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Prison Civility - Part II
By Billy S. Humphrey
Published: 11/29/2010

Handshake3 a Institutional culture is defined as the values or basic assumptions that people of an organization hold about how one ought to think and behave. Culture can be a good thing or a bad thing. It can be negative, or it can be positive. The culture of a secure penal institution is either healthy or unhealthy depending upon the quality of the leadership.

There is no substitute for effective, respectable supervision. The majority of practitioners would agree with this statement. We don’t usually disagree until we attempt to discuss specifically what is it that defines and sustains respectable leadership.

There are managers who emphasizes strict adherence to the rules and rely heavily on formal discipline to achieve organizational objectives, and there are others whose primary concern is the unique needs of their employees. The reality is that we need a balance of both structure and consideration to be successful. We must achieve our professional objectives and we must take care of people. If we are only concerned about the work, then we are at risk of being classified as a tyrant. If are only concern is the staff, then we inevitably become indifferent to the accomplishment of our organizational tasks. Employees admire supervisors who can effectively take care of both.

Workers want to be in a subordinate capacity to women and men who are technically competent. Public servants do not appreciate being supervised in a correctional institution by individuals who lack the skills to perform effectively as a member of the supervisory component. Systems and practices in contemporary corrections have minimized the affect and prevalence of the ‘good old boy system’ which historically allowed people to be promoted for the wrong reasons. People admire and support supervisors who are able and willing to make reasonable decisions based on required experience, education, interpersonal skills, and organizational training.

Workers also want a sense of accountability in the workplace. The quality of life in a secure correctional institutional is negatively impacted when supervisors lack professional courage and fail to correct staff who engage in problematic behavior. They fail to establish professional expectations and are reluctant to address performance concerns. This is frequently the case when individuals are promoted into positions of additional responsibility prematurely, or when those being placed in supervisory roles have previously established close relationships with those they are now attempting to supervise. Lack of accountability due to supervisory failure inevitably leads to chaos and organizational stress. The supervisory component must be functional and willing to address performance concerns and inappropriate, unprofessional behavior.

Correctional supervisors are considered respectable when staff recognize that they are committed not only to the needs of the organization, but also to the needs of the people. When a woman or a man raises their hand and volunteers for a position as a member of the supervisory component, they must possess technical competence, they must be willing to do what is necessary to ensure professional accountability, and they must have human skills. This is what establishes and sustains respectable leadership.

Tom Tyler studied and wrote extensively about legitimacy in his text titled ‘Why People Obey the Law’. He suggested basically that legitimacy induces compliance, and illegitimacy induces noncompliance. Tyler was referring to the dynamics of why people broke the law, but his theory is equally applicable to the study of management and leadership. If we are considered proper and legitimate in the eyes of our coworkers because we do the right things and we are decent to people, then and only then are we truly able to influence the behavior of others.

Leadership is defined as the art of influencing people to willingly pursue common objectives. Respectable leaders are those select few women and men who have the ability to influence others because they are admired. They are held in high regard because they get the job done and they are genuinely concerned about the well being of other people they work with. They hold people accountable, but they also teach right conduct to others without exception by serving as role models for everyone within the prison community.

Continuous improvement to the culture of corrections requires respectable leaders. Women and men who refuse to compromise their values for the sake of popularity or peer influence. Right is always right when we reasonably discuss how people ought to be treated, and there is never a reason for rude or unprofessional conduct. Leaders who understand this hold the key to our success in the future. They realize that they are responsible for the future and the quality of life within our secure institutions. These women and men are principle driven and able to balance the needs of the agency with the needs of people.

These leaders bring a certain measure of decency to the world of corrections, and civility to our prisons.

There is no substitute for effective, respectable leadership.

Editors Note:Corrections.com author, Billy S. Humphrey, began his career in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice in 1989. He has served as Warden and Director of Training / Staff Development in Adult Corrections, and as Deputy Director of Juvenile Corrections. He is currently a Parole Commissioner for the Texas Board of Pardons and Parole.

Click here for Part I

Other articles by Humphrey:


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