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Archive for the ‘Security’ Category

Prison and pre-school parallels

June 1st, 2013

School is out for summer. One ritual that we see every May and June is the painted cars of graduating seniors. With a little time, imagination and washable paint, many motor vehicles are transformed into rolling art work, complete with phrases of the day and classic quips.

A common phrase that can be found on these painted cars is “Thirteen years in Prison!” Naturally, a graduating eighteen year old would never really know what it is really like to spend over a dozen years in a correctional facility.

But are there similarities?

Corrections professionals, have you ever had a good professional chat with someone from early childhood education? If you ever do, you may find that there are many compelling parallels between the two occupations.

Before we delve into the similarities, I issue this disclaimer: The following is not intended to disparage students, educators, corrections professionals and offenders. This does not suggest that corrections equals education. It is simply an interesting look at corresponding elements.

Recently, an early childhood education professional showed me a cleverly disguised thumb drive. It was a teddy bear key chain that could have been easily brought in to a facility, loaded with dangerous information. She showed this to me because she knows of my interest in contraband control. Her find was insightful and made me realize that she understood the central goal in corrections is security.

I told this teacher of my methodical daily sweep of the prison library, leaving out no detail of how I search. I also explained other safety activities, including how I search the shelves, absorb staff observations, and read body language through the day.

I was surprised to learn that she conducts a sweep of the room each day for the sake of safety. “But these are pre-school kids,” I said.

She told me that it does not matter. She has a responsibility to keep the classroom safe. Otherwise, a hazard-in the classroom could derail the lesson plan and cause injury and liability.

First of all, broken toys are hazardous. In the same way that most corrections agencies deem any broken item as contraband, splintered toys need to be removed. The difference lies in the application of the derelict item. In prison, a broken eye glass arm could be a poking weapon. In school, the worry is not about a weapon, but that the item allows children to hurt themselves.

Choking and poking hazards are all around the classroom. It takes time and a keen, experienced eye to sweep the room of dangers. Also, some teachers assess how many toys are in play during play time. Too many on the floor can cause overstimulation or an occasional instance of theft. Too few toys may prompt fights over scarce resources. Just like in corrections, teachers need to know what items are out and how they are used.

Toys can be weapons when hurled as projectiles by a frustrated student. Inside the walls, we assess how common items could hurt us if they became airborne. Both teachers and corrections staff should be aware of common items used as missiles.

The playground, our equivalent to the yard, must be searched each day. Teachers look for holes in the fences and hazards on the ground. Some dangerous items that can be found are broken glass, hypodermic needles, animal droppings, shell casing, and more. Outside the fence, one can find feral animals and sexual predators. The perimeter need to be scanned to keep the playground secure.

Just like in prison, body fluids are a concern. Most educators are trained to treat body fluids as potentially infectious. At the end of the day, gloved teachers and assistants bleach and clean surfaces. During the day, care of the children may require contact between the professional and body fluids. Therefore, the teacher who helps a child blow her nose should don gloves.

Students have been known to bring in items that are inappropriate for the setting. Some may bring cigarettes, lighters, cell phones, minicomputer tablets and even toy handcuffs. On occasion, stories in the national news tell of an elementary school student with a gun in his desk.

And like our jails and prisons, the education professional has to be aware of outside hazards. Strangers may randomly wander in the schools. A vengeful parent or disgruntled employee can wreak havoc. And closer to corrections, an absconder could hole up in a school and possibly take hostages. The education process should be an open, inviting place. However, just with any open window, anything can come in.

It is my hope that children continue to have fun in school and make it safely to the day when they can paint letters on their car. This is made possible by education professionals who lay the base line of safety before the day and the instruction begin.

To be certain, prison does not equal pre-k through 12 education. However, both corrections and education are alike in the need for a secure environment. Without safety, the best education plan in the world cannot be fully used.


Guidelines for classroom safety outside of the institutional setting

May 1st, 2013

I have been a corrections professional for about two decades. My tenure as an Adjunct Instructor is shorter, at thirteen and a half years. So, my experience in the prison has impacted my time teaching criminal justice and corrections concepts to community college students.

It is an understatement to say that the clientele in a maximum security setting are likely to be different than that of a classroom in a community college. Still, danger can come from within and from outside a classroom. I have applied some of the safety techniques from inside the walls to the classroom in the open society.

Note: If your institution of higher learning has provided operating procedures for safety, please review them and discuss expectations and responsibilities with your supervisor. What follows are my opinions and not necessarily those of my employer.

In your classroom, you set the tone and adjust the pace. For a few hours at a time, you foster interaction and create a unique learning experience. In many ways, it is your domain. Still, there are possible dangers over which you have no control. The mention of Columbine, Virginia Tech, and Newtown buttress this point.

The good news is that disaster is not inevitable. Of course, safety for your students, your colleagues, and yourself is as fundamental as a syllabus. Yet, it need not be complicated or overly regimented. You do not have to fall victim to procedural paralysis. Below are ten basic guidelines for classroom safety.

1. Take five – Devote five minutes of your first class to basic safety. Show students the map of the escape routes, the fire extinguishers, and the AED.
2. Enlighten, don’t frighten – You could spend a semester outlining the possible hazards that could spill into a classroom. Be realistic about what could happen, but do not obsess about it.
3. Who is the boss? – If you are not in charge, who is? There is power in the presence of an instructor. Lead students during emergencies. Even if you are panicking inside, do not let it show. Your confidence and leadership are necessary in stressful times. Inform students that though they are not obligated for any action, they can step up if the instructor is incapacitated.
4. Know yourself – For you, is it fight or flight? Will you turn off the lights and hide or confront danger head on? Either could work. You know yourself best. You may have to apply a tactic in the blink of an eye.
5. Be aware of your surroundings – Become familiar with the flow of people and the times that they traverse the hallways. Feel the rhythm of the day.
6. Be a friendly presence – If someone seems lost or somehow out of place, you can offer help. It is most likely that this is not some vengeful or psychotic person looking to spread mayhem. In the unlikely event that the person is ‘casing the joint’, your friendly and assertive presence may dissuade an ugly event.
7. Your phone is your pal – In the event of danger, don’t forget your phone as a way to summon help. This may seem obvious. However, events move quickly and your cell phone may be an overlooked safety tool. If your classroom has a panic button, use it when necessary.
8. Avoid the hair trigger mentality – While it is important to react to events, balance is necessary. Do not whip your students into a paranoid, violent frenzy. It is more likely that a person roaming the halls is waiting for someone than plotting pandemonium. Assess the situation before you start throwing chairs in self-defense.
9. Keep it simple – Do not forget that the explanation for most things is generally a simple thing. Complex conspiracies are rare. It is true that emergencies happen. However, most people dressed in dark colors are not ninjas.
10. Share information – If something seems unusual, share it with colleagues and inform office staff. Be as specific as possible. It may be nothing, but a written record may be useful later.

One of Douglas Adams’ famous phrases in his book The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is “Don’t Panic”. Perhaps this is easier said than done. However, these two words have merit. Classroom violence is possible, but is not inevitable. Be aware, but not afraid.

Naturally, not all corrections staff will agree with the list. We must account for different experiences and varied styles. Also, the tip about the telephone may not seem to apply in a specific sense. Still, radios and Personal Protection Devices could serve as substitutes to telephones to summon help while inside the walls. These are tips for classrooms outside of correctional facilities. The tips were developed with corrections fundamentals in mind but superimposed on classrooms outside of prison. Please refer to specific operating procedures and policy directives as provided by your employer.


Rules are rules

December 7th, 2011

Just this morning, I heard a story on the news related to rule enforcement. It seems that a celebrity was instructed to turn off his electronic device prior to a transcontinental flight. According to the story, the celebrity did not comply with the instruction. Because of this, he was escorted off of the airplane.

Of course, the story will develop as the hours and days move forward. Messages on social media and on news and celebrity shows will certainly take this story in any number of interesting and bizarre directions. Though our point of departure is based in the alleged noncompliance rules by famous person, let’s apply this to our everyday work life. In consideration of the nature of rules, we can ask ourselves a few questions:

Do the rules apply to everyone?

The simple answer is: rules do apply to everyone. Staff, prisoners and the public are expected to follow posted rules and valid verbal instructions.

Let us modify the question. Does everyone believe that rules apply to them? With this, the answer is not cut and dry. Some offenders may be of the opinion that they are above the rules due to time served, a sense of entitlement, rebellion, or any number of factors. Some staff may thumb their nose at the rules for the same reasons.

Perhaps a celebrity puts faith in the cult of personality over the notion of uniform behavior. Thins of a big Hollywood name getting checked for a minor safety rule. We can easily imagine a Diva (or Divo?) say, “Don’t you know who I am? No one treats me this way!”Some would agree with the privileges of fame. Others expect compliance – no matter one’s status.

Are some rules unreasonable?

Most everyone at some time, staff and offender, believes that a certain rule is unreasonable. I once heard of a facility that declared solid-colored pens as contraband. Except for the tiny “segregation pens”, clear-bodied, transparent pens were all that staff and offenders could use. This was done in order to curtail smuggling through a small but effective contraband vessel. One staff member who was quite attached to his gold pen instantly took offense to this rule. However, when explained that this was for security sake and nothing personal, the rule was accepted by that staff person. In this case, the rule was seen by the staff person as initially unreasonable then valid when the mission came into focus.

Are rules enforced the same way?

Discretion is a strange tool. On one hand, it liberates us by giving us flexibility. No two sets of circumstances are completely identical, after all. For minor rules, a verbal reprimand may work better than a misconduct report. However, those who are less flexible will wrangle with uniformity. When someone does X, then Y should always follow as a consequence, they reason.

Decisions are not like binary language. It is not as simple as your basic either/or proposition. Certainly, there are circumstances that warrant absolutes in the world of rules. Still, other things are more prone to discretion. Clearly, consistency is the brass ring to grab. But the fact remains that it is an imperfect world.

The fact is that there will be differences in enforcement of almost all rules. This is true between shifts, between facilities, and in comparison to different areas of the institution. In fact, an individual may enforce the same rule in different ways during the same day.

Does enforcement change over time?

Sometimes, a new rule is issued in reaction to an event. For example, if hand soap is proven to be the new trading medium, the rule that governs the amount of soap an offender can carry will be likely to be strongly enforced. As time goes on, this enforcement may become lax to all but the most stringent rule enforcer. Event-driven rule enforcement has a way of moderating over time.

Just like the celebrity who refuses to comply with valid safety rules on an airline, not all will agree with rules and authority. But, in maintaining order, that is what corrections professionals face every day.

Assessing the organization, Security, Self Scrutiny

Checkers, Chess and Contention

November 18th, 2011

The game boards are the same. There are 64 squares, arranged 8 x 8 in two different colors. Yet, chess and checkers are as different from each other as a flat screen television is to a coloring book. There are times when we are prepared to enjoy high definition and we are handed a book of simple drawing and a box of crayons.

When we are dealing with offenders, is no secret that some are very contentious. Their record seems to indicate that they retaliate to all defensive and punitive actions. For example, if you issue a verbal reprimand for violations of a minor rule, some inmates will complain all the way to the Supreme Court – very literally so. Perceptions of right and wrong are not important. Is just something of which staff should be aware.

It is prudent to prepare for the worst, of course. But is there such a thing as too much preparation? Might we anguish or squander resources on something that does not come to pass? We sometimes sit down for a game of chess only to discover that our “opponent” is looking for a game of checkers? Or is it the other way around? How do we prepare for contention?

• Preparation can be built into your routine. Logbooks and notes help jog the memory and are the basis of defense in any accusation.
• Following policy and procedure to the letter not only keeps the conscious clean, it also protects us. If you’re not one who operates in deviations and policy, accusations to the contrary are ridiculous.
• Remember the repeat offenders. If you encounter a contentious prisoner over and over through the years, you can take some solace in your growth as professional. Some prisoners are transferred often. If an argumentative prisoner transferred but is back to the institution after two years, this can be considered an opportunity for professional development. For you, that should count as two years of experience and skills accrued in his absence.
• Many people mellow. If a contentious inmate from your professional past resurfaces, stand on guard. But do not launch an offensive before the prisoner starts arguing. We have enough authority to see if the inmate has tempered argumentative ways.

• A reminder of the past may be warranted. But does not necessarily have to be use like a bludgeoning tool
• Play the game, but don’t be too absorbed in the details. It is good to have basic contingency plans. However, if you over-plan, you clutter the field with hypotheticals. Balance your planning with execution.
• Let others know if you are faced with constant contention. Chances are, highly argumentative individuals do not limit their complaints to one person. You may learn valuable coping skills or important information from colleagues.
• Do not get discouraged if a prisoner lies. In the course of disputes, this happens.
• Professionally speaking, assertion is better than aggression.

Like checkers and chess, each game of human interaction is different from the next. But the general principles of preparedness remain. And dealing with the contentious person in the past will not necessarily be identical to the next time you encounter someone of this nature.

Security, Self Scrutiny, Staff relations

A drive down the road to Change

October 14th, 2011

Buckle up! It may be a bumpy ride! Our destination is Change.

A drive down a street is not necessarily the same experience for all. Imagine that we are traveling to a destination called Change. Some will want to drive full steam ahead, anxious for some new scenery. Others will dig their fingernails deep into the upholstery, resistant to the new paradigm. Between those two extremes is where most of us lie, cautiously apprehensive – but not necessarily full of trepidation.

It is amazing how the same journey can evoke different emotions.

Still, not all drives down the road to change are the same. Sometimes there are quick, difficult curves to negotiate. At other times the road is direct and unwavering. And the speed at which circumstances forces us to travel is often indifferent if the road is straight or convoluted. We might anticipate bumps and potholes and find none. Conversely, a well-plotted path may prove unexpectedly perilous. One never knows.

There are so many dimensions to the concept of change. Many books have been written on the topic. Here some just a few thoughts about change:

• Change is uncomfortable. In much the same way that a twisted road or fast acceleration in a car can bring on motion sickness, with change we feel vulnerable from the speed of events. But just because this is so, does not mean that we should not take a walk around the concept change from time to time. In fact, in times of economic uncertainty when everything is on the table, it behooves us to assess modified operations.

• Some people look at the changes only in their immediate area. Others have the ability to view the wider panorama. Operations are interconnected. A small ripple in one area may magically develop into large waves elsewhere.

• Often, change requires time for staff and prisoners to adjust. For example, if newly implemented changes do not appear to be running smoothly on day one or day two, this is not cause to rally for a complete overhaul. Rather, it is a time to make notes and to plan for possible modifications at a later date.

• A calm demeanor of staff while speaking to prisoners during times of change is crucial. Prisoners will look to staff for cues about how the change is progressing. If staff seemed tense, prisoners may become tense. If staff appear to lose faith in the leadership, prisoners may do the same. And that makes conditions conducive for tumultuous events in any facility.

• WIIFM or what’s in it for me is something that we all seek during times of change. Of course not everything is entirely bad. And even with radical changes, we may be able to find some benefit in it all.

• Some people actually enjoy change. They may become bored easily and want to experience different operations. Change for the sake of change is not necessarily done for the correct reason – ensuring smoother operations.

Years ago, one of my friends and colleagues stated, “I don’t mind change as long as I can control it.” She said this in a wry, sarcastic manner. From what I remember about her professionalism, she took the larger view and considered the mission statement of the agency. Despite her tongue-in-cheek admission about how things may not stay the same and how little control we may have over them, she was a realist. No matter how much change is uncomfortable, it is something that we face time to time.

Assessing the organization, Security, Self Scrutiny, Staff relations

Technology in corrections: Panacea or pariah?

October 5th, 2011

Once upon a time, it seems, that a common sentiment in corrections was, “Technology be damned!” However, two factors have made this exclamation as archaic as an eight track tape player. First, technological innovations have come rapidly and with great utility. In other words, the world is forcing us to adapt as a profession. Second, these innovations ultimately can save money. And this is important especially in times of economic uncertainty.

I am not condemning corrections as atavistic. Things have changed and corrections staff are not tied to the old ways. You are a case in point, if you are reading this online. This is a document that was created without paper and through electronic means. Certainly, later incarnations may be passed in paper form. But the first corrections professionals to read this do so on-screen.

Technology is neither a panacea nor a pariah. As with most things, there are benefits and there are pitfalls.

Now, let us consider electronic storage. Many prison law libraries are planning to utilize the technological magic of electronic storage. If done right, this can save a considerable amount of money over current print systems.

Is the general library next? Consider that today’s price of an electronic book reader is around $100 and falling. Just a few years ago the price was quadruple. Companies may offer versions pre-loaded with a variety of books at a reasonable price. Perhaps it is not a stretch to say that it will be possible to outfit an individual with a book with a small library at a reasonable cost. And it is a matter of agencies delimiting the collection through a restricted publications list as outlined per policy directives and operating procedures.

This will help with security. Consider the current policy where a prisoner is perhaps allowed 25 books in his or her possession. Think of all of the places that one could hide dangerous contraband. However, an inexpensive, preloaded electronic book reader nullifies this. There would be fewer opportunities to pass or hide things when one has a self-contained library.

The electronic storage of music illustrates the speed of innovation. Agencies jumped right past the CD from the cassette tape to the MP3 player. The danger is diminished in two ways. Obviously, the CD is no longer an issue or a possible weapon. Secondly the MP3 player offers a smaller number of options for concealing contraband. There are even fewer places to hide things than in the common cassette tape player. Agencies are developing a manner of how prisoners purchase and store music. This can be applied to electronic book collections.

Does miniaturization of electronics make the lives of corrections professionals instantly better without hazard? Not entirely. In fact the rise of the cell phone as contraband is evidence that technology is a two edge sword. Cell phones are evolving to become smaller and more useful. Therefore, huge amounts of information can be stored on these devices.

Agencies and their staff must stay ahead of the technological curve by setting and knowing the limits on each device. Unless electronic book readers and MP3s are monitored and sufficiently tailored toward safety, fears of electronic storage and transmitting information apply. These must be devoid of recording, filming, and wireless capacities.

The need is great to foolproof each device through testing and research. In other words, there’s nothing like tinkering with a complementary display device offered by companies. I believe that it behooves agencies to permit staff to trouble shoot these devises prior to wide implementation.

Of course, the new frontier of technology is really just building off of advances from the past. In other words it’s not like going from an arctic setting to a tropical coastline in one step. There are graduations. With that in mind, basic vigilance, corrections experience, and technological prowess in staff is a good combination for security. In the end, old tricks remain and new tricks are created. All the gadgets in the world are worthless without staff watchfulness.

Security, Training

Three benefits from the law library

September 22nd, 2011

Most corrections professionals know that there should be a judicious balance between security and providing programming. Without programs such as chapel, work assignments, and recreation, institutions would be harder to manage. Programming provides useful activities that offer intellectual, physical, emotional and spiritual growth for offenders.

Naturally, there are many instances of abuse of these programs. It is realistic to assume that not all who attend a program will adhere to the rules, play fair or even use the program for its intended purpose. Realistic corrections professionals know this and can minimize the damage done by programs abusers by administering the proper verbal reprimands or misconduct reports.

Programs professionals have the duty to maintain a safe program. This improves the program for those who wish to use it for legitimate purposes. But we realize that the world is not perfect and there are schemers in the prison population.

A key program is the law library. And the irony of a corrections agency providing resources to bring suit to corrections officials is often thrown at the civilian library staff by colleagues. Still, whether one agrees or not, there are constitutional rights to remember. And our best defenses against litigation are adherence to policy, professionalism, and good documentation.

Despite naysayers, the law library does offer positive points. Here are some of them:

Canary in the mine – Problems of any institution come to light when under the grievance procedure or litigation. The products of the library actually act as an indicator of problems. This is a repository for policies and procedures. And when deficiencies come to light, those can be remedied for the benefit of all.

Pressure relief – Law libraries also serve as a pressure release valve. Staff are safer when prisoners use legal rather than violent means to solve problems. Tensions are often diminished when offenders are productively engaged in research.

Legal remedies – Law libraries allow access for convicted persons to address conditions of confinement and seek post conviction remedies. We must remember that not all offenders are necessarily guilty of all charges.

The benefits of law libraries are certainly hard to deny. And like all programs, the law library is part of a complex system that makes an institution.


This is only a test: Trainer cells for contraband control

September 15th, 2011

Later this year, I will be publishing Icebreakers III. This is the 3rd in a series of corrections training books that I have written. Icebreakers III is produced and distributed by The International Association of Correctional Training Personnel (IACTP – Here is one of the classroom exercises that will be featured.

I believe that training in hands-on contraband control is essential for the safety of staff, offenders and the public. If time, space, and expense were no object, I would like to see this contraband search exercise implemented at as many correctional facilities as possible. It is called, “This is only a test”. It is a practical, hands-on learning exhibit for lessening contraband.

I know that the idea of a using a cell like structure for instruction is not strictly original. I believe that many worksites and academies employ training cells in some form or another. I imagine that the chief uses of trainer cells would be for extraction and slot safety. But I wonder just how fully utilize these trainer cells are for contraband control exercises.

Here’s how “This is only a test” works. In the training area of each facility, there’ll be built one each of the cell types used in the institution. In other words, if the facility in question has a segregation cell and minimum-security parts, each will be available as trainer cells in the training area. Optimally, these training cells are located outside the secure perimeter for user training and demonstration.

This will all staff to find the many hiding places that offenders may utilize. They would serve as a useful tool to instruct pre-professionals of many different contraband concealment methods that one can find within the prisoner’s area of control. The trainer cell also serves to hone the skills of experienced professionals.

Also, these trainer cells shall not house offenders. Trainer cells shall be stocked with goods and furniture that simulate a prisoner’s presence and should be as realistic as possible.

The institutional training officer can place any contraband item in its hiding places prior to each search exercise. Of course, we all have different perspectives. Therefore, it is wise to get other staff to help conceal the bootleg. And it is best to rotate staff in and out of that position in order to offer as many hiding scenarios as possible.

Whatever the hiding procedure, each training officer should note the nature and location of each item hidden. And in much the same way as a teacher will assess which questions are answered incorrectly; the trainer can determine which locations are typically left unsearched. This information will indicate points to be emphasized in future training.

In addition, the trainer cells can be used for emergency response team members. This is an excellent way to simulate cell rushes.

Lastly, a trainer cell is a good demonstration for members of the public that made tour the facility. This would give a pretty good idea of the physical conditions in which offenders are housed. Liability is lessened in this case. Granted, I believe that criminal justice students and pre-professionals should also witness and experience the inside of a facility in order to gain understanding of what goes on. But in many cases, members of the public who tour prisons would be able to gain enough of an understanding in a trainer cell.

Wouldn’t it be great if good ideas could be implemented immediately? However, brainstorms must be filtered through institutional needs, resources, space, and time. Still, one can dream. Just because an idea cannot be immediately put into play does not render it perpetually shelved. And creative thoughts are often modified and brought into every day practice, given time.

I believe that training in hands-on contraband control is essential for the safety of staff, offenders, and the public. The construction expense and vocational payroll to run such an exercise is an investment in a safer future.

Contraband Control, Security, Training

9-11: A decade later

September 8th, 2011

Ten years have melted into the past since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. This is a nice, round number from which we can reflect on how things are changed and how they’ve remain the same from that tumultuous event.

Unlike the general public, corrections staff continually have their eyes on security on all things. Most seasoned veterans of America’s toughest beat find that our vigilance follows us outside the gates as we leave work. 911 left us with plenty to digest. Let us look at 10 of the many lessons through the eyes of corrections.

1. Post-911 terror attacks have occurred. Not all of them were completed as planned by the agents of terror. Due to our attentiveness and shared communications we of thwarted nefarious plans and kept safe.
2. Uncertainty is our only certainty. True, our vigilance has mitigated lots of danger. However, our eyes remained open and our muscles tense out of necessity.
3. There was a well-deserved rise in the esteem in which we hold public safety staff. Heroism and the sense of duty arrived in time and in great measure.
4. Safety is relative, not absolute. Debates over civil liberties and security were sparked and have resurged, demonstrating the workings of our democracy.
5. Closure has not been total. The death of the architect of chaos may seem to close the door on the terror. However, the past cannot be undone. As a nation, we live in the legacy of 911. And some individuals face life without loved ones due to that incident.
6. Simplicity works. Concealment tricks, once revealed, seem easier or more possible than previously thought. Simple, uncomplicated plans are likely to be more dangerous, as there are fewer variables for the executioners orders to manage
7. Since 911, the public has been exposed to the likes of shoe bombings and has witnessed ordinary items turned into weapons. Therefore, at some level, the public gained greater awareness of the daily struggles of corrections staff.
8. Any guess is good. Some believe that 911 anniversaries will bring more destruction. Others contend that the next attack will be a surprise unrelated to an obvious date. In short, disaster will happen when it happens. Our preparedness level is up to us.
9. The quest for security never ends. With each find, we must continue to watch and react.
10. Life goes on. Though we live our lives a bit differently, we still live. Day-to-day living is still recognizable from the pre-911 times. With that, there is a spark of cautious hope for the future.
A decade later we are still stunned. Looking back, it still does not seem entirely real. Overall, we have lost our sense of security. It is clear that the terrorist attack on the United States marks a change in our nation. We must never forget the many lessons from the painful and unprecedented ordeal.


In praise of instant communications

August 25th, 2011

Some news really takes us by surprise. An example of this is the August 23, 2011 earthquake with the epicenter in Virginia.

Being approximately 800 linear miles from the epicenter, I was not directly impacted. However, there were reports of tremors from as far away as Detroit. In this earthquake post mortem, Still, distance did not mitigate the fact that I had a personal stake in the tectonic activity. I had two good friends (and trusted colleagues) from Virginia who may have been in harm’s way.

Years ago, to find out about the safety of someone far away, it would be a touch and go situation with a telephone. Upon hearing about the earthquake, I sent out a quick email. With today’s technology, I was able to get some answers in a near instant. One of my friends e-mailed back within a minute and announced his safety.

One of our chief tools in maintaining order in the prison is communications. I believe that communications is a weapon in the war against disorder. Without communications, our efforts are blunted. Here are some incarnations of exchanging information.

Audio – There are two basic instant communication methods are aided by electronics. They are personal protection devices (PPDs) and radios.

Consider the personal protection device. Some may call it a panic button, others may use a more colloquial term. Nevertheless, its utility is valuable. If you’re in distress, you pull the pin and a signal sounds in central control. Instantly, the equipment reveals the location of the duress.

The other method of instant audio communications is an old mainstay – the radio. A mentor of mine once used the radio when a prisoner was becoming agitated in the school building. He depressed of the microphone button and said that a specifically named prisoner is being sent back to his unit now. That was an instant message to all staff that had radios. They were to be on the lookout for a specific prisoner leaving the school building. And the prisoner got some instant communications, too. The offender realized that he had little choice but to leave immediately.

In a nonemergency setting, the utility of the radio played forth again this week for me. One lieutenant used his radio to announce that all computers had to be shut down for line maintenance. It was true that this was not a life-threatening event. It was just a matter of proper maintenance of equipment. Some staff who had radios after hearing the transmission utilized another communication skill – the verbal. They went around their respective areas to see if others without radios had received the message.

Video – Communication does not always have to be in sound or words. For example, live-action cameras convey what is going on in real time. I do recall my first week inside the prison when one offender tried to knock me off my square by stating he had seen cameras like the ones in the prison at toy stores. Of course, that was a subtle intimidation tactic that was amply transparent, even to neophytes. The cameras certainly were not from a toy store. As the years rolled on, those cameras have demonstrated quite a utility. The presence of a camera suggests to all that lines of safety are strengthened by communications.

Electronic word – Just as an e-mail can be utilized to check up on friends in Virginia, so too can emails be used to disseminate useful information department-wide. Some examples of messages that are instant are a lockdown at a local school, a threat in the outside world from a security threat group, and imminent thunderstorm or tornado.

Even with all the advances in modern electric miracles, it comes down to staff using them properly. It is very important to remember that there are several different vines that you need to contact. Also, there is a danger in sending incorrect information.

It is our ability to communicate with each other quickly that allows us to react to dangerous situations. Who knows what the future holds? If you look at the advances in the last 20 years, the sky appears to be the limit. As obvious as it sounds, without quick communications efficient operations and news of a friend safety are less likely.