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It’s OK to Listen
By Gary F. Cornelius, First Lt. (Retired)
Published: 04/02/2012

Listen s Hello to all and Happy Spring! I am back after a break. I was scanning some articles for use in my college class on jails. I came across an article from the Los Angeles Times. Last fall, Sheriff Lee Baca, head of the LA County jail system held a “town hall” type of meeting with male inmates. The jail is under scrutiny due to allegations of abusive behavior and a federal law enforcement investigation.

Sheriff Baca had jail commanders make notes of the inmate complaints, which ranged from lack of medical care, problems with programs, length of visiting sessions and infrequency of showers. The session was open to the media.

I admire Sheriff Baca in his efforts to improve the operations of the jail.

Just a few observations if I may:

First: Inmate complaints should be listened to by officers. If they are frivolous, the inmates need to be told this. Jail officers should realize that nothing runs one hundred percent smoothly, especially a county jail. I worked in one. There were always operations, conditions and services that could be improved-including staff behavior at times. Inmates are not perfect-and neither are we. They are in our custody, and a responsibility for maintaining a well run jail comes with the job. Improving jail conditions requires teamwork from all staff sections and management. Don’t wait until grievances are flooding in, lawyers are calling the jail, the media is out in the jail lobby and families are complaining to the sheriff.

Second: I have heard this from the public and some staff: “They are in jail-too bad”. I believe that jails should be secure, strict and also humane. We pride ourselves on being a humane nation. Our nation’s jails do not have to be substandard.

Third: Watch the inmate “grandstander”. There are inmates who love the spotlight. If you want an idea what is going on in terms of improvement of conditions, seek out the quiet, low key, mature “just let me do my time” inmate. These inmates want to do their time, be left alone and either get released or be transferred to the prison system. If you do seriously listen to their complaints and take action and inform your supervisors, you gain credibility and improve your interpersonal relations with them.

Fourth: Some inmates are constant complainers and may gripe about frivolous matters. They are manipulative and think that their plight is horrible. You know that their record of conduct may not be a good one-behavior has consequences. They want to have a comfortable existence in the jail-on their terms. Let them know in a matter of fact way that their grievances and complaints are frivolous.

It is OK to listen to inmates: just use common sense.


“Sheriff Lee Baca listens to inmate complaints at town hall meeting”, by Rong-Gong Lin II, Los Angeles Times, at www.latimes.com, October 1, 2011.

Corrections.com author, Gary Cornelius, is an interim member on the Board of the International Association of Correctional Training Personnel (IACTP) representing local jails. He is also a member of ACA, AJA, and the American Association of Correctional and Forensic Psychology. In 2008, Gary co founded ETC, LLC, Education and Training in Corrections with colleague Timothy P. Manley, MSW, LCSW, Forensic Social Worker.

Visit the Gary Cornelius page

Other articles by Cornelius:


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  14. jamestown0509 on 04/02/2012:

    I think that communications with inmates is vital in corrections. You can send a cadet to corrections school for two years and they still will not learn how to effectively communicate with inmates until they are on the job, in the blocks. If you are talking you obviously are not listening and there is no communication if you don't listen first, analyze what the inmate said, repeat what they said back to them so they know you are listening and then formulate an answer. As you stated there are too many block inmates who are the spokesperson for the others. Its not always the biggest or strongest inmate either, it just is a personality thing. The other issue is officers who have no respect for inmates at all, seldom interact with inmates unless provoked and want to be left alone during their shift.

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