|Down the Hallway………|
|By Gary F. Cornelius, First Lt. (Retired)|
In life, we all walk down hallways. Some of us walk down hallways for a job interview, some to the principal’s office (in our younger days) and unfortunately down hospital hallways to see a loved one or friend who is sick. It is human nature to glance into rooms as we walk by.
Working inside a jail-it is no different. In my jail career I walked down hallways in the inmate housing areas thousands of times. I never lost the habit-even as I was promoted and transferred-of glancing into the inmate areas that I was walking by, especially in the special housing areas where inmates are segregated for various reasons. In law enforcement, we are trained to be observers.
This subject has two critical aspects that need to be discussed.
Extra eyes and ears: All jail staff are supposed to have the welfare of the inmates and staff in mind. This is not wishful thinking. If sworn and non sworn staff learn to appreciate each other’s roles and respect their jobs, it is possible to attain a level of teamwork. So-if a civilian is walking down the hallway in the jail receiving area and sees an inmate in a cell pacing and crying, hopefully that civilian will mention it to the officer on post. The officer on post should go down that hallway and spend a few minutes talking to the inmate. It may be a case where officers thought that the inmate was stable, but circumstances have changed. The inmate may now be suicidal.
Now-I do know that jail posts are busy. Movement of many people inside a jail is common; many are thinking of their own tasks or jobs. But-if a person, whether it be a volunteer, programs staff person, a chaplain, a commissary employee, or a mental health counselor-observes unusual situations or behaviors, that information should be mentioned to the custody staff. In a jail, where the inmates outnumber the officers, these extra “eyes and ears” can be very helpful.
There are some correctional officers that “look down” on staff that are not in uniform. An officer may say: “It’s my job, not theirs!”
I would answer with this:
“ If I worked in a building where the people that I watch don’t want to be here, do not like me, are potentially harmful, are unpredictable and try to undermine me at every turn, I would welcome any input from any conscientious person to make my job easier.”
Think about it.
Pass-on: The second critical aspect is the accuracy of pass-on information. Many jails have roll calls. Some do not. As for me, I think that all jails should have roll calls, not just for staff assignments and relieving each other. Maybe I am old fashioned, but I like the roll call session approach where a supervisor goes over incident reports filed since the squad was on duty last. Critical information on inmates can be discussed, especially concerning those in segregation and in need of close observation. It is like the old TV series “Hill Street Blues” where the veteran sergeant goes over incidents and gives advice, always ending with something like “Let’s be careful out there”.
The written word is the best way to pass on information, not general verbal messages like “A couple of inmates got into it upstairs-they are in lock down-see you later”. Sloppy pass on can result in inmate/staff injury, death, criminal activity or escape. I would hate to be on the witness stand and have to relate the little or no pass on information that I received about an inmate. Also, if an officer is in a hurry to go home (I know the feeling), he or she should take the extra time to let the oncoming staff know what is going on in detail. Better to do that or get a phone call at home on your day off, right?
So-if someone walking down the hallway gives you good observations or information-write it down. Write it down for all staff to share, and pass it on accurately and responsibly.
One last thought: Working a jail post is like working the floor in a hospital-but the patients are significantly different. The next time you are in a hospital-look at the nurses’ station. They are communicating with a lot of people-the welfare of the patients is their top priority. In the jail, the safety and welfare of the inmates and staff are priority. That helps us in jails earn the public trust.
Just some food for thought.
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