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Rules Are Rules
By Joe Bouchard
Published: 12/12/2011

Rule book Just this morning, I heard a story on the news related to rule enforcement. It seems that a celebrity was instructed to turn off his electronic device prior to a transcontinental flight. According to the story, the celebrity did not comply with the instruction. Because of this, he was escorted off of the airplane.

Of course, the story will develop as the hours and days move forward. Messages on social media and on news and celebrity shows will certainly take this story in any number of interesting and bizarre directions. Though our point of departure is based in the alleged noncompliance rules by famous person, let's apply this to our everyday work life. In consideration of the nature of rules, we can ask ourselves a few questions:

Do the rules apply to everyone?

The simple answer is: rules do apply to everyone. Staff, prisoners and the public are expected to follow posted rules and valid verbal instructions.

Let us modify the question. Does everyone believe that rules apply to them? With this, the answer is not cut and dry. Some offenders may be of the opinion that they are above the rules due to time served, a sense of entitlement, rebellion, or any number of factors. Some staff may thumb their nose at the rules for the same reasons.

Perhaps a celebrity puts faith in the cult of personality over the notion of uniform behavior. Think of a big Hollywood name getting checked for a minor safety rule. We can easily imagine a Diva (or Divo?) say, “Don’t you know who I am? No one treats me this way!”Some would agree with the privileges of fame. Others expect compliance - no matter one’s status.

Are some rules unreasonable?

Most everyone at some time, staff and offender, believes that a certain rule is unreasonable. I once heard of a facility that declared solid-colored pens as contraband. Except for the tiny “segregation pens”, clear-bodied, transparent pens were all that staff and offenders could use. This was done in order to curtail smuggling through a small but effective contraband vessel. One staff member who was quite attached to his gold pen instantly took offense to this rule. However, when explained that this was for security sake and nothing personal, the rule was accepted by that staff person. In this case, the rule was seen by the staff person as initially unreasonable then valid when the mission came into focus.

Are rules enforced the same way?

Discretion is a strange tool. On one hand, it liberates us by giving us flexibility. No two sets of circumstances are completely identical, after all. For minor rules, a verbal reprimand may work better than a misconduct report. However, those who are less flexible will wrangle with uniformity. When someone does X, then Y should always follow as a consequence, they reason.

Decisions are not like binary language. It is not as simple as your basic either/or proposition. Certainly, there are circumstances that warrant absolutes in the world of rules. Still, other things are more prone to discretion. Clearly, consistency is the brass ring to grab. But the fact remains that it is an imperfect world.

The fact is that there will be differences in enforcement of almost all rules. This is true between shifts, between facilities, and in comparison to different areas of the institution. In fact, an individual may enforce the same rule in different ways during the same day.

Does enforcement change over time?

Sometimes, a new rule is issued in reaction to an event. For example, if hand soap is proven to be the new trading medium, the rule that governs the amount of soap an offender can carry will be likely to be strongly enforced. As time goes on, this enforcement may become lax to all but the most stringent rule enforcer. Event-driven rule enforcement has a way of moderating over time.

Just like the celebrity who refuses to comply with valid safety rules on an airline, not all will agree with rules and authority. But, in maintaining order, that is what corrections professionals face every day.

Editor's note: Corrections.com author, Joe Bouchard, has been with the Michigan Department of Corrections since 1993 as a Librarian for the Baraga Correctional Facility. He also teaches criminal justice and corrections classes for Gogebic Community College. He is the editor of The Correctional Trainer, the official journal of the International Association of Corrections Training Personnel and MCA Today, the official journal of the Michigan Corrections Association.

Visit the Joe Bouchard page

Other articles by Bouchard:


Comments:

  1. booch on 12/18/2011:

    The rules are written because they have been proven to give us the best means of providing an effective environment for the safety of all individuals. Thanks for an important topic that always needs to communicated.


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