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Communication in Today’s Corrections: Part II
By Bryan Avila, TDCJ Correctional Training Instructor - Sergeant of Correctional Officers
Published: 12/12/2011

Can telephones

In the first part of this article we talked about the four types of communication in a correctional facility:

  1. No Communication
  2. Operational Communication
  3. Human-Respectful Communication
  4. Cognitive Reflective Communication

Now let's talk about Human-Respectful Communication.

All too often, those of us that work in correctional facilities tend to forget the type of individual that we are dealing with: people. Oh, we don't forget that they are incarcerated for some crime that they have committed, but we do forget that they are people. Some officers view them as scumbags, low-than-dirt creatures, child molesters, rapists, murderers, etc. And although some are incarcerated for those very things, not all of them are. Many of them are in due to non-violent offenses and a great deal of them will get out after they have completed their sentence.

When we speak to someone the way that we want to be spoken to, we are more likely to get positive results from offenders, therefore reducing the likelihood of a physical confrontation. And if I can go home at the end of the day with the same number of holes in my body that I walked in with that day, I'm perfectly OK with that! Make no mistake about it, they know very well where they are and why they are there, even if they don't openly admit it. There is no need to remind them verbally (we remind them every day when we go home).

Some officers refuse to say either "please" or "thank you" because they believe that the offender is not worth it. Every person has a need for validation of their self-worth. By use of the simple words of "please" and "thank you," it makes a person feel like a person. We promote change in offenders. We are their role models. It is our responsibility to emulate what it is that we, as a society, want them to aspire to become.

We are supposed to treat everyone the same, in a firm, fair and consistent manner. That includes the way in which we communicate with them. How would we feel if we were treated as scumbag staff members? There are staff members that introduce contraband. Have sexual relationships with offenders. Should we all be treated like we have done those things? Firm, fair and consistent, right? Some times the situation dictates it, but don't drop to their level. Have them come up as much as possible to yours. It may be hard to adapt to it, but it is well worth the effort. And much less paperwork.......

Click here for Part I.

Editor's note: Corrections.com author Bryan Avila started working as a Police Officer in 1994 while attending Norwich University in Northfield, VT. In 1999 he began working for the Vermont Dept of Corrections while still working as a Part-Time Police Officer. In 2007 he left public service until 2009 when he began working for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. He is currently a Correctional Training Instructor- Sergeant of Correctional Officers, at the TDCJ Region I Training Academy located in Huntsville, TX.

Other articles by Avila:


  1. Schnarf5 on 01/05/2012:

    I was trained in social work and remember one of the speakers was a man who worked with sexual offenders- he said he never tells casual acquaintances what he does anymore because people treat him like dirt when they find out he is trying to help sexual offenders to change. I also had a roommate once who's brother had a psychotic break and - from what she told me- he was a teacher who, after several losses in life and much drinking of alcohol (he also had a lot of psychotic illnesses and dysfunction in the immediate family), grabbed a young girl off her bike and dragged her somewhere- I guess he raped the girl because he served 8 years in prison and has been on heavy duty medications and in group homes ever since then. He consequently was abused/burned with cigarettes and worse by people running the group homes (who shouldn't have been) and by other prisoners while in prison. I had never sympathized with a sexual offender before because I myself had been raped as a young teenager by someone 13 yrs older than me and was kept drugged up and forced to do other things I never would've done if not in that situation. However, in recent years I work in the public school system and when the kids are disrespectful or act out I try to understand them and what is going on with them- especially if I first react with anger, I catch myself and think, ok where are these kids coming from? What are they trying to accomplish by talking this way or acting this way? Sometimes I just think back to what I was like at that age- before I got some insight into my own behavior, and I have to laugh and think I'm looking at a class of myself!- defiant kids trying to separate from parental figures and get peer approval- the more insecure one really feels, the tougher one acts. I have met quite a few people who served time in prison... I think people who work in prison have a very tough job- most of the new releases from prison are easy to spot because they do look like professional fighters. I look at the people who go back in as tragic - they must have no insight into their own behavior because, really, who would want to live a life where one goes back again and again into prison? The felons claim to hate prison yet some continue to act out and consequently go back again and again to serve time... Also, I believe people like to bring those around them to their level- if someone is feeling good and is successful and socially aware of how we are all interdependent, they tend to help those around them and give them a hand up. But people who are miserable or unhappy and socially unaware, tend to want to spread that misery or can be angry that others should be doing better and want to drag those around them down too...often it's not so much a conscious act- maybe like having a child having a temper tantrum just wants to act out and express that feeling.

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