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Allow me to point out your flaws:
By Joe Bouchard
Published: 03/23/2009

Editor's note: Regular columnist Joe Bouchard is a Librarian at Baraga Maximum Correctional Facility within the Michigan Department of Corrections. He is also a member of the Board of Experts for The Corrections Professional and an instructor of Corrections for Gogebic Community College. You can reach him at (906) 353-7070 ext 1321

Thoughts about scrutiny and self scrutiny


In corrections, that is what we do. It does not matter if your niche is custody, support, or administration. If you have at least a few years on the job, you should be able to detect carefully masked flaws in others. From there, it is easy to plan ahead for any moves that the object of scrutiny may make.

For example, off the job, I know someone who seems to operate best when telling lies. Elements of his oft told stories grow more and more fantastic with each rendering. It is oddly entertaining. Rather than yell, “LIAR!” in his deceptive face, I listen with care. Perhaps he will come clean some day and tell the truth. But I am more fixed on the possible embellishments with each telling.

Some of you who read this may wonder, “What about you! Maybe you take your work home with you. You should lighten up on the scrutiny.” Well, no one is perfect.

And that is sound advice that I should take. It is clear that over analysis can thwart relationships on and off of the job. In fact, that is a key point in forging a healthy balance between work and home.

Still, there is some merit in scrutinizing our scrutiny. Let’s take a look at how we watch.

On the job, security is essential. Without it, those who would harm others become emboldened and dangerous. Without thoughtful vigilance, contraband trade increases. Prisoner group dynamics coalesce in a way that is perilous to staff, offenders, and the public. Order and safety are simply thrown out the window when scrutiny becomes lax.

Notably, security is not the same as for everyone. The wide spectrum that ranges from oblivious to hyper-vigilant exists in every worksite. Those who expect all to monitor and observe in the same way will become disappointed.

Even with the individual, analytical perceptions can vary form day to day. Therefore, the corrections professional is well advised to analyze their own patterns of awareness in order to achieve a balance. Whether your key days of watchful awareness are Monday, mid-week or Friday, you should know your patterns.

Staff are always under scrutiny. In fact, we work in a fish bowl. We are always under the surveillance of prisoners, other staff, and outside agencies. This is something that can be considered a positive point. When we are aware that others watch, we tend to perform optimally. While the professional standard expects us to perform well, the knowledge that we are being watched can push our efforts forward.

The Hawethorne Effect is a factor to remember. That is, people will act a bit differently than normal when they know that they are being watched. We can always expect different behaviors based on our proximity and visibility.

The Hawethorne Effect can be used for feigns and diversions. Some who are being watched may pretend that they are unaware of that. Behavior can be presented as less-than-normal or not as expected in order to derail staff observations.

We are expected to watch others with unblinking attention while we are at work. However, when we take this intensity home, we run the risk of alienating our loved ones. Therefore, corrections professionals are responsible for modulating their work between work and home.

There is such a thing as the appearance of too much scrutiny. When we rely too heavily on the hyper-vigilant persona, tensions raise between staff. Unfortunately, violence can erupt from a heavy-handed, oppressive posture. As we watch each other, we bear in mind that it is for the sake of safety, not aggression. Balance is key.

Consider the idea of collective scrutiny. That comes in two forms.

The first is Automatic Security Elevation. This occurs when a tragic event transpires within a facility. After an assault or an escape, almost all staff become more watchful.

The second raise in collective scrutiny is known as shared observations. When we pool our impressions, the collective sees more than anyone would who works independently.

In the end, vigilance is crucial in the corrections profession. But as we continue to scrutinize, we discover that the concept of scrutiny has a variety of different facets.

These are the opinions of Joe Bouchard, a Librarian employed with the Michigan Department of Corrections. These are not necessarily the opinions of the Department. The MDOC is not responsible for the content or accuracy.


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