|The Twenty Minute Trainer: FEAR|
|By Gary F. Cornelius, First Lt. (Retired)|
Recently I had the pleasure and privilege to attend the Virginia Association of Regional Jails (VARJ) in Virginia Beach. Not only was presenting two seminars enjoyable, but I finally met our very able, conscientious and competent editor of The Correctional Trainer-Joe Bouchard. It was nice to meet someone in person who I have held in high regard for so long.
In a condensed version of my jail in service class Safe Jail Climate: Proper Security Procedures I presented a short seminar titled Maintaining a Positive Jail Climate. I discussed how jail officers should observe the inmate population for signs of unrest, read the signs of trouble and take pro active action while at the same time practicing common sense safety guidelines.
One of my slides contained one word-fear. Did I mean jail officers experiencing fear of inmates? No. Did I mean jail officers fearing a riot? No. Or-did I mean jail officers fearing a serious injury or death? No.
While these are all legitimate concerns and can never be trivialized, what I meant was staff engaging in practices so unprofessional and so heinous that fear is elevated in inmates who are incarcerated in the institution. A positive jail climate includes not only safety and security for all inside (staff and inmates) but an atmosphere where inmates are not mistreated and staffs are caring professionals. Inmates should feel safe.
I mentioned several true incidents that have occurred in some U.S. correctional facilities:
This reminds me of one of my favorite historical movies. In Glory, the 1989 film depicting the struggles of black men to be looked upon with respect as Union soldiers in the 54th Massachusetts Regiment in the Civil War I remember a powerful scene. The regiment’s commanding officer, Colonel Robert Shaw (played by Matthew Broderick) enters a quartermaster’s office to inquire about his regiment’s lack of supplies, especially sorely needed shoes. The smug quartermaster does a “song and dance” to avoid and trivialize the inquiries. Things get heated as Colonel Shaw starts looking around, upsetting items in the warehouse in the process. But there is a key question that he asks of the quartermaster that could be asked in a similar way to rogue officers. He said: “You think you can keep 700 Union soldiers without proper shoes because you think it’s funny? Now where would that power come from”?
We should ask the rogue officers-the ones that instill fear and cruelty in the jail climate-“you think it’s funny to brutalize inmates and make them cower? Now where would that power come from”? So I ask: “What were you thinking?”
Part of maintaining a positive jail climate is acting professional and maintaining an atmosphere of safety. Aren’t inmates better behaved if there is a professional attitude by the staff? Inmates who enter a correctional institution-some for the first time-all are undergoing some stress and apprehension. Magnify that situation to an offender-maybe a first timer- or at a minimum- one that is apprehensive, fearful, and “shaky” and is maybe depressed or contemplating suicide. How wonderful for an offender to be sitting in a holding area or trying to survive in a cellblock, observing rogue staff such as the ones described above distributing their own brand of “justice”. What could result? Anger? Depression? Suicide? Or- the inmate may place well timed phone call to a family member or an attorney describing just how bad some officers are. Once the news of such staff reaches the outside world, investigations and charges can result.
Let’s be realistic. Officers and staff can be accused of brutality and mistreatment by inmates and be innocent. After all, offenders as a rule are not upstanding good citizens. If an officer is falsely accused, he or she should be exonerated and the accusing inmates suffer consequences, such as criminal charges (filing a false police report, etc.) or civil litigation. But-if there are officers like “Hammer Jack” and ones that are “quick with a stick” or heavy handed with their fists, a climate of fear is created in a facility that should be operated professionally. The “Brotherhood of the Badge” does not apply if you know officers in your facility are mistreating inmates. They should be reported, face charges and disciplinary action, and if found guilty: fired.
Burke, Sheila. “After Tenn. Jailer rips gold grill from inmate’s teeth, city on the hook for $95,000.” The Washington Examiner, March 16, 2010. (Accessed May 6, 2010)
Dean, Bryan. “Oklahoma County Jail targets violence problem.” NewsOK.com, April 6, 2010. (Accessed April 19, 2010)
Internet Movie Data Base: www.imdb.com/
“No Excuse for rough inmate treatment.” Indystar.com, February 11, 2003. (Accessed February 13, 2003)
“Stepping on Inmate’s Privates Violates Eighth Amendment.” Correctional Law Reporter XI, No. 6 (April/May 2000): 89-90.
“Texas jail was like ‘Animal House’.” MSNBC.com, March 16, 2009. (Accessed March 16, 2009)
About the author: Lt. Gary F. Cornelius retired in 2005 from the Fairfax County (VA) Office of the Sheriff, after serving over 27 years in the Fairfax County Adult Detention Center. His career included assignments in confinement, work release, programs and classification.
He is an adjunct faculty member of the Administration of Justice Department at George Mason University, where he has taught four corrections courses. He also teaches corrections in service sessions in Virginia, and has performed training and consulting for the American Correctional Association, the American Jail Association, and the National Institute of Justice. His newest book, The Correctional Officer: A Practical Guide: Second Edition is due out this summer. In 2008 he co founded ETC, LLC: Education and Training in Corrections. Gary can be reached at 571-233-0912 or at email@example.com .
Other articles by Cornelius:
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