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Your corrections family
By Joe Bouchard
Published: 09/20/2010

Armwrestling Is your family full of contentious figures that consistently scramble for primacy? Do you ever feel like you are witnessing an endless battle between people who should get along but do not? Well, you are not alone.

Anyone at one time or another there is a member of a family that does not get along. Perhaps the phrase “familiarity breeds contempt” is applicable here. Whatever the causes, we all deal with family division. Fortunately, most of us move ahead and reunite under other circumstances. Family division, in other words, is not usually perpetual, dangerous or fatal.

A family can be loosely defined as all members of a household under one roof. In many ways, correction colleagues at your worksite are a sort of vocational family. Like the traditional concept of family, we in corrections have common goals, shared beliefs and culture, and see each other often. In the family corrections, however, there is much more to consider. Here, order and procedure is paramount. And the peril is magnified in this closed and potentially dangerous environment.

Quite simply, that is because division leads to possible injury and has the potential to lead to death. Arguments and disagreements facilitate division. Division is the cornerstone of manipulation. When enterprising manipulators witness a crack in the fortress of unity, they may capitalize on that weakness. Typically, the weakness is related to pride, jealously or anger exhibited by staff. With that handle, staff can be maneuvered by any lay expert in human psychology. Those handlers can subtlety direct staff into overlooking rule violations or even into introducing contraband into the facility. The logical conclusion is that someone will eventually be hurt from all of this. After all, grudges tend to make us focus on staff adversaries rather than on security.

Granted, not all incident of staff discord will turn into instant danger. Yet, as one follows the chain of possible events, one can conclude that some tragic events connected to a division root can be prevented. The question is: “How?”

Staff unity is easier said than done. The key component is professionalism. And that does not always come easily. But, hubris aside, safety should be incentive enough to keep peace in the family. If that is the case, why is staff unity so fleeting? The answer is simple. Human interactions are complex and governed by motivations, impulses, and roles.

As in any family group, there are roles in the family corrections. Members are always in flux. Those who fill specific roles change over time. Sometimes, a role left by a departing or displaced person will be filled in a seamless manner. On occasion, of course, the vacated spot will be hotly contested. The dynamics of the players and the larger circumstances are variables to be considered when assessing the impact of any transition.

Let’s look at a few roles.

Leader – Like a matriarch or a patriarch, a leader in the family corrections guides the family. In theory, the directions should be towards attaining the brass ring of corrections – fulfilling the mission statement and maintaining safety. In practice, the goal may be met in a less direct way. Also, in a more traditional family, the leader may be de facto rather than official. We must never forget the potency of the chain of command and official leadership.

Second tier leader – This role is reserved for those who directly support the leader and fill the void as needed. Many second tier leaders serve comfortably as the next in command. But not all second tier leaders wish to be the primary leader permanently. Second in command is enough authority and attention for them.

Loner – Even though some who are naturally reserved might be considered loners, it may not actually be the case. True loners shrink away from family ties and often feel disenfranchised. Therefore, it is important for colleagues in the family corrections to include all loners. Otherwise, staff division of a more covert variety will flourish and the dangers that follow will increase.

Other roles include the peace maker, the silent anchor, the comedian and the teacher. You will also find in the family corrections the baby, the disgraced, the gossip, the planner, and the bully.

Human behavior can be complex and unpredictable. Even if you and yours are the most-even tempered individuals in existence, there will not always be absolute harmony. Squabbles happen in the best of families and none are impervious to discord. Reasons for disharmony are not always evident.

In family corrections, we have so much more at stake than other families. When simple disagreement balloons into visible and growing conflict, the safety of staff, offenders, and the public is diminished. But, it is not without hope. As a profession, we are rather adept at finding patterns even in the firmest strongholds of chaos.

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