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Issues of trust in corrections part III - Our Obligations
By Joe Bouchard
Published: 07/13/2009

Backstabber One of the most powerful actions to evoke surprise and bitterness is the act of betrayal. Disloyalty in any area is particularly crushing when it is unexpected. That is the point at which the betrayed party is most vulnerable. Trust broken, quite simply, is hard to regain.

In corrections, we have many trust relationships. To fully cultivate trust, we must develop and maintain loyalty towards these parties: Self, Prisoners, Coworkers, and Society.

Self- As individuals in the profession, we fulfill our obligation to keep operating with total integrity. Optimally, we promise ourselves to refrain from cutting corners. We cheat ourselves when we fail to conduct a thorough search of an area. We deceive ourselves when we do not follow through on investigating things which do not appear to be quite right. Our duty toward self also involves reporting all wrong-doing on the part of staff.

The individual is the building block of trust. If you do not consider yourself trustworthy, then who will?

Prisoners - Many would contend that we owe prisoners nothing. That can be an easy attitude to adopt at times. And the phrase, “You’ve got nothing coming”, is universal known in corrections.

However, the truth of the matter is that we have a basic obligation to provide the fair level of services as outlined by policy and procedure. Prisoners deserve an accurate perception of our expectations. If they understand our limits, the institution is safer for everyone. In brief, we owe inmates uniformity of action and enforcement.

This uniformity is the judicious balance between the two evils of coddling and vindictiveness. In short, detached professionalism guided by policy is prudent. It produces an environment where we are neither too soft nor too hard on inmates.

Co workers – Trust is out the window whenever events involving ‘dirty staff’ come to the fore. Maintaining positive staff relations is difficult enough in ordinary times. However, it becomes strained when one of our own betrays us.

In times like those, all staff have an obligation to mend the rift. No matter the work assignments, years of seniority, or philosophical outlook, we all have to rebuild when reliance in each other is strained. Rebuilding trust between our colleagues takes time. But it is a necessary maintenance.

Society – It has been said before that the 99 days that nothing goes wrong in a prison is the 99 days that the public will not acknowledge. But, public perception is built on the events that shake our perceptions of normal operations. People judge facilities and the profession as a whole based on scandals, budget fights, assaults, and escapes. Though that may not seem fair to corrections, it has to be accepted as the truth.

Therefore, our fundamental obligation to society is to maintain a safe facility. The public does not want to think about corrections. It is in our best interest to operate in an efficient, safe, and unobtrusive manner. The public may never present us with overflowing, overt appreciation. But we must realize that operate best when we are invisible.

Fiscal responsibility is another issue of trust. The public expects that we will not squander resources in our daily operations. In times of fiscal difficulty, the public demands that we find safe ways to eliminate costly redundancies without compromising security.

Working in the corrections profession is not always easy. There are pressures from all angles. The temptation to cut corners is omnipresent. But our actions cast long shadows. In sum, doing the right thing is elementary for establishing and maintaining trust. Trust is the oil and it is fundamental to prevent the engine of corrections from grinding and wearing down.

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