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Archive for the ‘Security’ Category

Corrections fundamentals – The L.O.T.I.S. concept

July 7th, 2011

It has been about a dozen years since I picked up a pen and jotted my thoughts on the nature of corrections. In that time, I have visited many topics in various publications. In over a decade’s passing, much has changed in the world of publishing. One can scarcely believe the rapid shift from print to digital.
This article is an excellent example of this shift. Print on paper, while not dead, is not the only way for words to be regarded and exchanged. The rise of the internet has seen to this. In fact, books themselves may be written as e books and never with any form of stylus.
Despite those changes, corrections fundamentals are the same. And though fiscal uncertainties currently dot our vocational landscape, we are basically charged with the same task – keep offenders, staff, and the public safe.
Because of our important mission, we need to occasionally assess our foundation of knowledge. Consider our vocational foundation as a four-sided entity that supports all of our actions in the pursuit of our mission of safety. Our mission is compromised if we are not on a solid foundation.
And if we have no regard for the environment which supports our foundation, we are setting ourselves up for failure. In other words, we need also to look at the outside. Nothing is self contained. Nothing exists in a bubble. And corrections is no exception to this.
In consideration of our continued good work and operational integrity, I have designed the L.O.T.I.S. concept. L.O.T.I.S. allows us to assess the following:
Limitations consist of all external forces imposed upon our operations. Local politics, state and federal mandates, expectations of accrediting entities and economic factors all are examples of these. “Limitations” is the platform that the four following elements are placed.
Offender economies. It is no secret that prohibited exchange of goods and services in our jails and prisons is a vexing and persistent problem. Staff who understand how and why offenders trade contraband have a better chance of mitigating danger inside. The ultimate goal in contraband control is to enhance safety for all.
Teamwork is an important foundation element in corrections. Staff cooperation benefits all stakeholders and is the glue that holds together operations. Joint efforts enhance individual talents and help achieve a facility and agency’s goals.
Instruction that we receive through official channels forms our actions in our first days on the job. Continued training keeps us focused and professional. Good instruction is like regular oil changes that keep a vehicle operating dependably.
Self-knowledge is crucial for continued professionalism. All of us need to take a look at ourselves and see how we fit into operations. Without self-knowledge, we are like the hiker in a wilderness without a GPS. We simply meander with no purpose of direction and no perspective.
As you proceed through corrections, you can take a journey of discovery by exploring the outside and inside of your operations. With the concept of L.O.T.I.S., you can transform corrections concepts into prudent practice.

Assessing the organization, Security, Self Scrutiny, Staff relations, Training

Five rookie mistakes

June 23rd, 2011

Talk about hard lessons learned early! I know of a young driver who was almost done with the first portion of her drivers’ education course. She passed a written test and was just a few miles shy of completing her supervised time behind the wheel.

Little did she know that a deer, oblivious to the laws of physics and the weight of a mid-sized sedan, would try to dodge the vehicle she was driving. Try is the operative word. Put else wise, in the closing moments of her education, she got into a car/deer accident.

With the many hazards in the strange world corrections, it pays to be cautious. Season corrections veterans are not exempted from making errors. Still, it behooves us to watch the progress of junior staff and to help them as we can. Part of that is recognizing their missteps. Informing rookies of their mistakes may help our new colleagues avoid future occurrences. Here are five classic examples:

Over friendly –people can overdo it on being jovial in the corrections setting. Whether this behavior is because of upbringing or is a coping mechanism for stress, it is dangerous. Friendliness can be mistaken for a counter–corrections persona, forcing staff away when the rookie is most in need of support. In addition, this can be misconstrued by offenders. Over friendly is under cautious.

Overbearing – wielding the new authority like the lock in a sock is threatening. Quite simply, it puts veteran staff and offenders on edge. There is a difference between being assertive and being an aggressively loose cannon. Overbearing is under cautious

Having favorites – uniformity of action is like oil in corrections’ engine. When taken away, the engine seizes up. Favoritism builds resentment and revenge. It fosters distrust. In addition, favoritism gives the offender/recipient leverage for future manipulation schemes.

Failure to ask questions – those too timid to inquire about proper procedure may put a foot in the legal or ethical quagmire. There many operating procedures and practices in place that may seem counterintuitive to new corrections staff. Still, they are developed for a reason. Still, new staff fail to ask crucial questions because they do not wish to appear naïve or inept. During training, questions are expected. Performing the wrong action, or even in action, may land and the neophyte into deep trouble.

Overt fear – it can be granted that corrections is not a perfect fit for many. And being afraid on the first day inside is natural. In moderation, a little nervous tension is safer than the mindless chest thumping bravado. However, uncontrollable and noticeable fear sends the wrong signals. Other staff may label the newbies as cowardly and create distance. Prisoners will notice of fear and some will try to capitalize on it.

These and other road bumps make corrections one of the most challenging vocations there is. How do we ease transition for new staff? Training programs are of great assistance. Communicating that questions will be answered is also beneficial. A well-trained and mentor staff person adds to our overall safety. Veteran staff have a duty to help newbies through the hazards. Perhaps patience is the best philosophy for veterans to adopt when training new staff. It is also useful for the veteran to look back on their first days inside the walls.

Now we go back to our heroine. She was shaken, but not hurt. All others in the car were also well. The deer, of course, was killed. It is difficult to react to the unpredictable elements of wildlife, other drivers, and driving conditions while learning how to operate a motor vehicle. Corrections neophytes learning to operate in a jail or prison have a similar difficulty. Just like those of the young driver, rookie mistakes in our profession can cast a long shadow and can be dangerous.

Assessing the organization, Security, Self Scrutiny, Staff relations, Training

Destination Intimidation – The R & R Bully

June 8th, 2011

Often, when we unravel a complex issue and place all the parts in order, it is gratifying. Imagine the relief that you get as a professional when an offender finally seems to understand your explanation about policy. Later, the issue comes alive again. The offender rehashes the issue as though you had never explained it.

There are few things more frustrating than someone resurrecting complains that you thought you clearly outlined and resolved earlier. One such manipulator does this. It is a sort of passive aggressive bullying. This tactic is called the retreat and rehash bully. (R & R bully). When you explain, they retreat. Later, they rehash.

The R&R bully presents his case in a generally complex way. For example, suppose that this is a offender who’s not eligible for a certain service. The R&R will bring up every exception that he can conceive of. Often, they repeat the case over and over.

Only when the staff member closes the argument will be R&R bully seemed to retreat. However, correspondence or verbal requests come very soon after. Thus, the issues were never resolved, they were merely forestalled.

In the most excessive case, the R&R bully is never stated. If, for example, discretionary power allows for you to make an exception, the R&R bully records this event as the norm. If similar circumstance is denied, the R&R bully will rehash as though the non-mandated service is now and forever a right not to be denied.

Perhaps the R&R bully is not as obvious a danger to corrections professionals as it seems. Still, one can seem diminished and flustered by the unwavering insistence contrary to the facts of policy. In another sense, the R&R bully can be a pawn in the form of a diversion in a larger plan.

So, how does one derail the R&R bully? Here are a few tips:

• Know policy.
• Photocopy policy and highlight the part that best explains to the denial. Present it to the R&R bully when the need arises. As keen observers of detail and those able to ascertain patterns, we can generally tell when a person is likely to bring up an issue again.
• Forestall a bit. Tell the aggrieved party to sit and take up the issue when there’s a better time. You decide the time.
• Have person write down exactly what the problem is. Instruct that the issue should be written in a clear, succinct manner. Tell the person to focus on the issue not on tangential matters.
• Don’t get knocked off your square when you hear the same issue over and over again. Arguers gain strength when you lose your composure.
• Do not let the argument against your policy driven denial become a shouting match.
• Recognize patterns and have your denial points ready in advance.
• Always be prepared for new rehashings.
• Remind the R&R bully that the issue is closed. Record the event in your log book. If and when they rehash, refer to your log book or your sharp memory to tell the arguer on which date the denial was initially issued.

No one really likes to be told “no”. Yet, that is a big part of corrections. Simply, many things are restricted for a good reason. Despite that, the retreat and rehash bully will return again and again. The million-dollar question in all of this is: will you be prepared to professionally deal with the retreat and rehash bully?

Security, Training

Taming the “untamable”: a set up scenario

March 9th, 2011


Almost all of us mellow with age. In corrections, the trend is seen in many offender’s files. Normally, there’s a large chunk misconduct reports issued early on in the incarceration. As the offender spends time in the system, the tickets typically (though not necessarily always) diminish.


Perhaps the same is true of most staff. We tend to write fewer tickets as our careers proceed. There are many reasons for this. We develop other valid manners of gaining compliance.  Of course, the natural course of aging is also an agent of change.


But there are some offenders who seemed to earn copious misconduct reports no matter the place in their incarceration. Read more…

Security, Self Scrutiny, Training

What are you looking at?: Appearances of watchfulness

February 17th, 2011

What seems to be is not always what is. Our actions are not necessarily reflective of the results.  Here is an example.


“He’s working very hard to avoid work.”



That is a familiar phrase that applies to almost any vocation.  And most of us have encountered someone like this at some time.  An instance of this is someone who buries themselves in the low priority task of sharpening dozens of pencils while the imminence of finishing the pay roll is looming.  It is sad, but it is true.  Some people will work hard on non-essentials in order to avoid harder work that is necessary. Read more…

Assessing the organization, Security, Self Scrutiny

Corrections communications and the small town model

December 21st, 2010

Nothing ever happens in a small town.  Main Street, U.S.A. is pretty much boring. Well, most of the time…




After living in a metropolitan area with a population of over 4 million, coming to a town of less than 2,500 people was a bit of a change for me.  I was fascinated by how quickly information travels through the village and in surrounding areas.  It seemed that everyone knows everyone else’s business.  Even if you are not hiding anything in particular, this can be a bit unnerving.


Before this begins to sound like the grievances of a cynical recluse, Read more…

Assessing the organization, Security

Blazing and training dynamics

December 16th, 2010

 There are some staff dynamics that look uncomfortable to the untrained eye.  However, many seemingly contentious exchanges are really the expressions of respect.  In other words, this is an instance of professional blazing meant in the best of ways. 




One of my favorite out-of-state colleagues recently attended a presentation that I conducted about effective icebreakers and group activities.  There were two good dynamics in this for me.  First, this colleague is an accomplished trainer and would certainly offer good, constructive suggestions to me at the conclusion.  Second, the person in question is my all-time favorite sparring partner.  She is an incomparably adept blazer, playful and unyielding. Read more…

Security, Self Scrutiny, Staff relations, Training

“Did you tell them who you are?” Improving the Perceptions of Corrections Programming Staff

December 6th, 2010

No one really thinks about a bench when it is not used.  Its utility is not usually heeded until it is needed.  Perhaps prison programming staff are like a bench.




At times, programming staff suffer  professional identity crises.  On one hand, these people have been hired to perform specialties. (Librarians, Teachers, Athletic Directors, Chaplains, etc.) On the other hand, they work in a non-traditional professional framework, the paramilitary structure.  This is a setting where security supersedes service.  Therefore, the programs staff often feel vocationally unimportant in the institutional scheme of things.


This has a potentially detrimental, yet overlooked impact on the facility’s operations.  It leads to increased staff divisiveness, lower productivity, absenteeism, and a rapid turn over of staff that are difficult to recruit.  Prisoners can capitalize on such weaknesses and compromise the security of any institution.


But, it is up to the non-custody staff to assail professional ambiguity.  Read more…

Assessing the organization, Security, Staff relations

Preparedness, hostages, and hurricanes

September 2nd, 2010

There are two stories in the news right now that should give all corrections professionals and public safety personnel cause to ponder safety lessons.  The hostage incident in Maryland’s Discovery Channel Building and the imminent North American debut of Hurricane Earl should implore us to review our disaster preparedness plans. Our written operating procedures for emergencies are those that we never wish to use, but gratefully execute when necessary.


the-plan Read more…

Security, Training

What Do You Tell a Rookie?

August 25th, 2010


By  Lt. Gary F. Cornelius (retired)




            Recently I entered a new phase of my correctional career-conducting jail officer basic training in the Commonwealth of Virginia.  After I retired from jail duty, I got back into writing and conducting jail in service training.  I have now been asked to help out several academies by conducting state approved jail basic courses in legal matters, special inmate populations and suicide prevention.


I have to admit-I enjoy it.  New recruits or what we affectionately like to call “rookies” not only need the book learning and skills training to pass the academy, but they need the wisdom and lessons learned by us veterans.  All of us veterans who have worked in corrections a long time know that we are different at this point in our careers than when we started. Read more…

Guest Author, Security, Staff relations, Training