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The Dating Game – Part II
By Ruby J. Joyner LMSW, CJM
Published: 05/28/2012

Lovetrap Officers entering the field of corrections are usually in it for the long haul. However, more often than we care to think about, officers find themselves disciplined and or terminated for staff/inmate violations. The intent of Part I was to shed some light on the subtleties that occur between an officer and an inmate that often lead to the blurring of professional boundaries, policy violations, disciplinary sanctions, up to and including termination, and/or criminal prosecution. As mentioned in Part I, Davidson County Sheriff Daron Hall begins his address to each new cadet class with this sentiment: “around here, we don’t date inmates.” Part I hopefully painted a picture for you of what ‘dating inmates’ could look like. In this article, the focus will be upon what more can be done to arm officers with the tools they need to avoid this pitfall. Although not an exhaustive list, this article will focus on three tools:
  1. officer awareness of personal vulnerabilities,
  2. focused and impromptu training opportunities, and
  3. upper management investment in the professional success of all officers.

Officers bring a lot to the table. Many bring experience, a strong work ethic, and professionalism. Most are eager to learn and move fairly quickly up the rank structure. We can teach officers many things but, two attributes they bring to the table when they are hired in are morality and integrity. So, what is morality? According to Morality by Design (n.d.) “Morality speaks of a system of behaviors in regards to standards of right or wrong behavior. The word carries the concepts of:
  1. moral standards, with regard to behavior;
  2. moral responsibility, referring to our conscience; and
  3. a moral identity, or one who is capable of right or wrong action.
Common synonyms include ethics, principles, virtue, and goodness.” Giavagnoni (n.d.) reports that “integrity doesn’t just apply to big decisions. It also applies to your small decisions. It pertains to your whole life. Integrity is doing the right thing, not necessarily the popular thing. Integrity is being honest, upstanding and having a strong character.” Behavior, conscience, and the capability of one to choose to do right or wrong – are all internally driven motivations. These motivations can also be termed vulnerabilities - depending upon the officer’s ego strength and emotional need(s) at the time an opportunity to begin a personal relationship with an inmate presents itself.

When it comes to training, topics like staff/inmate relations, professionalism, and ethics should be recurring themes. Officers polled for this article spoke of how frustrated they become when they hear other officers narcissistically proclaim: “I would never get involved with an inmate.” Undoubtedly, there are countless fallen officers who never imagined they would lose their career, family, and sometimes their freedom over an inappropriate relationship with an inmate. New officers and veteran officers alike can benefit from training and re-training covering the aforementioned topics. Topic saturation may indeed be essential in order to constantly remind officers of this one fact: without honest reflection upon their emotional strengths and weaknesses, none amongst them are more or less susceptible to that momentary lapse in judgment that will lead to their personal and professional downfall. Investing in the success of officers by way of solid pre-service and relevant in-service training initiatives are invaluable contributions. What should be added to training programs are classes that highlight the build-up that occurs between an officer and an inmate before policies are violated and before laws are broken. The phenomenon of dating inmates’ should not be ignored.

Recently, a minimum security inmate worker walked into my office and asked if I would consider allowing him to order a pizza – an interesting request at best. I calmly asked him how he would go about ordering a pizza (while in custody). He replied: “with a credit card.” The end of the story was that he wanted to call his “brother” to retrieve his personal credit card number so that he could order that pizza. Right. Should I have granted his request to order that pizza, what would have been his next request? No two ways about it, there most certainly would have been additional requests. What if that inmate had offered me a financial “incentive”? Could that have swayed me? The ball was in my court and I opted to end the game. Scenarios such as this one should be shared with officers to highlight:
  1. inmates will approach any of us and
  2. we drive the end of the story – whether it is a good ending or a bad one.
One important piece to mention here is the fact that training on topics such as this should occur not only in the classroom but should also occur in settings like roll call or wherever else a teachable moment manifests itself.

So, what role can leadership and upper management play in helping officers avoid dating inmates and avoid the blurring professional boundaries? Foremost, we can model acceptable behaviors. It may sound trite but, leading by example can be impactful. Leading by Example – Making Sure You “Walk the Talk” (n.d.) posits that “as a leader, part of your job is to inspire the people around you to push themselves – and, in turn, the company – to greatness. To do this, you must show them the way by doing it yourself.” There is certainly some truth to the statement that the tail will often follow the head. Although we cannot force officers to do right or wrong, leaders can certainly foster an environment where doing one or the other becomes the norm. When leaders routinely make bad decisions or when leaders themselves participate in bad acts, the message received by vulnerable officers may be, “so long as I don’t get caught, anything goes.” Some may consider this theory purely conjecture but, it won’t hurt to heed the warning. On another level, when leaders ignore officer cues that could warn of the blurring of professional boundaries well in advance of infractions, the agency and the officer become losers. The only one to benefit, even if only for a brief period of time, is the inmate. It will take micro, mezzo, and macro interventions and individual awareness to reduce - if not eradicate - incidents of maladaptive officer-inmate relationships. The mantra for wardens and sheriffs across this country and abroad should become: “around here, we don’t date inmates.”

References

Giovagnoni, C. (n.d.). What is morality?. Retrieved from
http://blog.compassion.com/what-is-integrity

Leading by example: making sure you “walk the talk.” (n.d.). Retrieved from
http://www.mindtools.com

Morality by design. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://allaboutphilosophy.org/moralty.htl

Click here for Part I

Editor's Note: Corrections.com Author Ruby J. Joyner is the Training Director for the Davidson County Sheriff's Office.

Other articles by Joyner



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  4. jamestown0509 on 05/25/2012:

    The beginning of the slippery slope starts when officers interact with inmates on a personal level. Discussing how many kids they have, what their girlfriend/boyfriend does, where they go after work, etc. In my article about Empathy and Sympathy I addressed just what you are talking about. Relations with inmates is immoral, illegal and stupid. There is no excuse for these relationships,NONE.


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