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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.

(, 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.

Detectives: Trio used Egg McMuffin wrapper to smuggle pills into jail. (2014, November 14). Baynews 9, Retrieved from… 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?


“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

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.

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

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Everything Old is New Again

April 7th, 2015

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

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

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

  • Report to work promptly: COs report to work sober and not under influence of drugs or alcohol. If they are sick or cannot work due to an emergency, they must notify their supervisor at least one hour prior to reporting time.

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

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

Everything old is new again. Please think about it!

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

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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.

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


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

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

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Tales from the Local Jail: A Good Mentor Is….

June 12th, 2014

Everyone in corrections can remember officers from their early days when they were new to the institution. Some of us had prior law enforcement experience; to others the working in a correctional facility and managing criminal offenders were things to be experienced and learned. Recently I was reading Doug Wylie’s PoliceOne column 10 Traits of a Good Mentor. He discussed the great mentors in his life and career; one was his father. I began to think of one of the mentors in my career.

In early 1978, I had just entered the corrections field after a combined four years working the street in two different law enforcement agencies. The only jail view I had was the booking area where offenders under arrest were brought.Though I studied corrections in college and had toured the nearby local jail, I was not that familiar with the inner operations, security procedures, contraband concerns, etc., as veteran deputies were. The deputies in my squad had worked the jail for a few years, I had not.

After passing the two week jail certification course mandated by the state, I reported for duty. This was 1978. Many training practices for rookies had been in place for a while and were informal. They usually consisted of pairing up a veteran officer or deputy with a new one and working as a team until the squad supervisor was comfortable with a rookie being ‘cut loose’ to work independently. My squad members were OK, ranging from quiet to talkative. All knew their jobs well. We all got along.

Although everyone gave me a warm welcome, I will always remember a deputy sheriff supervisor who made a lasting impression on me that stayed with me throughout my career. He was my immediate supervisor, a corporal. His name I will keep to myself; he was never one for the spotlight. Let’s call him “Corporal Bob”. As I read the column by Doug Wylie, it became clear to me that many of the traits of a good mentor he wrote about I could apply to Corporal Bob.

Every correctional officer can think of another officer that got them started down the right path and left an impression that stayed with them. Everyone could state what traits that this person had; lists would vary, but all would have positive attributes. Good mentors can be supervisors, training officers, or just experienced officers in the facility. Based on my experience with Corporal Bob and drawing from Doug Wylie’s column, I have devised my own list on what traits make a good mentor in corrections. So-here they are:

  • Willingness: Good mentors have a willingness to teach, instruct and bring out the best in the officers they are working with. They want to do this, and look upon the task of training as much more as just part of the job. By cajoling and positive coaching, they bring out the best work practices in an officer, which will help the agency.

  • Ethics: Good mentors believe in the code of ethics and living up to the public trust. You will not see them, for example, taking home office supplies, shirking their duties or taking ‘freebies’ from local restaurants. They view the badge and uniform as much more than ‘baubles’ and clothing. They represent the mission of the agency, the public trust and the serious nature of the job.
  • Leading by example: They walk around, asking officers how they are doing and what they need. They perform their duties professionally; they are people to look up to. They get down in the trenches occasionally to see what is going on, jumping in to help the front line with their duties.
  • Learning: Good mentors never think that they know it all. There are always opportunities to learn. Some have to be made. For example, when I started in 1978, there was no manual of standard operating procedures to speak of, just a book of memorandums that agency supervisors had available for staff to look at once per shift. Roll calls were short and corrections classes available in the academy were few. Corporal Bob had copied every operational memo and organized them into his own manual. The first day on the job he showed me around and loaned his manual to me. He said to read it and he would be glad to answer any questions or clear up anything I did not understand. A good mentor supports the training branch and encourages staff to attend seminars to learn, not just to get their hours in.
  • Enthusiasm and curiosity: Mentors recognize enthusiasm in their staff and encourage it. They say thank you and are complimentary when a task is performed well. They want staff to be curious as to why things are done a certain way and can they be done more efficiently. Mentors always encourage new ideas to work smarter, not harder. They recognize hard work.
  • Communications: Corporal Bob was a good listener and great verbal communicator. I cannot remember a single instance of interrupting, controlling a conversation or sarcasm. He listened and responded clearly, articulately and maturely. When he spoke or gave advice or orders, it was clear and we knew what was expected of us.
  • Maturity: A good mentor is mature, acts like an adult and treats others like adults. Maturity comes from having a balance in one’s life-a personal life with interests to counteract the stress of the job. I never saw Corporal Bob stressed out, tired or angry. I looked forward to going to work knowing that he was my supervisor.

Corporal Bob went on to become one of the best squad lieutenants the agency had. Corporal Bob-I don’t know where you are now or what you are doing. You retired before me and I hope that you are enjoying life. If by chance you read this, you probably will recognize yourself and hopefully remember me. All I can say is that I had a great jail career and learned a lot-thanks to you.

Thank you, Corporal Bob.


10 Traits of a Great Mentor, by Doug Wylie, PoliceOne Editor in Chief., May 8, 2014. 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

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Tales From the Local Jail: Question Authority

April 10th, 2014

In retirement, you keep on learning. In putting a training class together, I like to research through print and on line the events that are happening in our nation’s jails and prisons. I tell my classes that “Nothing surprises me”; I learn every day. I am going to talk about three escapes from custody that are surprising for several reasons: daring, ingenuity and unfortunately-staff mistakes. Hence the title-but I will get to that later. First, let’s look at three escapes:

  • In 2007, a jail inmate in Indiana stripped, squeezed his 130 pound body through a cellblock door food slot and redressed. He was caught wandering through the jail looking for an unlocked door-and freedom (Associated Press, 2007).

  • In 2014, an Oregon state prison inmate managed to do the following in one night: jumped into a cellblock laundry cart, burrowed himself under inmates’ dirty clothes, broke out windows, drilled out a door lock, broke into a metal cage that stored tools, broke through a wall in the prison laundry, dragged bags of tools, dug a hole under one fence, and climbed over a second fence. He exhausted himself and gave up. Tired and bleeding, he huddled under a blanket in the recreation yard and waited for officers to find him, which they did. The interesting thing to note that one day before, the facility had been on alert because of another escape attempt. Both inmates used dummy heads in their bunks to fool officers. One inmate even put headphones on the dummy head. (A nice touch, don’t you think?) (Zaitz, 2014).
  • In 2012, a Virginia jail inmate climbed over a brick wall and barbed wire in the jail recreation yard. In a jailhouse interview, he said that no one noticed for hours. He was able to scale the barriers because only one deputy was on duty in a control booth overlooking the recreation area. He described his escape as a ‘piece of cake’, and he had two days of freedom in the community. While at large, he stayed with a local woman and even had his hair cut into a stylish buzz cut. He is serving a 14 year sentence for armed robbery, insisted that he was not dangerous, but was only trying to get home to his family. In the interview, he asked for the public’s help to get home to his children (McNamara, 2012).

Those of us who have worked inside correctional facilities know that inmates have the energy and intelligence to try to escape. But as a veteran correctional officer I could not help but wonder if these inmates took advantage of staff complacency; maybe thinking that the staff did not question enough their own authority.

What I mean is this: the correctional officer is the backbone, the foundation of any security system inside a correctional facility, no matter what the custody level or type of housing. In these cases, the inmates had the opportunity and the time to get away. They took advantage of short staffing and apparently, staff complacency. I am not saying that these officers did not do their jobs well or are incompetent. What I am saying that custody is a constant ‘cat and mouse’ game, and officers always have to think of ways to perform the task of security more effectively. Wiggling through a food slot and exhausting oneself in an escape attempt takes advantage of staff not being around, or not ‘nosy’ enough to frequently check areas in the facility. I do not believe that all inmate escapes can be prevented-but I shudder to think of the possible IQs of some inmates that try. But we must do what we can to prevent escapes. Think of both the chagrin of the staff and the disgust from the public if inmates pull one over on officers in your facility and escape, especially taking all night to do it.

If an inmate had all night to try to break out of a correctional facility, then both supervisors and line staff must reexamine how the task of security is accomplished. It begins with self-examination. All staff must, in a sense, question their authority. They should ask questions, such as:

  • Are we aggressively making our rounds throughout the facility? By aggressively, I mean are we really making our presence known? Do inmates very frequently have to look over their shoulder to see where officers and staff are? Sure-no squad of officers can be everywhere at once-but we sure should try.

  • Are we ‘nosy’ enough? Just because a door is locked at 3: AM may not mean that all is well. Do we look around enough? Are our searches thorough enough? Do we go into areas that are empty and check them anyway?
  • Are we too complacent? Do we think that just because nothing has happened in a while, such as an escape, that all is well? As professionally as we are trained, and as proud of the job as we are-remember: out in those cells inmates are always thinking of ways to do time on their terms-or not do time at all.

The three escape stories posted in this blog have one thing in common: Correctional staffs were not present enough or not attentive enough. Inmates knew this and used it to their advantage. After an escape, supervisors can say that maybe it was due to short staffing, officer fatigue or flaws in the security system. No matter what reason is given, correctional staff must be innovative, find more effective ways to do the job, and often have to ‘do more with less’. The men and women who work inside our nation’s correctional institutions are deserving of our support and respect. We all should put our heads together-from the top management down to the squad level-and think of how to do the job better.

Question your authority-question how you do your job. Make the necessary changes or adaptations. The facility-your bread and butter, the place that pays the bills and to who the public places its trust-may run more efficiently.


Associated Press. (March 8, 2007). Skinny inmate escapes through food slot.,, Accessed March 15, 2007.

McNamara, Ann. (September 28, 2012). Inmate says escape was a ‘piece of cake’. WAVY,, Accessed January 8, 2013.

Zaitz, Les. (January 24, 2014). The Oregonian. CorrectionsOne News,, Accessed January 24, 2014. author, Gary Cornelius, is an interim member on the Board of the International Association of Correctional Training Personnel (IACTP) representing local jails. He is also a member of ACA, AJA, and the American Association of Correctional and Forensic Psychology. In 2008, Gary co founded ETC, LLC, Education and Training in Corrections with colleague Timothy P. Manley, MSW, LCSW, Forensic Social Worker.

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Tales from the Local Jail: A Few Thoughts on the ‘Loaf’

January 14th, 2014

As a retired jail deputy sheriff, I try to keep up with events and developments in the field that was my home for over 27 years. So it was with great interest that I came across a recent article from National Public Radio (NPR) dated January 2, 2014 titled: Food as Punishment: Giving U.S. Inmates ‘The Loaf’ Persists by Eliza Barclay.

It is a well written article that described very clearly why and how the ‘Loaf’ is used in our nation’s prisons and jails. Simply stated, the ‘Loaf’ (Nutraloaf, Nutritious Food Loaf, etc.) is a bread loaf containing vegetables and other foods that are baked in. In some correctional facilities, food staff varies the ingredients. For example, at the Orangeburg-Calhoun (SC) Regional Detention Center, the Nutraloaf blend is a mixture of turkey, fresh vegetables, tomato puree, flour and eggs. Chili powder and salt are added to spice it, and it is baked for an hour. Each ‘loaf’ weighs about 32 ounces and totals about 3,000 calories, 200 calories more than is recommended per meal by the South Carolina Department of Corrections (Sarata, 2010).

Inmates in our nation’s jails who are on disciplinary segregation may receive the ‘loaf’ several times per day in lieu of the regular inmate menu, if it is the policy of the jail in which they are confined.

According to NPR, the ‘loaf’ has been targeted in inmate lawsuits and by some corrections professionals and researchers. The American Correctional Association discourages the use of food as a measure to enforce inmate discipline, and the Federal Bureau of Prisons states that it has never used the ‘loaf’ in its system. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) opines that restrictions on food in correctional facilities or taking it away have been in a way “legally right on the line”. So-some inmates have filed suit, saying that the ‘loaf’ is cruel and unusual punishment under the Eighth Amendment. Inmate litigators have some backup-prison ‘gruel’, a pasty potato substance was considered unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court in the 1970s. Also, a recent informal survey conducted at a meeting of the Association of Correctional Food Service Affiliates indicated that the use of the ‘loaf’ is decreasing in approximately 40% of the responding correctional facilities and about a third (30%) state that they do not use it at all. It has not been easy to dislodge the ‘loaf’; since the beginning of 2012, none of the 22 lawsuits litigating against it have been successful (Barclay, 2014).

So, with all that is going on about the ‘loaf’, what are my views? What should be done?

Keep it.

You may ask:

  • “Have I ever tasted the ‘loaf’?


  • “Did it taste good?”

No. I have brought the ‘loaf’ into both my in service jail classes and my corrections college classes. I give a taste to anyone who would like to try it. [One of my college students ate several pieces-he said that he was hungry and it was not so bad.] I tell my classes that there is no dipping sauce made that would ever make the ‘loaf’ taste good.

  • Would I like to eat it every day?

No. I can understand how some inmates on disciplinary segregation may “loathe the loaf”. I can understand that that it is unappetizing and unappealing; and when the inmates all around you are getting hamburgers and fries (they smell so good), you have to unwrap the ‘loaf’ from a greasy plain brown paper bag and eat it.

  • Then why do you want to use it?

Because it is jail. In a jail you must have order, security and safety. As a jail correctional deputy with two tours in classification in my career, I worked with a dedicated, hardworking professional staff that would conduct many disciplinary hearings. After a while, you know who the disciplinary problems are. You are not surprised when you pick up an inmate’s file and you have to conduct the fifth or sixth (or more) disciplinary hearing. You remember that you gave inmates a rulebook; you tried to convey to them the importance of reading it, going along with the staff, treating other inmates and staff with respect and obeying the rules of the jail. You come to realize that many never read the rules and are now in an environment that enforces rules-and their lives have been spent not obeying rules or disrespecting others. You talk to the disciplinary problems-some learn their lesson and are sorry and maybe deserve another chance in population. Others lie, scheme and put on a “mask of contriteness”; while secretly itching to get back into population thinking “I won’t get caught next time”. Some are released from disciplinary segregation and end up back in the ‘hole’ with new charges. Some-even on disciplinary segregation-feign medical reasons for not eating the ‘loaf’.

Two Main Concerns

I have two main concerns. The first, to me, is that the ‘loaf’ is a management tool. Things in jail that we take for granted on the outside including television, recreation (gym), telephones, mail and food are all welcome breaks and distractions in the monotonous life of an inmate. If staff through due process takes away one of these welcome distractions-such as a variety of food-because of serious rule infractions, maybe, just maybe a ‘light bulb’ will go off in the inmate and he or she will think: “ I had better wise up and obey the rules”, or “I cannot eat this again”. After graduated sanctions such as warnings, reprimands, suspended disciplinary time, and loss of privileges, using the ‘loaf’ in disciplinary segregation may be one of the last resorts that staff can use to get an inmate’s attention.

Second-and most important-is staff safety. The men and women who patrol our nation’s jails have to deal with abrasive, unruly, nasty and violent inmates who are chronic rule breakers. They put their lives on the line every day and are frequently the target of inmate abuse. These jail officers deserve our unwavering support and respect. They are aware of the dangers involved with supervising inmates such as having to restrain them, maintain order, enforce the rules and maintain safety and security for all in the jail. If they charge an inmate with a serious rule infraction and that inmate is found guilty-actions have consequences:

  • “Goodbye jail menu-hello ‘loaf’!”
  • “Don’t like the ‘loaf’? Obey the rules next time.”

In closing, I think that Josh Gelinas, spokesman for the South Carolina Department of Corrections said it best when asked about the use of Nutraloaf (Barclay, 2014):
“There is very little that we [staff] can take away from them [inmates] when they commit these infractions, but we will not compromise our officers’ safety or put them in harm’s way.”

Well said.


  1. Barclay, Eliza. (January 2, 2014). Food as Punishment: Giving U.S. Inmates ‘The Loaf’ Persists. National Public Radio, the salt: food for thought. Retrieved January 7, 2014 from
  2. Sarata, Phil. (May 16, 2010). Nutraloaf: Inmates hate it, jail officials say it works. The Retrieved January 7, 2014 from author, Gary Cornelius, is an interim member on the Board of the International Association of Correctional Training Personnel (IACTP) representing local jails. He is also a member of ACA, AJA, and the American Association of Correctional and Forensic Psychology. In 2008, Gary co founded ETC, LLC, Education and Training in Corrections with colleague Timothy P. Manley, MSW, LCSW, Forensic Social Worker.

Visit the Gary Cornelius page

Other articles by Cornelius:

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