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Archive for the ‘Training’ Category

The manipulative power of candy

November 6th, 2012

Manipulation is all around us. Corrections staff know this well. Students who aspire to work in the corrections profession should know this vocational fact. That is why I wrote this exercise.

And it is not just inside the walls of a correctional facility. Print and electronic media are chock full of examples of companies and individual trying to get you to buy a product or endorse a candidate. Some deem it persuasion. Others may call it marketing. Whatever its name, it is all about convincing others to do your will.

Often, an instructor’s design is to turn the floor over to the students and allow them to buttress points in the lesson with their own personal experience. Yet, classroom participation is always a challenge. Even when one had a room full of extroverts, there may be slow days and pervasive quiet. Every facilitator will eventually come to the conclusion that sometimes we need to bribe in order to get results.

Let’s not elevate this to the point crossing into the realm of impropriety. I am simply suggesting that a little treat goes a long way. Do not underestimate the manipulative power of candy.

This classroom exercise needs very little in terms of preparation. All that is necessary is a talking point for the group. In terms of materials you will need a small bag and a few pieces of candy each for every participant. However, inside one of the bags will be placed an unobtrusive marker of some sort. This could be a number written inside or in the bottom of the bag. Or, one could put a quarter or an index card in the bag.

First you introduce your concept. For example if the topic is manipulation or persuasion:

“Once, I was vacationing in Florida. I remember that as a time when many people used strong persuasive measures on me. Their goal was to sell me a time share. They matched me with a sales person who seemed to reflect my demographic. This sales person brought in a parade of “supervisors” who used concepts like family values, economic value and luxury. They also included a tour of a resort, discount tickets to a local theme park, a breakfast and steadily drop in the price of the time share. The price literally dropped thousands of dollars during the course of the two hour presentation…”

Then you tell the class to think about a time where they recognized someone trying to convince them. Let them know that their example can be subtle, blatant, or even ham-handedly ridiculous. It does not even have to be a direct contact – a commercial or pamphlet will do. I found that telling each student to write some notes on an incident of manipulation in which they were involved works well. Give them a few minutes to do so. When each person reports, they have notes.

Then, present each person with a bag of candy “as a gift”. Of course, the person with a marker on the bottom or inside of the bag will be the first person to report their example of manipulation. This exercise is like a lottery or winning a door prize when you have a number taped under the seat that you randomly select.

When the first person has related the tale of handling, she or he is told to select a “volunteer” from the class to go next. This fosters a bit of playfulness and empowers speakers to appoint someone the instructor may not have selected. And it goes on. The good news is that everyone gets the sweet gift of candy and some or all can support the lesson with tales of their own.

As tales are told, the instructor can write a one or two word descriptor of the style of manipulation used. Of course, some will see the exercise as manipulation. Spoiler alert: It is manipulation. In fact, do not be surprised if someone reports that a time they were persuaded/manipulated was when this classroom activity started.

The timing of this can impact the effectiveness. For example, conducting this before lunch or in mid afternoon might yield better results, as the incentive for a snack is greater at those times. Directly after lunch is not necessarily a good idea, as the classroom may be too bloated to enjoy a treat.

I conducted this exercise for the first time during a Criminal Justice/Corrections class that fell on Halloween. All of the simple gift bags had a few mini candy bars within. One of those bags had a small, plastic snake in keeping in the spirit of the holiday.

Before I field tested this, someone suggested that I add a note in one of the gift bags that said “you are my favorite student.” This, she reasoned, would give a lesson in division and favoritism. In the post mortem, the student who randomly selected the bag with the message admitted that he felt manipulated when he read it. In other words, his radar was on. It was noted that he chose the bag quite randomly. However, this introduced a classroom talk about how favoritism is a form of manipulation.

The cynical and untrusting may unfairly label this as exploiting a weakness for sweets in order to force participation. I prefer to think of it as fostering a willingness to share in the education process by using universally beloved confections. And if you think that this is manipulative, we can talk about it over a snack.


mixed morality training exercise

August 4th, 2012

Mixed morality

Nobody’s perfect, or so it is said. And it seems in corrections that the negative can receive more attention than the positive. Still, our professional integrity dictates that we do the right thing for the public. Unfortunately, every now and again, someone in our ranks will break the rules and attract public scrutiny.

Morality training and professionalism can come in at least two forms. You may see it as a primary module as you enter the department. Another manner in which morality/professional training is administered is in the wake of a scandal. Whether the training is proactive like the former or reactive like the latter is of less consequence than the main point: We must all do the right thing.

Then comes the exercise called “mixed morality”. This is a competition and question/answer exercise. It is very simple to perform this icebreaker. In addition, there are no props, no overt physical activities, and really no wrong answers, if you think about it.

1. The class is divided into two teams. The facilitator may wish to create the teams by grouping every other person on opposite sides of the room, by random selection, or letting teams assemble themselves. This is not important as long as there are two separate teams.
2. The teams will elect one person to answer morality questions. They will be told that they are to select an answer for the entire team on moral problems and dilemmas.
3. Armed with 10 questions (like the set that follows) the facilitator will ask the questions of both team captains.
4. Here is the wrench in the works: There are two possible answers, but each team will not know what the answers are. And the facilitator will read only the question, leaving both answer unknown to each captain. The team that goes first may choose option one or option two. Both options will be blind, random answers. Therefore, the other remaining answer will go to the team that has not selected. The team captain will select only one or two and cannot justify or modify an answer after it is read.
5. Each team will start at zero. The answer that they select will be accompanied with a positive or negative number value. As questions go on, a scorekeeper will mark on the board the numeric value and add or subtract that from zero.
6. Another option is to ask these questions in a large room. Both team leaders will stand in the middle of the room. If their random selection for a moral question is positive, that team leader will step forward as many steps as directed. On the other hand, if the random selection for the moral question has a negative value, the person who selected (or was defaulted) that answer will step back as directed in the answer.
7. Move on to the second question. The team captain that selected the positive answer will get to select option one or option two for the next question.
8. Continue this through number 10.
9. The team with the highest score or the team that has stepped forward the furthest will be declared the winner.

Here is a sample test with blind/random options:

The instructor can start by saying,

“Sometimes, circumstances will dictate how we choose to act. Not all decisions are clear and not all answers are easy. The team leader that wins coin toss will be given a question and asked to select option one or two. This is truly a matter of luck, as you may or may not necessarily agree with the content of the option. With each option comes a positive or negative score. Your choice might not be how you would react in real life. However, this is designed with a few wildcards to represent real-life circumstances that may alter your decision. Your opponent will, by default, be assigned the option that you did not choose. Whatever gets the highest point in each question will be permitted to have first selection of the options in the following question. There are 10 questions. The team that scores the highest is the winning team.”

1. You are in a beautiful national park. There is no one for miles around. The gum that you started to chew as you left your car has lost all flavor resembles nothing more than rubber. No one will see you and you assume that there are no trail cameras. Do you spit out your gum?

Option one:
You spit out your gum. No one will see you anyway. Your score is -1.

Option two:
Patience! You dispose of your gum in a receptacle designed for trash which is located at the trailhead. Your score is +1.

2. You witness a senior citizen place a candy bar in her purse. You are behind the would-be shoplifter in line at the cash register. You see by the form of payment for the other groceries that the senior has plenty of money. Do you report the crime?

Option one:
You whisper to the senior citizen that she forgot to pay for the candy bar in her purse. Your score is +1

Option two:
You mind your own business and don’t worry about the cost to consumers. Your score is -1.

3. You see a semi-dead rabbit on a rural road. It appears that it had been run over by a vehicle and is living its last moments in agony. You have a shovel in your trunk. Do you put the creature out of its misery?

Option one:
Keep on driving and forget about it. It is just a casualty of nature. Your score is -1.

Option two:
You stop by the side of the road, retrieve the shovel from the trunk, and quickly and humanely sever the head from the body. Your score is +1.

4. In your corrections academy, you are taking the final exam for the criminal justice module. You are confident and are nearly done with the test. The person next to you is a devoted corrections professional as far as you can see. However, he is looking at your answer sheet and copying your answers. What do you do?

Option one:
You cover your answers. After all, it was up to him to study and you do not wish to jeopardize your chances of working in corrections through someone else’s mistake. Your score is +1

Option two:
You played dumb. You allow the person to cheat and you pretend not to notice. Your score is -1.

5. You leave the restaurant and just before you reach your car you see on the pavement by your car and expensive but functioning handheld videogame. This is a videogame that you’ve always wanted to play. You see no one around. Do you walk into the restaurant and presented to the staff person behind the counter?

Option one:
You keep it. If the person was foolish enough to let it drop from their hand, it is their tough luck. Your score is -1

Option two:
Turn it into the staff person. It doesn’t matter that you have to walk back inside the restaurant even though you have just left. You would want someone to do the same for you. Your score is +1.

6. You have just enough time to get to work. On the side of the road, you see a neighbor with a flat tire. It looks like she is not doing too well in changing the flat. As a bit of background, this neighbor seems to have trained her large dog to defecate only on your lawn. Though you may be late, do you help your neighbor change the tire?

Option one:
You reap what you sow. Why should you do this person a favor? Keep driving! The score is -1

Option two:
As painful as it is, stop and help. At least pull over and ask if she needs assistance. Your score is +1.

7. You are on vacation with your spouse. At the breakfast buffet in the hotel you realize that you have spare minutes to eat before going on your planned excursion. Your spouse gets the coffee from across the room. You get a couple of muffins. They are the last two muffins – just enough for you two to eat breakfast. One of the muffins drops on the floor. A quick inspection, you see no dust. Still, you blow on the top of the muffin, hoping that your germs pose less of a threat than whatever was tracked in on the floor. Your spouse, diligently preparing coffee just the way you like, did not witness any of this. What do you do?

Option one:
You confess that you dropped one of the muffins. You explain that it looks clean enough and that you can both eat half of both muffins. Give the option of you eating the fallen muffin. The score is +1.

Option two:
Place the fallen muffin in front your spouse. Inwardly you reason that what you don’t know won’t hurt you. Your score is -1.

8. You purchase some candy for $.75 with a $10 bill. The cashier, believing that you paid with the $20 bill, gives you $19.25 for change. This is $10 in your favor. What do you do?
Option one:
You have been shopping here for years. You’ve supported the store for over a decade. Will $10 really hurt in the larger scheme of things? You do not report the error. Your score is -1.

Option two:
Your integrity is not worth $10. You report the error. Your score is +1.

9. It is rush hour during lunch time at a fast food restaurant. Two different lines form and in a disorganized manner. You are standing right next to someone who has been in line longer than you. When cashier asked for the next person in line, you see that the person next to you does not move up. What do you do?
Option one:
According to the old saying, “the race is to the swift”. If you snooze, you lose. Step up! Your score is -1.

Option two:
You simply tell the person that they are next in line. Your score is +1.

10. You contacted your cable network and canceled a premium channel. A month later, you notice that you still have the channel but have not been charged for. What do you do?
Option one:
You inform cable company of their error. You want to receive what you have not paid for. This is +1.

Option two:
You reason that a multibillion-dollar cable company will not miss $10 per month. Plus, you’ve always paid your bill on time. Your score is -1.

At the end of the exercise, the teams may actually be tied. It is truly a 50/50 proposition. That really doesn’t matter. What’s important is that not all decisions are cut and dry.

You can post some of the following questions to the class if you have time to drive additional points home.

• Have any of these scenarios actually happened to you? If so, how did you act?
• Does having no money ever justify shoplifting?
• If the only law that existed was “might makes right” like in a post-apocalyptic world, would moral decisions be assessed differently than now?
• From whom did you learn right and wrong?
• Is it cheating if no one ever knows about it?

In the end, morality training can be a bit uncomfortable. Be that as it may, with an icebreaker like mixed morality, you can use interesting segues into these crucial modules.


The magic three rules of corrections

June 10th, 2012

A friend of mine reminded me of the magical balance of things that come in threes. You see, my friend is writing a book. She has three main characters. There is a good interplay between the trio. A fourth person is introduced into the story and the whole thing comes apart. The protagonist, number four in the equation, knocks down the whole structure.

Sometimes, two is too few and four is too many. For example, three legs are optimal on a stool. Also, three philosophical ideas seem to provide the right amount of ideas. For some reason, three is a good number for many things.

With that in mind, I looked at the number three and considered it in terms of corrections. I believe that there are many things that a departing corrections professional could tell a newly hired person. In this, two may be too few and four may be excessive. Here are my three bits of advice for the incoming professional.

1. Follow policy – Every part of our job is written in operating procedures and policy directives. In many agencies, the larger directives are also adapted to local circumstances. Policy is our outline for success. As long as we follow policy and procedure, we are doing the right thing.
2. Ask questions – If you do not understand a process, ask about it at an appropriate time. Although you may not necessarily find the answer immediately logical, you will at least have broader knowledge of the job.
3. Be firm but fair – Enforce the rules in a manner that treats everyone the same. Be consistently assertive – not a push over and not aggressive.

In the end, three may be just another number. But, like the three legs of a stool, the number seems to provide a nice balance between too much and too little.

What three bits of advice would you give to incoming colleagues?


Perspective on operations and change

November 10th, 2011

There’s nothing quite like a clear, starry night to make most people feel small and insignificant. The overwhelming size and complexity of the universe can pull routine thinking into a different mode. In other words, it is all about perspective.

Contemplating the cosmos relative to our own existence is one way to gain perspective. A more down to earth way, if you excuse the pun, is to ponder the many complexities of all operations as compared to your own area of responsibility.

Considering operations in the prison, it behooves us to maintain a broad perspective. It is often a matter of seeing how your work assignment fits into the larger picture. Here are some concepts that help achieve this:

Structure – Operations should flow with regularity. Schedules should be easy to remember. The rhythm of movement is like a heartbeat and circulation system. Almost all staff and prisoners like structure.

Flexibility – General operation should have a structure – but not a rigid one. There should be enough flex to accommodate deviations to the schedule. And aberrations are common enough. Some things that thwart activities starting on the dot are: fights and assaults, mistakes in meal preparation, equipment failure, weather events, and mobilizations.

Judicious corrections – Sometimes, circumstances call for radical rearrangements and rescheduling. However, as adjustments occur with staff and prisoners, we must be careful as we evaluate each new paradigm. Tweaking the schedules as necessary is important to do. But this should not be an exercise in wholesale reconstruction with many architects of varying opinions. Ideally, opinions can flow to a centralized location so unilateral, unfiltered modifications do not happen.

Interconnectedness – Usually, a new way of operating leaves us with a Rubik’s cube. When one thing is moved, there are visible ramifications that seem to further complicate the puzzle. Because of the interconnectedness of time, the intricacies of timing and the scarcity of resources, one little change can derail what was originally conceived as a smooth running operation.

Safety – Our mission statement place high priority on safety for staff, offenders, and the public. All considerations of operation should have this as a cornerstone.

Patience – A change in operations can be a stressful event for both staff and prisoners. But, time is a great equalizer. Often, we simply need more time to absorb the new changes. This is particularly true if the change supplanted an old, long-term paradigm.

I remember a lesson on perspective from my childhood. When my cousin and I were children, each of us thought that the full moon followed us. To test this, we stood back to back one night. As we walked in different directions, the moon appeared to follow each of the beholders. We both thought that the other was wrong and lying. Thus, an argument ensued. Realistically, change is not always unanimously agreed upon. It is not always welcome and is not always easy. But, larger perspective helps to make it easier and a little more welcome.

Assessing the organization, Staff relations, Training

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

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

What a horrible way to go!

September 8th, 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.

Many of us in corrections develop a gallows sense of humor. Perhaps we do this in order to cope with the seriousness of the job. This can be deemed as a general stress reliever.

Is there way to proactively harness this and place it into an icebreaker? I believe so. This can be done with simple introductions. As you start a module, you may write on the board or display on the computer screen these words:

1. Name
2. Current position
3. Time in corrections
4. The most horrible way to die is…

It is best to stack the words in four different lines for clarity. The facilitator simply states that everyone will give a very brief introduction of themselves. This will be done by stating your name and current position and the time that you have worked in corrections. The part that (ironically) enlivens participants is their opinion of the most horrible way to die.

In the spirit of teamwork and interest of instruction, the facilitator should go first. Mine would be like this:

Hi, my name is Joe.
I’m a corrections librarian.
I have been in corrections for 18 years.
I believe the most horrible way to die is being eaten by rats.

Naturally the facilitator will set the tone.

My thought is that creativity can flow if there are few constraints. I believe that the shock value at the start of the session may spark more active participation later. Then let the group go one by one. Here are a few notes.

• Remember that there’s a fine line between bizarre, yet effective instruction and creepy answers.
• There will be repeated answers. And this should be permitted. After all, if you think that drowning is a horrible fate, you should be able to agree with someone who answered that previously.
• Be compassionate as needed. Someone may render a heart-wrenching true story of how a loved one recently passed a terrible manner. The mood of the room can shift in a millisecond.
• Reel in the class and if things get too jovial. Remember the unique pull of gallows humor.
• There may be a string of answers designed to disgust others. Be prepared for a gross out/shock contest.
• Keep a sense of humor. Perhaps someone will list the most horrible way to die is “to be bored to death by this training”.
• Keep a lid on things. There may be some rough verbal camaraderie. Prepare for wild answers as the audience becomes more comfortable.

This is a true icebreaker. And nothing breaks the ice quite as easily sharing the universal fear of mortality. This can go well with an introduction to communications module. I also see this as a way to enliven (again ironically) and unarmed self-defense class. Perhaps one can use as a prelude to a retirement seminar.

Why not give this icebreaker try? After all, we only live once


Training, information and gas stations

August 18th, 2011

Corrections training is like a gas station in some ways. That may seem like a strange statement. But the parallels are interesting.

Once upon a time, the only choice one had when purchasing gasoline was a full-service station. Decades ago, neither self-service stations nor completely automated existed.

However, things change. Now it is a challenge to find one of the formerly plentiful full service gas stops. It must same way, corrections training is not what it once was. We hear stories of the past from veterans who declare spartan instruction that they received. Some said that you were simply handed a set of keys and you learned that she went out.

I am sure that my experiences are much like anyone who started corrections employment in the last century. I recall 40 hours per year in the classroom with occasional additional training as mandated. Years rolled on and computers became omnipresent in the work world. Naturally we in corrections were impacted. We spend less time in the classroom and more time before computer monitor. (Please see Eating the E-training Elephant at July 1, 2010.)

On the face of it, classroom training is like a full-service element of the gas station. Computer-based training, of course, seems parallel to a self-service gas station. And it remains that one way or another we all need to obtain gasoline and training.

Still, the analogy is not perfect. For example, when you are perplexed by some part of computer-based training, you have help at hand. There is almost always a willing institutional training officer just an e-mail away – ready to facilitate your understanding of the material. This is not true of the modern gas station. The mechanics quite simply did not move to self-service stations.

Many students in our profession move beyond the traditional and computer-based training to sate their curiosity. Those who wish to expand their vocational knowledge base can find other resources. Television is loaded with corrections oriented documentaries. Books on the topic are easier to find with the Internet. Also, corrections professionals who write have expanded beyond print and into the online sources. There are ample articles of all types at just a click away.

With so much opportunity for new knowledge, there is a greater risk of misinformation. After all, a beguiling website does not mean that the content is flawless or even true.

Of course, staff can bring any questions to their institutional training officer. Who better to turn to for clarification on industry topics? While trainers have specialties, the best trainers can adeptly traverse the webs of knowledge because of their broad information base. And if a trainer is stumped, this is rectified by activating the training network.

I believe that the proliferation of Internet information on corrections is positive for the profession. More information, whether it’s accurate or ridiculous, stimulates discussion and makes for smarter student. This in turn challenges the trainer, keeping them on their professional toes. All of this enlivens our profession.

Unlike the full-service gas station, corrections training is not dead. It is merely changed. In the end, is all about delivering information to professionals in order for them to perform their job well and in a safe manner.


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