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Archive for June, 2011

E.V.I.L. origins: How did the contraband get in?

June 30th, 2011

What could be more evocative than thoughts of an infestation? Imagine that you are battling vermin, determined to rid the area of unwanted pests. In this sense, it’s easy claim victory if you catch the mouse or other pests. But does that go to the heart of the problem? Is that true elimination or merely short-term management?

When we eliminate the nest or the avenues and inside, we have found a more thorough solution to the problem. Likewise, every bit of contraband that we remove from the system represents a win against the collective of dangerous elements that we face on the job every day. For example, discovering a cache of tobacco in a smoke free and chew free institution eliminates some illegal trade in possible violence. But we must wonder how the tobacco got inside the facility in the first place.

No matter the custody level, age, or physical layout of your facility, it is safe to say that some contraband filters in undetected. In a way contraband management is like pulling weeds. One can temporarily halt the weed (or contraband problem) with one quick yank. It is as simple as pulling the item out of circulation and ensuring proper disposition. However, we can further delay the return of contraband by digging deep at the root. Really, there are four basic ways that contraband enters our jails and prisons. It is something I call E.V.I.L. origins – a mnemonic that means Employee, Visitor, Inside, and Let in.

Employee – As corrections professionals, we wish that staff corruption did not exist. Unfortunately, a small percentage of our colleagues dabble in the illegal trade. Whether bought, maneuvered, or coerced, employee mules in the service of offenders deal a grievous blow to the structure of security.

Visitor – Most people who have do not quite grasp the reason for so many rules in the operation of a correctional facility. Despite this, many visitors each day comply with instruction from staff. However, as with employees, there are a small number of visitors who circumvent the rules and introduce contraband into the facility.

Inside – The origin of some contraband items is completely within the fences. Some things are created with ordinary, on-hand items. They include papier-mâché clubs, plans on the yard with medicinal qualities, or even spud juice. Something of value need not necessarily have come from outside the walls.

Let in – This is a large category. Contraband that is let in is hidden from detection as it enters the facility from the outside. This can be as nefariously clever as small bits of narcotic laced crayons used to create a drawing that is sent through the mail. The hollowed legal brief is a popular vessel as well. Camouflage arrows filled with drugs and shot into the yard is a strange but documented occurrence. Let us not forget the cell phone that escapes detection in a new commitment’s anatomy.

What does all this mean? With the knowledge of contraband sources we can better predict where the next nest of bootleg may lie. However this should be tempered with patience and realism. In other words, it takes time and will not always uncover all dangerous and tradable goods.
Concept of evil origins helps us consider sources bootleg. Realistically we cannot stop all sources of contraband. But every bit removed from the system means a win for security.

Contraband Control

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

Notes to Newbies

June 15th, 2011

Do you remember when you were a fish? Can you recall the discomfort, trepidation, and uncertainty of your first days in the corrections profession? For most of us, it was like carrying the weight of the world.

Although it about 18 years ago for me, I remember my first days in corrections in the same detail as though it were my latest meal. I felt as encumbered as Atlas bearing the weight of the world on his mythical shoulders. First impressions are lasting, after all.

Working in a prison is something one has to experience to fully appreciate. Certainly, training and research help new professionals adjust. But no amount of training, reading, and reflection can match the value of actual time on the job. I believe that I learned many lessons in my first days of employment. Here are a just few of them:

 Every second is a test. Prisoners constantly tested me from all angles to see my vocational worth and general malleability. The range was from subtle ruse to blatant aggression.
 All staff eyes are watching. I knew that many colleagues were scrutinizing me very closely. They wanted to also test my mettle and reliability.
 There were so many policies to learn. I could not believe the voluminous literature that I had to become accustomed with in order to become effective at my job.
 Keep things in perspective. Initially, I failed to keep things in perspective. I was frozen in fear of litigation and physical attack. My personal worries hindered my view of the greater, interconnected picture. Gaining perspective tempered my trepidation.
 Balance is key. Obsessive fear of attack can paralyze. Complacency can make one a target. Cool vigilance is the best moderation.
 Things will improve if you keep working at it. In the early stages of my career, the stress and anxiety from each day led me to want to quit my job daily. I dreaded going into work each day.

Eventually, I discovered that, as a staff member, I could exercise considerable control of my area and of my career. I could be the architect of my own vocational fate. I merely had to apply those lessons.

For example, I realized that it is no big deal that I am tested from all sides. I simply had to pass the tests with the plain application of policy and procedure in a firm but fair manner. Also, moderation helped temper the fear and change it to respect for my environment. I learned to think ahead, yet not tire myself out on contingency plans. With all of this, the stress declined. I actually grew to like my job very much. Balance, balance, and balance.

I learned that those and other lessons are fundamental for success in corrections. I was not the only one who has ever felt “the six month jitters”. It was a common occurrence. So, in sum, Newbies are not alone. All of your colleagues have gone through the same as you.

Assessing the organization, 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

The end? Not again! – Assessing rumors

June 2nd, 2011

One of my colleagues once said, “You do not have to believe everything that a prisoner says to you. Just because someone says something with unshakable certainty does not mean that it will come to pass. But, you should continue to listen.”

As staff, we should continue to develop filters, learn to share intelligence, and assess sources. That is how we remain safe.

A recent news story brings this maxim to mind. Just when you thought it was safe to sit back and ponder the end of the world according to the Mayan calendar, someone slipped in another end of times date. Now, according to some, the new date that the rapture was to have occurred was on May 21, 2011. Please note, Dear Reader, I’m writing this on May 22, 2011, one day after that proposed end of times.

Perhaps one the striking features of this assertion is that it was made with such certainty. There are lessons from this beyond dubious timing and group psychology. Corrections staff can learn plenty while assessing absolute statements. When someone says something will absolutely happen a certain time, it could mean one of a few things:

1. The person has inside information. For example, an offender declares that there will be a hit on staff and it occurs on an appointed time. From that time forward, the offender should not be discounted as a poor source of information. Of course, some prophets have a track record of only one right prediction in a body of numerous incorrect forecasts. As we consider the source, we need to weigh the record with facts and circumstances.
2. The person will be wrong but they really believes it to be true. Some offenders may indicate that there will be violence in the summer. Many of us have heard the phrase “It is going to be a hot summer”. As staff, we consider the source and watch the signs. If a dire, though vague, prophecy is proven wrong through time, it is all the better for staff.
3. The person believes it without question. Unshakable beliefs range from everyday scenarios to what many would consider absurd. A belief that a certain team will win the final four could be a common belief. A less likely belief is that aliens will land and imposing order. In all of this, we need to consider the rigidity of broadcaster. Self-fulfilling prophecies can manifest if the person pushes hard enough. For example, suppose that a prisoner makes it clear that he will be placed in segregation in the near future. We notice that the prisoner has neatly packed his belongings and has them waiting for staff to cart away. It’s important to note these signs, as the fulfillment of the prophecy could contain violence.
4. The broadcasts are tests. If an offender is testing the gullibility of staff, he simply can drop a far-fetched fact while wearing a straight face. The offender can learn a lot from staff by declaring that the world will end a certain time. Staff who seriously engage in conversations about end times may wear their beliefs and fears to prominently on their sleeve. This is dangerous if the prisoner is an adept handler.

So, whether it is a forecast of the apocalypse or who will fight with whom, we need to be on our vocational toes. Whenever rumors circulate – up to and including the end of the world – our profession teaches us to investigate and prepare. Above all, we don’t have to believe what is said to us – but we need to continue to listen.

Assessing the organization