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Archive for December, 2011

Dear Reader

December 22nd, 2011

Dear Reader:

Please allow me to wish you and yours a happy holiday season and a safe and prosperous 2012.

I will be taking a little literary break for now. I hope that you have enjoyed Foundations thus far. Thanks for your support.

Very sincerely,

Joe Bouchard

Dear Reader

Tale of the Model Citizen

December 16th, 2011

There are so many challenges for anyone employed as a corrections professional. But staff division is a very interesting issue in corrections. This is because of the impact of it bad and good potential. On the negative side, it can be the root of security problems. On the other side of that coin is the notion that the solutions are largely in our collective hands.

In general, there are two sorts of deeds done in corrections. One variety can be performed with the notion of earning some sort of credit. The other is done for the sake of doing the job right. In other words, there are climbers and true professionals.

A climber can be defined as someone who orchestrates their duties only when others are looking. They do a good job, but it is masked in insincerity and is slef-serving. Theirs is a world of positive messages of their deeds for those in de jure or de facto power. The climber will generally not do a less-than-desirable task unless it is observed by someone who can advance his or her career.

The true professional does not need an audience or Kudos in order to do a job well. It is certain that no one can act with truly altruistic motives at all times. However, the professional does not need the credit as much as the climber.

There are plenty of each kind. And each of us can range between these two poles. One small, self serving deed does not necessarily taint an otherwise professional record. Unfortunately, most of us remember the negative rather than the positive. If you are honest with yourself, it is probably easier to name more climbers that you know than the vocational heroes.

Climbers, through a long chain of possible events, pose a hazard to operations. They may, in the spirit of subtle self-promotion, spread malicious rumors about non-competing professionals. Tarnished reputations cause disillusion and lower productivity. Formerly committed staff become less security conscious. Those who see through the climber’s activities can become jaded if the climber promotes. The administration may lose authority and credibility if a climber rises in the ranks.

All of this diminishes security. Every little distraction from the main goal of safety for all chips away at the foundation of security. This may not be evident, but it is true.

Just like the prevalent issue of staff division, this problem is easy to identify. The hard part is to realize the solutions. Here are some thoughts about climbers and true professionals that may put the solutions within reach.

• Corrections staff can see through ruses. Climbers, no matter how cleverly they manipulate opinions, will eventually be discovered by colleagues. Climbers cannot hide in the long term.
• The true professional does not consciously seek to be visible.
• It is very easy to deride the overt climber. However, climber bashing exacerbates the balance of harmony in an institution.
• Self scrutiny is essential in this and all issues that surround staff relations.
• Humility is a key ingredient.
• Many aspirations are also beneficial to the mission. It is the negative examples that sometimes taint the image of promoting.
• Some climbers are effective leaders and should get the promotion based on skills rather than popularity.
• There is such a thing as too much pride in being altruistic – it is elitist. At the risk of defending the stance of the climber, anti-climbing sentiment can be so potent that it detracts from the mission.
• Each of us is a work in progress. No one adheres to the same role at all times.

Climbers and true professionals are just two of the many interesting archetypes we find in our challenging profession. We cannot all be model citizens all of the time. We are human. However, the lofty ideal is just a reach from the real. Solutions are within reach.

Self Scrutiny, Staff relations

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

Contraband – the rat and tiger question

December 1st, 2011

Here’s a question that I’m sure you don’t hear very often. Would you rather:

A. …be slowly eaten alive by rats?


B. …be torn apart by a tiger?

While both are not likely, the choice with the rats is more possible for most of us. Being torn apart by a tiger is not very likely because they are so rare. So, are rats more dangerous than tigers? If probabilities are accounted for, the danger lies with the rats

Let’s apply this to our ever-present problem of contraband control. Is a rare, technological wonder like a miniature recording device more dangerous than a gambling slip? Does a weapon of intricate design hold more peril for corrections professionals than a razor melted into a toothbrush handle?

Recently, someone outside of the corrections profession asked me about the most ingenious bit of bootleg that I have ever heard of. I will admit that the use of watches with cell phones and mini recorders came to mind first. The crossbow constructed from a chess set brought the notion of dangerous ingenuity to my mind. Other examples of these fiendishly clever items include the narcotic filled candy bar and a crayon drawing laced with controlled substances.

Those items, while rare, either directly or indirectly pose a great danger to staff, the public, and offenders.

Then I thought of smaller, common items found inside our facilities. In its own way, forbidden dice and tobacco may cause trading schemes or even be the tip of an iceberg to a gambling ring. Many dangers surround those ventures. And small, common items wielded by a enterprising prisoner, have their own perilous nature.

It is a question like the tiger and the rat. Certainly, and individual rat will do much less damage than a rare and obviously dangerous tiger. So it is a matter of frequencies, probabilities, and perhaps it being in the wrong place at the wrong time. One may never have to consider a plastic pistol smuggled into a lock up. However, when it is in your face, it is on the forefront of one’s mind.

It is easy to think of low level, nuisance contraband as the rat. The tiger is the exotic, rare thing that one may find only once in a career. In terms of numbers, knowing how to snare a tiger is less important than knowledge of rat trapping.

As luck would have it, however, trapping the tiger and trapping the rat can be done with the same methods. All of the tools that we employ in our normal contraband control procedures, if done right, will defeat or at least frightened both beasts. Of course, they are:
• Vigilance
• the overt search
• the covert search
• communication between staff
• documentation
• reading the signs
• listening to offenders with the “inside ear”
• persistence
• drawing upon your own experience and that of others
• research of the literature
• Internet searches

In the end, rare and ingenious contraband items and common bits of bootleg are the same in at least one respect. Both can be dangerous. The frequency in which we encounter any specific item is not as important as the idea that these items are the root of dangers. Whether an item is rare or not, the prisoner who wields it usually has an unfair advantage. With that they can dictate favors, arrange for unauthorized comforts, and build the power base. It is the duty of staff to eliminate or at least lessen the opportunities for enterprising inmates to create, trade, and use contraband. The safety of all inside depends on this.

Contraband Control