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Vacuums will be filled
By Joe Bouchard
Published: 05/17/2010

Whirlpool Think of the inexorably strong force of a whirl pool. If it has enough power, the vortex will pull anything from the surface of the water and plunge it beneath. It is inevitable that vacuums will be filled.

I don’t really know about the physics of black holes, tornadoes or any other sort of naturally occurring vacuum. But I have seen this in action in human interaction. I know of a family that was full of strong, often conflicting personalities. The most potent of all was the patriarch. He was the only person who could keep this unruly, yet endearing mob of relatives in check. When he passed, there was a scramble for normalcy and many tried to fill the big shoes of the father. The family nearly fell apart as others assumed hitherto uncharted waters of authority and dominance. For better or worse, vacuums will be filled.

This is, of course, applicable to corrections. Any dominant, assertive, or charismatic figure will cast a great shadow across the work landscape. When that person is gone, like the large shade tree that is suddenly cut down, the influence is missed.

This can be in the form of new practices that are immediately implemented. There certainly is nothing wrong with a positive change that increases safety or aids in productivity. But there always exists a resistance to any modified routine. For better or worse, we are all creatures of habit.

Think of your first supervisor or mentor. If this was a person with great influence, you must have felt a loss of leadership when that person moved on. Remember the person that has to fill that slot. Were there growing pains? Did resistance to that authority become a normal part of the work day? These are some of the questions that need to be asked when there is a shift in leadership.

And we need to consider when prisoner roles are filled. If an influential prisoner is transferred or reclassified to segregation, it is inevitable that others will be in line to fill that role. Will this result in painful changes? Could there be a bitter and bloody rivalry that will unfold in a dangerous manner? Will competing groups flock to the different banner? Might prisoners and staff be injured during the transition?

We need to be mindful of the dynamics. Some prisoners and staff will, in their own ways, test the leader who has filled the vacuum. It is interesting to predict the actions before they happen. Entertainment aside, it is important to chart how offenders react to changes in staff leadership for the sake of safety.

Fortunately, corrections is resilient. And in addition to our vocationally acquired tendency towards hardiness, we have in place policy, procedure, and a chain of command that militate against the ravages and unpredictability of vortices and vacuums.

The only things constant about our jobs is challenge and change. With the certainty of a sunrise in the East, leaders will not remain the same figures through a career. Even if we react rather than act, it is up to all of us to read the situation. Vacuums will be filled.

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Comments:

  1. Swartz on 05/22/2010:

    My head of Correctional Centre was recently transferred we now have an acting head.The ex head made a lot of changes and there was resistance from offenders as well as staff.Everybody had no choice but to comply because she was firm about the rules.Since she left there is a vacuum that needs to be filled because the bar has been raised and that standard needs to be maintained or raised.She has defnitely left her footprints and implemented things such as non smoking policy for all, can you imagine the resistance?


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