO??

July 10th, 2015

Recently I was in a local business and in browsing around my eye was drawn to a display of frames for certificates, photographs, diplomas, retirement awards, etc…we all have seen them. They were made of finished wood, and were very stylish. One would love to have one on display in his or her den, living room, etc. Just to get a plaque with your photo, an imprinted badge or department patch and some words of praise would always be remembered. It is nice that a manufacturer would produce these so that families and departments can present awards to deserving people.

As I drew closer and admired the handiwork of the frames and plaques, I noticed that there were plaques for police officer, fireman and emergency medical technician (EMT). Then I realized-there was not one for correctional officers. Not one frame, large or small.

I am a retired deputy sheriff. I worked inside a large county jail. I served for over 27 years with a group of highly trained professional men and women. There are thousands of correctional officers in our country that have had long careers in correctional institutions. Some of these facilities where they served were small jails. Some were maximum security state and federal prisons. Some served in special housing units. Some were on emergency response teams or transported inmates.

And-let’s not forget the thousands of correctional officers, deputy sheriffs and juvenile detention staff members who are still serving in prisons, local jails, juvenile centers, halfway houses, lockups and regional jails. Their titles vary from deputy, counselor, or just correctional officer (CO).

All correctional staff enters a place every day where their ‘clientele’, so to speak, do not want to be there, do not want to be told what to do and many will undermine and circumvent staff. There are gang members, violent inmates, drug users, alcohol abusers and mentally ill offenders that have to be supervised. COs have to work double shifts, long hours, overtime, overnight shifts, weekends and holidays. They are subject to being called into work in emergencies. They try to get off duty on time-and many do not, phoning home and telling their loved ones that they will be late-an emergency happened or ‘something came up’. Some never come home at all, and we remember them and their families daily in our thoughts and prayers. The job is dangerous. Many are maimed, have to retire early and are never the same. Some recover from inmate assaults and return to the facility-like they have taken an oath and have been trained to do.

They have to get clean the cells where inmates have cut their wrists, hanged themselves or have assaulted other inmates. They open cell doors and get hit with the odor of smeared feces, the liquid waste of urine, thrown fecal matter, stuffed up toilets or the sting of ‘spit’. Inmates play “head games” with them, and try to manipulate them into bending the rules or to bring in contraband. The stress of the job can affect their physical health, mental health, quality of life and personal life. Families-spouses and children- know that the CO family member has had too many ‘bad days’ when he or she drinks too much, yells at them or doesn’t want to take part in family activities any more. COs suffer from headaches, ulcers, high blood pressure and fatigue-and that is only a partial list. They look at their pay and then at the bills-and wonder at times if a career in corrections is worth it. Most think that it is; and feel a sense of pride, of professionalism, of duty to the public, and know that correctional work is a ‘noble profession’. So-they go back in the next day.

The public, through the media, hears about things that go wrong in a correctional facility, but seldom when anything good happens-such as a CO saving a suicidal inmate or the implementation of a new program for inmates. Like any professions, corrections has its ‘bad apples’, the officers and staff that have made stupid decisions. COs who become corrupted and engage in contraband smuggling, aiding escapes and having sex with inmates must face the consequences of their actions, from termination to criminal charges. But they in no way reflect the majority of the workforce of highly trained ethical and competent correctional officers.

Corrections has been called “Law Enforcement’s Toughest Beat”. Some of us may say that’s true. I think that any profession where one has to wear a badge and enforce the law-from street cops to probation/parole officers is a tough beat. Correctional officers are law enforcement officers-just like cops. We handle different types of offenders, are subjected to physical danger, and enforce both the law and the rules of the institution. Both professions are dangerous.

Does the public know this, or just refer to us as ‘guards’ that sit around all day and watch the inmates? Does the public realize that COs are in the thick of inmates and when trouble starts, can sometimes only back up to a wall, calling for backup? COs see the personality flaws, mental problems, scams and schemes, rights and wrongs, strengths, emotions, anger and frustrations of the incarcerated, right up close and personal. These are encountered by the CO dealing with the inmates face to face, one on one.

So, after giving this profession a lot of thought, and describing how tough it is…….the next time that you are in a store and those frames and plaques catch your eye……ask…where are the ones for the CO?

Reference:

“Law Enforcement’s Toughest Beat”. (December, 2014). Correctional Oasis, Desert Waters Correctional Outreach, Volume 11, Issue 12, p. 3.

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“Policing 101” Also Means “Corrections 101”

May 26th, 2015

This article appears in the current on line issue of The Correctional Trainer, the publication of the International Association of Correctional Training Personnel (IACTP) and is posted here with the permission of the IACTP. To see what IACTP can offer your training staff, please log on to its web site at www.iactp.org.

In terms of law enforcement race relations, it has been a rough year for both police officers and the communities in which they serve. The unrest in Ferguson, Missouri, New York City and most recently Baltimore, Maryland have turned much attention to the subject of law enforcement and race relations.

Law enforcement officers know that race can be an inflammatory subject; some citizens of minority groups have complained that police have not treated them fairly or that some minority citizens have been unjustly targeted by police. The debate over the events involving police actions and the deaths of several black citizens in Ferguson, Missouri, Staten Island, New York and Baltimore Maryland will continue for some time. I fervently hope that law enforcement personnel and members of the minority community will learn to get along and respect each other. When tragic events in the three cities that I have mentioned occur and lives are lost, patience should prevail, and the criminal justice system should do its job and investigate thoroughly and fairly.

The law enforcement profession is one that interacts with all types of people from all types of ethnic groups. Law enforcement officers, both police and corrections, are trained in cultural diversity. However, there will be more training in an effort to temper strained feelings and to convince officers and citizens that they both should try more to understand each other. If there are complaints, the perspectives of both officers and citizens must be listened to by each other. Solutions must be reached-but not by rioting, disobeying the law, harassing and challenging police officers, inflicting property damage or demonstrating violently and not wanting to hear other points of view. People that say that law enforcement officers do not teat minorities equally and with respect should realize that these officers will respond, night or day to any call for help, from anyone, from any neighborhood, no matter what the color of the citizens who call or need help. They lay their lives on the line on the street, just as correctional officers lay their lives on the line when they walk through the doors of a correctional facility. Unfortunately, some do not come home.

In New York City, the federal monitor overseeing reforms to the police forms has introduced new training curriculum that advises officers not to be racist, don’t mock others, and do not hassle people for no reason.

Tagged as ‘Policing 101’, the new training programs propose changes as a result of the 2013 federal court ruling that declared the NYPD’s stop and frisk policies in violation of the Constitution.

I read the ten rules proposed in the new training curriculum. While veteran officers, trainers and supervisors in the NYPD will discuss them and implement them, some of the ten rules make good sense for corrections. Correctional officers (COs) are in many ways the police officers inside their respective institutions, correct? Police patrol-COs patrol. Police search, COs search. Police officers enforce the law; COs enforce both the law and the rules of the institution. And-police officers deal with members of ethnic groups and minorities, as do correctional officers.

So-let’s take a look at some of the rules from the suggested NYPD training program and apply them to corrections:

  • Do not imitate the speech patterns of others: Making fun of inmates’ accents, dialects or an inability to understand English is a sure way to make enemies in the inmate population. A sarcastic, bigoted unprofessional CO may think it’s ‘cool’-and when he or she leaves a post, the ill feelings left behind among inmates has to be dealt with by the next CO.

  • Avoid stereotypical assumptions: Inmates are people, and come from a variety of backgrounds. For example, all Hispanics are not illegal aliens. All young black males are not high school dropouts or drug users.
  • Tell a person why he or she was stopped: In correctional institutions, inmates must follow rules and regulations, and the job of COs would be more difficult if they had to stop and explain to inmates the reasons for orders and regulations. Some inmates enjoy asking many questions, as a subtle way to ‘get back’ at COs or harass them. However, many encounters with inmates include the question ‘why?’ or a request for an explanation from the CO. Just like on the street, a person usually responds well to an explanation of why a rule exists or an order is given, even if he or she knows that they will lose the argument and must obey.
  • Do not engage in racial profiling: This is dangerous ground, generally assuming that all members of an ethnic group or a minority group behave in a certain way. Not all young Hispanic males are violent gang members, etc. Look for ‘concrete data’, such as criminal history, charge, institutional history and how the inmate behaves.
  • Do not tell jokes that are ethnic, racial or sexist: As one bilingual civilian jail instructor told me: “Inmates may not understand English, but they recognize tone and inflection”. In other words, they know when they are being the brunt of a joke or being laughed about. It is true of sexist humor-it is unprofessional and a form of sexual harassment-which violates the law. COs may think that such humor is funny-and if they engage in it should not expect inmates to respect them, cooperate with them or give information when asked.

Remember that all law enforcement officers are part of the same overall team. Some of us may think that these rules are trivial, as we have heard them before. However, in the climate that currently exists about people and police officers, correctional officers can take these rules-and refresh their human relations skills.

It never hurts to do that.

Reference:
Brown, Stephen Rex. (2015, April 21). Exclusive: Proposed federal rules for NYPD training include Cop 101 advice like ‘don’t be racist’. New York Daily News. Retrieved from http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/exclusive-new-fed-rules-nypd-training

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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!

Reference:
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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The Twenty Minute Trainer: In the Public Eye

January 26th, 2015

If any of you in corrections have not heard of the events in Ferguson, Missouri and Staten Island, New York in 2014, then you either must be living in a cave somewhere, or you have no access to the media or the Internet. We all know that in these two jurisdictions, two black males died during incidents with police officers. There was no grand jury indictments of the police officers involved. The fallout was severe: riots and property destruction in Missouri and large scale demonstrations in both Missouri and New York City. There are now anti police demonstrations throughout the nation. Another result of all of these events is the ongoing rift between the Mayor of New York and the officers in New York City Police Department (NYPD) demonstrated by officers turning their backs on the New York mayor at the funerals of two assassinated New York police officers.

I, like many of you, no doubt, have several thoughts on all of this. Two young black men and two officers of the NYPD are dead. What I will not do is weigh in and opine on the individual cases, including the differences between the NYPD and the mayor. The facts of both will be debated for years along with the reasons for the grand jury decisions.

But-let’s take a look at how incidents such as these affect us correctional officers (COs) who like police officers, wear a badge-but work inside correctional facilities.

  • The “public eye” is on us: In this age of Internet video, the twenty four hour, seven days a week, three hundred sixty five days a year cable news cycle, actions of law enforcement are easily seen by the media-the “public eye”. This was evident in the Missouri and New York incidents-they were reported fast, and commentators and reporters began to weigh in quickly.

  • Use of force incidents in correctional facilities occur very quickly. Just like on the street, incidents where force is used may occur in a very quick time. People outside of law enforcement do not generally understand this. There are times, however, that some incidents where staff can plan a strategy. These include barricade situations, inmates refusing to come out of their cells, inmates acting irrationally and need to be controlled, etc. But-in many situations, the correctional officer must decide what he or she will do in a matter of seconds. Unfortunately these actions run the risk of injury or death to both the inmates and COs.

  • We must exert control: We know that control of inmates must be maintained in any type of correctional facility. Sometimes control is accomplished by the use of force to prevent escape, to prevent damage to the facility, to defend ourselves, to defend inmates and staff and to gain compliance with facility rules and regulations. Occasionally we put inmates in restraints, including the restraint chair. Besides the use of force, there is another control tool that we use-segregation. But the ‘public eye’ has looked at segregation, resulting in a recent debate on the necessity of using segregation and its long term effects on inmates. Some think that it is over used; others think that it is necessary.

    In future columns, I will explore the segregation debate.

    Now that we know the ‘public eye’ is on us, as it is looking at anyone wearing a badge, what should we do?

  • Never, never, NEVER forget that the ‘public eye’ is watching! Do not think that just because you work inside a corrections facility that your actions cannot be seen by others. I have seen videos of jail officers restraining inmates posted on line and in news media reports. Also-if inmates can see what is happening, they can let their families and friends know. Word will get around. Remember your training and professionalism. The use of force continuum is an excellent tool. In your reports, be clear as to why force had to be used. The media loves stories of ‘COs Gone Bad’.

  • Trainers and supervisors must regularly have refresher training is use of force, restraints and professional conduct. This training should include stating the reasons for use of force and restraints. COs may become complacent and jaded. Training should emphasize the proper use of force, proper use of restraints and how not to let our emotions control our actions. Stress professionalism and not viewing inmates as enemies to be treated inhumanely.

  • Always be aware that all aspects of your life-professional and personal-may be scrutinized. If you take action off duty as a law enforcement officer, or engage in conduct that violates your agency’s code of conduct, you can bet on those actions making their way to the local news or on line.

In closing, there are people-the public eye-watching out for what we do, what we appear to be and what actions we take in our day to day duties. They do not see what we see or know what it is like to work in corrections every day.

Be careful!

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Tales From the Local Jail “Goin’ Out of My Head”

November 4th, 2014

I like the oldies-being the old guy that I am…..I have always liked The Lettermen’s-‘Goin Out of My Head’. What does that have to do with corrections? Read on!

I teach in service academy classes for jail officers, and I discuss subjects such as negative staff, avoiding liability and maintaining boundaries. I have discussed recent news events about corrections officers (COs) ranging from firings in Florida due to excessive force to mistreatment of mentally ill inmates to officers falsifying records. I have discussed sleeping on duty and sexual misconduct with inmates. There are times when I wish that I did not have to teach such about such topics…..these are correctional officers that have taken an oath to uphold the law and not to violate the public trust, and then violated that same oath, right?

Let’s put aside the big news events of recent months such as the Baltimore Detention Center, Riker’s Island and the Florida Department of Corrections.

I went to my library and found three news articles where the phrase ‘goin out of my head’ seems to apply to some (and certainly not all) corrections officers. Most COs are professional, conscientious, have integrity and character and are proud of the uniform that they wear.

Let’s look at several that maybe “went out their heads”:

  • In 2012, a 26 year old jail detention officer pleaded guilty of assaulting an inmate and then covering the incident up. He pleaded guilty in federal court to civil rights violations, using excessive force, making false statements to the FBI and falsifying official records. Court documents stated that he sprayed the inmate with pepper spray while the inmate was in a restraint chair and was not considered a physical threat to the officer. Also, according to court records, the officer did this in retaliation for the inmate ‘bothering’ him. Then the officer lied-falsifying his report, a colleague’s report and lying to FBI agents. He said the inmate was physically resisting, not fully restrained and posed a threat. In addition to all of this-he allowed another inmate to punch the restrained inmate, telling him to ‘go in there and do what you gotta do’.*

  • In 2012, two federal corrections officers were charged in separate incidents with smuggling contraband into a correctional facility and bribery. One officer-in exchange for cash payouts and store valued cards-was charged with smuggling the synthetic drug “spice”, a cell phone and tobacco. The other officer allegedly smuggled in-for cash-cell phones, tobacco, a lighter and a music player. **

And this one tops the aforementioned two-

  • A jail deputy was fired in 2012 for ordering jail inmates to dance to a song by Usher. In doing so, the inmates could use a phone or have the unit microwave returned. He was fired for mistreating inmates and possessing a cell phone inside the facility. Reportedly, he placed inmates in a disciplinary unit and used the cell phone to play the music; some inmates had to do a ‘bump and grind’ while others did the ‘worm’ or the ‘robot’. One inmate said that in order to use a phone to contact family members about a death in the family, he had to dance the ‘robot’. Another inmate felt ‘humiliated’ when he was forced to dance in front of fellow inmates. The deputy, 35 years old and an 8 year veteran, removed the unit microwave after inmates ignored orders to go into their cells for lockup. The deputy said that if they danced, the inmates could get out of lockup and have the microwave returned to the unit. He also allegedly threated an inmate with ‘going to the hole’ for not dancing for a full minute to his (deputy’s) approval. The deputy said that he was only trying to relieve tension in the jail, admitted that his actions were wrong and he had not planned to have the “dance contest”. To make matters worse-investigations indicated that other deputies observed the dancing and some maybe were acting as lookouts. Some inmates were laughing, apparently enjoying the festivities. ***

Assaulting inmates in violations of the law, excessive force, lying, cover ups, taking bribes, smuggling contraband and “dance contests”….how can jails and correctional facilities function if some people who wear the badge behave either as bad as the inmates or like bullies on a school playground? Hopefully conscientious correctional officers and supervisors-and they make up the majority of the corrections workforce- can both spot these officers and discipline or terminate them before things get more out of hand. They must-if the corrections profession is to maintain any sense of professionalism and earn and maintain the public’s trust.

Did any of these correctional officers “go out of their heads” and throw their careers away?

You make the call.

References:
* Former jailer pleads guilty to assault of inmate. (May 17, 2012). Muskogee Phoenix, www.muskogeephoenix.com, Accessed May 19, 2012.
** Rubenfeld, Samuel. (June 26, 2012). 2 Prison Guards Indicted on Bribery, Smuggling Charges. The Wall Street Journal, www.blogs.wsj.com (Accessed September 18, 2013).
*** Franko, Kantele. (May 4, 2012). Ohio deputy fired for making inmates dance. Associated Press. PoliceOne News, www.policeone.com (Accessed September 18, 2013).

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Attacking Civilians in Correctional Facilities

July 28th, 2014

Correctional institutions are dangerous places. This is a basic statement of fact and is plain to understand by anyone who works inside a jail, prison or juvenile center. Many offenders are locked up for dangerous crimes. When I retired, someone asked me what I learned from a 27 year jail career. The first thing I recall saying was that “nothing surprises me”. In a correctional facility, offenders or inmates are charged or convicted of various crimes and exhibit at times dangerous behavior. We know this.

Sworn staffs in correctional facilities are task oriented-we perform headcounts, searches, checks, and are always on the lookout for security breaches. Non-sworn staff-including counselors, chaplains’ staff, teachers and volunteers know that the facility houses dangerous people. They are more service oriented and depend on sworn correctional officers to keep them safe. They want to help by being positive role models for inmates and helping the inmates who want to change turn their lives around. As a jail programs director, I admired civilians, paid and volunteers alike, who choose to come into a jail, a juvenile detention center or a prison to help offenders, rather than conducting their activities outside in the much safer community.

The safety of all staff who works inside a correctional facility is a critical priority. The recent attack in January, 2014 by an inmate on a teacher in an Arizona correctional facility should be discussed at roll calls, during shifts, at supervisor’s meetings, in correctional officer basic and in service training sessions in every corrections academy and at training sessions for non-sworn correctional staff. A recent news report (www.presstv.ir, 2014) states that the teacher has filed a $4 million dollar lawsuit against the Arizona Department of Corrections (DOC). This is a headache that all corrections staff, especially the correctional staff of the Arizona DOC does not need. Correctional officers are professionally trained and conscientious workers, including those in the Arizona DOC. This tragic event could have been prevented, and we all should strive to learn from it.

While this case has resulted in a lot of publicity and questions as to why a convicted rapist was in the educational program and his classification level inside the facility, I would like to concentrate on some basic principles where safety of civilians are concerned. The problems about procedures, staff operations and classification at the Arizona facility will be addressed in court and in internal audits and investigations. According to two news articles about the attack and the lawsuit, the following facts were reported (www.presstv.ir, 2014, Christie, 2014):

  • The teacher (victim) was administering a high school equivalency test to a group of seven sex offenders.

  • No correctional officers (COs) were supervising the program.
  • The teacher usually taught in the facility visitation room, which was monitored by corrections staff and video surveillance. Because of a special event in the facility that day, the class was moved to a room without security cameras.
  • The teacher was handed a radio with instructions to let staff know if anyone [offender] “acts out”.
  • According to her claim, no correctional officers performed security checks on her class for 90 minutes.
  • According to her claim and news reports an inmate (classified into a medium security unit) remained behind after class and asked to use the bathroom, then repeatedly stabbed the woman in the head with a pen, choked her, forced her to the ground, slammed her head into the floor, tore off her clothes and raped her.
  • After the attack, the teacher called (“screamed”) for help. No one arrived. The inmate then tried to use the radio that was given to the teacher, but the frequency had been changed to one not used by the correctional officers. He allowed her to use a phone to call for help.
  • The accused inmate (age 20) was serving a 30 year sentence on convictions of a 2011 sexual assault, kidnapping and dangerous crimes against children. He was 17 years old when he knocked on a woman’s door at mid-day, asking for a drink of water. After forcing entry, he repeatedly raped and beat the woman with her 2 year old child present in the home. When her roommate came home, he fled-naked. He pleaded guilty after DNA evidence linked him to the offenses.
  • The inmate was charged in the prison attack with sexual assault, kidnapping and assault with a deadly weapon. He was found guilty in a disciplinary hearing of sexual assault on a staff member, and his security classification was increased two levels. Three weeks after the assault on the teacher, he reportedly assaulted another prison staff member.

In her lawsuit, the teacher accuses the Arizona Department of Corrections (DOC) of failing to provide an environment that was safe for her, creating a situation “where a violent rapist was left alone wholly unsupervised in a classroom with a teacher who did not have sufficient training, expertise and equipment to manage the inmate and protect herself” (www.presstv.ir, 2014).

The DOC has initiated steps such as officers carrying pepper spray and more frequently checking on civilians. A DOC spokesman said that the inmate suspect bears the responsibility for this “despicable act”. He also said that prisons are dangerous places and staffs are trained accordingly. According to him, not having an officer inside classrooms or in the nearby area “follows accepted corrections practices nationwide” (Christie, 2014).

This was met with criticism from Professor Carolyn Eggleston of California State University at San Bernardino, a former prison teacher and now director of the university’s Correctional and Alternative Education Program. She states that the DOC’s view is not consistent with standards and that correctional officers should always be present, counting offenders as they leave classes and being in close proximity to monitor programs and render aid to the teachers (Christie, 2014).

This attack is a bad situation. Civilians in facilities, either paid or volunteers are depending on correctional officers to keep them safe. They perform valuable and cost saving services: maintenance, food service, medical, educational classes, religious programs, substance abuse counseling programs, mental health counseling and mentoring. There is a need for their activities; some inmates do benefit, and the mood among offenders in the facility may be more positive. Civilians must be comfortable in knowing that the correctional officers-from agency senior supervisors to mid management down to the squad level-are all watching out for their safety.

I have some suggestions on how to deal with this problem. If you are reading this and your agency has taken a proactive approach to civilian safety and are adapting any of these, I congratulate you.

  • Supervisors should make sure that correctional officers are aware of civilian activities: what tasks they are doing and where they are doing them.

  • Supervisors should advise COs that even if they have a dim view of programs staff and volunteers, they are still responsible for their safety, and should keep their opinions to themselves, period.
  • Any inmate that is a security risk or a behavior problem will be barred from programs, in adherence with due process procedures. Rule violators will be charged, both in house and criminally.
  • Careful scrutiny must be given to the classification levels of inmates who request programs. The inmate charged in the attack reportedly was considered a low level threat to security, despite his convictions.
  • Correctional sworn staff should take part in civilian facility trainings and orientations. They should explain to civilians where they work, what their post/areas duties are and how they are available for assistance. Civilians should be comfortable around COs, and be able to communicate easily with them if they have any concerns about offenders.
  • All civilians working inside a correctional facility should receive training in offender culture, manipulation and the importance of adhering to all rules and regulations of the facility.
  • There must be clear communications from the classroom to the CO control centers: intercoms, closed circuit television, etc. [Just handing civilians a radio and telling them to call if there is a problem is not the best way to communicate.]
  • COs must be aggressive in maintaining presence in civilian activity areas: taking attendance, opening up the classroom door and asking if all is well, stopping in a program and being present for a while, escorting offenders to and from programs, counting offenders as they go into a program and as they leave, knocking on the classroom door window and letting offenders and teachers know that they are in the area. Offenders must see this-they should be ALWAYS looking over their shoulder to see where the COs are.

I realize that correctional facilities are short staffed. Offenders should see a very mobile staff making frequent patrols focusing on staff welfare and security. It is a challenge, but being on your feet and walking around a lot is better than a multi-million dollar lawsuit being filed because a civilian was attacked or needed help and there was no one to assist.

As a former jail programs director, I realize that the risk of assaults by offenders will never be eliminated, but it can be reduced. The importance of keeping our civilian personnel safe is critical. Civilians do not have to work inside a correctional facility with the types of offenders that COs deal with day after day. They do not receive the academy training that sworn staff receives. They can work, mentor and help people outside in the community if they choose. But they have decided to help us and offenders who want to change. Civilians who come into a jail, prison or juvenile detention center should have our thanks, our ongoing respect, and our pledge to keep them safe.

References:

Arizona prison teacher files $4mn for being raped in classroom. July 18, 2014. Presstv, www.presstv.ir (Accessed July 21, 2014).

Christie, Bob. June 20, 2014. Details in Attack on Teacher in Arizona Prison. Associated Press. Officer.com www.officer.com (Accessed July 21, 2014).

Corrections.com author, Lt. Gary F. Cornelius retired in 2005 from the Fairfax County (VA) Office of the Sheriff, after serving over 27 years in the Fairfax County Adult Detention Center. He conducts corrections in service training sessions and has taught corrections classes at George Mason University since 1986. Gary’s books include The Art of the Con: Avoiding Offender Manipulation, Second Edition (2009) from the American Correctional Association and The Correctional Officer: A Practical Guide, Second Edition (2010) from Carolina Academic Press.

Visit the Gary Cornelius page

Other articles by Cornelius

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