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The Road to Safety: Looking out for other drivers
By Joe Bouchard and Tracy Barnhart
Published: 04/05/2010

Road painted desert arizona On the road, we have to always be aware of other drivers and the many hazards. Operating a motor vehicle is a challenge. We take for granted that we dodge peril every day. But for circumstances, any one of us could end up injured or dead.

Working in corrections is the same way. In a very real sense, we must remain ever-vigilant in order to remain safe on the Road to Safety.

Joe Bouchard:
I think that watching the road for hazards is very much like working in corrections. As we try to remain in control behind the wheel, we have to cope with obstructions, hazardous conditions, good drivers who fall asleep at the wheel and malicious drivers. Hazards come in many forms.

What do you think is most dangerous, Tracy – colleagues who slip in vigilance, “bad driver” colleagues (those who never seem to have acquired good corrections skills), or hazards placed by offenders?

Tracy Barnhart:
Joe, I write about what I call a Jeopardy Triangle which includes the totality of the circumstances of any incident. The triangle exists within the necessity to escalate the use of force in order to be justified. The principle or concept of the Jeopardy Triangle can apply to the officer, inmates or other people during a force action.

  • Means
  • Opportunity
  • Intent.

Above is my jeopardy Triangle as it pertains to the use of force. I did a lot of thinking about what you said above and I created a new jeopardy triangle just for this article where I think you can see the similarities.
  • Vigilance
  • Skills
  • Inmates

You have a big problem with all three sides of the triangle within any correctional facility anywhere in the world today. Let’s talk about the first one. How many times have you heard an inmate say to you or you overheard this being said, “Officer Blank, lets us do it that way, you don’t know how our program is run here.” Why can’t we do it one way and all be on the same sheet of music? Do officers slack, absolutely they do and we call this falling into a routine.

Joe Bouchard:
Nice concept! Regarding vigilance, there are slackers in all areas in the corrections world. And I hear it all of the time: “The Librarian from (fill in the blank) facility allows us to do this. Why don’t you?”

I can appreciate that there are different levels of confinement and a variety if local cultures. But I find it a bit frustrating when there are such variances in a system. If all of us are near the middle of the bell shaped curve of operations, then operations will run smother. It seems that the professionals on the far ends of the continuum seem to create the most friction in our day to day activies. Again, it is like driving. Those who drive too slow and too fast are the hazards.

Tracy Barnhart:
I think in corrections you have printed policy and then you have common practices. This is where I differ with the ACA and reality but that is a different article. As with everything in life you have individuals from different walks and status that hold opinions of specific practices in different regard. Let’s take Verbal Communication from inmates. Some officers or employees allow different levels of disrespect before they draw the preverbal line in the sand. Some administrators have differences of opinion as to how a shift should run. I think our everyday human interactions through life bring a difference of ability, opinion and allowances to their work performance. This is why it is so hard to create realistic policies. There will always be a grey area and leeway to enforcement or how things should run.

Joe Bouchard:
Ah, the classic real versus ideal. Maybe it is like staying in a wide lane, but not crossing the lines. So there must be an acceptable range of operation rather than an absolute. I guess that the major challenge in reigning in the extremes is doing so without disenfranchising other staff and weakening the team. After all, it is about safety. But how can this be done? How do we keep all drivers going in the same direction, in the same lane and at about the same speed?

Tracy Barnhart:
As correctional employees we have to think about our profession as “the keepers of the kept.” We are attempting to manage the smartest animals on the planet but yet in doing so we have to exercise some sort of reasonable control and provide certain levels of safety to inmates as well as employees. You write a lot about how contraband enters into the facility and yet as correctional employees we have not been able to completely stop it yet. Our problems within a correctional facility are ever evolving and we should maintain the psychology like the Marines “Semper Fi” ( Latin for Always Faithful) to that of “Semper Gumby”, (Latin for Always Flexible). We must strive to employ the best and brightest individuals in the beginning, continually strive to train them for what they will actually see during their career and allow that training to evolve and get better every year, and maintain an ever vigilant attitude of a warrior ethos, where we never forget that if we lose sight of why we are there, we might get bitten.

The responsibilities of anyone who drives an automobile and that of the corrections professionals have similarities. And poor decisions in either endeavor can result in long-lasting difficulties. With corrections, however, there is a sort of built-in camaraderie. When it works at its optimal level, we are equipped to face many challenges. It is comforting to know that we are never alone on the road to safety.

Other "Road to Safety" articles by Bouchard and Barnhart:

Visit the Joe Bouchard or the Tracy Barnhart page


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