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How to Battle Complacency
By Fred Lovell, LT, Karnes County Correctional Facility
Published: 02/27/2012

Believe it I find it amazing that complacency sneaks into our ranks like a silent killer. Let's think about the responsibilities we have every day as correctional staff and see where complacency fits into the picture. First, we must ensure that all the people who are supposed to be inside the wire are inside the wire. Additionally, we must look out for the safety of the people who have been placed in our care. This includes not only the inmates but our fellow staff members. Every time we walk through the gate it stands to reason that there is a chance we might not walk out under our own power. When we communicate with each other and the offenders, we need to be looking for signs that there may be a problem. So how does complacency fit into the picture?

I believe it all starts with the way we develop our staff. This goes for everyone who trains or teaches new staff members about the corrections’ industry. A supervisor once told me that people only respect what you inspect. I need to take this one step further. Unless we teach our staff the right way to do things beyond the training room, we're going to have the problem of complacency. Teaching our staff the right way is only half of the battle. Not only must we teach them, we must explain the why and how it affects them. We must also expect them to do it the right way. Beyond that, we need to spot check. I realize it sounds like this is the job of the leader. That is not the case, however. It is everyone’s job. It doesn’t matter who you are or what rank or position you hold. We need to help each other.

During my recent re-certification in CPR, I watched the training video that clearly illustrated this point. There were a pair of professionals, demonstrating the two-person CPR technique; they worked together like a well oiled machine. One member of the team was doing compressions as the other was encouraging her. In addition to encouraging her, he was also reminding her make sure to press down far enough and to let the chest recoil completely. Obviously, the professional responder doing the compressions knew those things. However, in a crisis, the encouragement and helpful reminders can make all the difference in the world. The same point applies to our profession. We need to know that we can count on each other for support, both physically and mentally, in whatever situation may arise.

While solidarity is a crucial concept to stress as we develop our staff, we must first empower them to carry out their job duties properly. As a young officer, I hated it when my Sergeant corrected me in front of the inmates. This problem, unfortunately, does not seem to be limited to that one facility. It appears to be at an epidemic level in the corrections industry and is counterproductive to empowering our staff. Although there are rare exceptions, it is important to back up staff members in front of inmates. Rather than embarrass a staff member, it is more productive to wait until an opportune time and discuss the event with them. As the supervisor or coworker, it’s more constructive to let the staff member explain their thought process and why they handled the situation as they did. Once you understand what the officer or staff member was thinking, you can help put them on the right path.

If this officer or staff member was in fact wrong, encourage them to apologize. I know there are some reading this article who believe we should never have to apologize to an inmate. I disagree. We are all professionals and we all make mistakes. The ethical thing to do is to acknowledge that a mistake was made, offer an apology and fix whatever harm we may have caused. Remember, the currency that we deal with in our prisons and jails is respect. Acknowledging the fact that a mistake was made and taking steps to correct that mistake does not detract from our authority. In fact, what it does is build respect.

We need to remain fair, firm and consistent when dealing with the inmate population. I believe wholeheartedly that if we teach our counterparts, subordinates and new staff members the right way to do things and empower them to carry out the mission we've entrusted to them, they will not let us down and complacency will begin to fade.

Corrections.com author, Fred Lovell, has been working in corrections since March of 2005. He is currently a Lieutenant working at the Karnes County Correctional Facility. Prior to corrections, he spent 9.5 years in the US Army working with ground surveillance and human intelligence. Lovell is currently working towards a BS in Criminal Justice.

Other articles by Lovell:


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  21. jamestown0509 on 03/15/2012:

    Good points from a corrections officers perspective. I do think that some, not all officers are complacent on the job. I have seen officers sleeping on the job, not making rounds and just writing they did in the log, refusing to go into blocks when inmates call for them. Unfortunately a few officers are "there for the money." When I see an officer like that I get concerned as a fellow officer and when I was a supervisor about what they are NOT doing and what the results are going to be. If you are complacent in your job you are not being a competent officer and you endanger all of your fellow officers. The art of communication I have always stressed is paramount in corrections. You MUST listen to the inmates and after that formulate your answer based upon what they say. An officer who is a hard ass with inmates is always going to have issues, fights, disturbances and the floor or tier is going to be very difficult for any other officer who takes over for them. You must enforce the SOPs and rules, they are made for a reason. I have just posted a question article about respect on the other police and corrections websites that I below to. The question is, "Why has the respect for police and correction officers declined?" In my career of 22 years in corrections I always respected an inmate as long as they respected me and my position as a CO. When an inmate crossed the line I used IPC (interpersonal communications) and recently Verbal Judo to calm them down if possible. When action is required I told them what would happen, called for my supervisor and backup and what was told to them was done. I have apologized to one inmate when I made a mistake of telling his parole officer that the inmate was going to protest his parole hearing and file charges against the parole officer. It was a slip of the tongue and the inmate understood it was just that. I do agree that you MUST be fair, firm and consistent with inmates at all times.

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