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Dissecting cliques

February 4th, 2010

I once heard something to the effect that with three people you have a clique and a potentially disenfranchised person.  It doesn’t take much to create an exclusive group. Some groups believe that they are better than others.  Unfortunately, it is a part of how human beings operate.

Many factions exist in our vocation.  Perhaps clique is the most appropriate word for this.  One could argue that the phrase subgroup is a reasonable substitution.  There is an important distinction between clique and subgroup. Clique means an exclusive or clannish set of people. Subgroup refers more towards a smaller part of a whole.  In most cases, there is nothing elitist, or clannish in the definition of the latter.

Focusing on the negative aspects of groups, local elitism clusters of various kinds are found in all professions.  But in corrections it is more that a minor irritation. Division in the ranks and discriminatory cliquishness causes corrections peril. That set the stage for competition between groups.  We become more occupied defending ourselves against each other rather than watching out for each other. Misplaced vigilance crates conditions unfavorable for safety.

With cadres present, loyalties and professional priorities become divided.  If the camaraderie between clique members overrides professionalism, trouble is not far behind.  Of course, the enterprising prisoner uses these staff flaws to control conditions conducive for their personal comfort.


Those prisoners who endeavor to manipulate search for division and prey on weaker parties. Sometimes simultaneously, some inmates bloat the egos of clique members for the aim of ingratiating themselves and averting suspicion.


Inmates who maneuver simply employ human emotions - isolation and disenfranchisement.  Those employees that are targeted with negative behavior by the clique are “befriended” by seemingly sympathetic manipulators. That paves the way for uneven rules enforcement and favoritism of certain prisoners.  Power centers arise in the prisoner population when staff unwittingly allow such conditions. 

Granted, many groups draw together through similar circumstances.  But some can develop into horrible cliques over time.  Some are founded on a cult of personality.  Others function through an economic or ideological agenda.  Still others stand united against other perceived threats.  Whatever the cohesion, some other initial bonds that form cliques are:

Ø  Time served – a cadre based on disenfranchising employees with little or no seniority.  This group could also be a union of newer employees reacting to those with greater seniority. Of course, those with ample time in an agency can form bonds based on time served.

Ø  Gender – could be a collection of minority gender in the facility or those opposed to the minority gender.

Ø  Local royalty – the bond of those who have lived long-term in a rural area and view it as an important distinction.

Ø  Common enemy – a group drawn together with an interest in hating one particular, opposing individual or rival group.

Ø  Nepotism – this is a clique driven by blood and marriage relationships.

Ø  Sectionalism - elitism based on location of work area within a facility.

Ø  Former facility affiliation – transfers to a new facility can often be seen as outsiders and ostracized. Such planned isolation forces a new clique to form.

Cliques will always exist. Certainly, it is human nature to for affiliations to distinguish themselves.  But, we are less secure when the loyalty is not to the common goal of fulfilling our mission statement. By dissecting the structure and foundation of cliques, we can begin to understand why they exist and flourish.  With that information, we can begin to build staff unity and make a safer workplace for all.

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joebouchard Assessing the organization, Self Scrutiny, Staff relations

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