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A Correctional Officer’s Challenge; Does Abuse or Neglect lead to Violence?
By Carl ToersBijns, former deputy warden, ASPC Eyman, Florence AZ
Published: 06/04/2012

Lawbook woodengavell It has been alleged that the riot at the Mississippi CCA prison was caused by officer’s or systematic “abuses and neglect” by the organization and its employees. Not wanting to get into this allegation without any evidence to support either side, I wrote an article related to those issues within a jail or prison where officers put their lives on the line for the sake of “public safety and trust” whether public or private, the challenge is the same.

Correctional and detention officers have a tremendous challenge while doing their jobs inside a large jail or prison. Their role is to balance the needs of the public [society] and those of jail or prisoners entitled to basic civil and human rights treatment under the color of law. Hired on to protect the inmates from harm either from themselves or others, it has become more evident that this role is often compromised by cultural interference and barriers that has changed the “tolerance levels” experienced by officers while doing their jobs.

We have already established lawful conduct by doing what is written by law, policy and customs and traditions empowered by these written guidance to enforce all rules fairly and with due process. This is an expectation of all officers to follow.

Simple put, a correctional officer may abuse or neglect a prisoner in many different ways. The most common are: sexual abuse, psychological abuse (taunting), physical abuse (excessive force etc), neglect by withholding those basic rights given by law and the failure to acknowledge or report an assault whether physical or sexual in nature.

In defense of some of these actions, there are factors not often brought to the light when it comes to correctional officer misconduct or alleged misconduct. Many of these factors are well beyond the practical or realistic controls of the officers and lay somewhere between upper management decision making and the ability to provide the proper resources and necessary supply of staff / tools to these officers.

There are also circumstances where these officers are put in a catch 22 situations by their supervisors or managers who “moralize” these high levels of tolerance approach and attitudes that endorse such conduct on a daily basis.

Their re-enforcement of such practices along with suggestions (tacit approval) or their refusal to correct such conduct (code of silence), leads to more violence and most likely injuries (or death) to either the prisoners or the officers engaged in these violent behaviors inside the jail or prison.

This is where the culture prevents better relationships to exist where these officers and prisoners can communicate and exchange appropriate environmental needs to resolve their issues. It has been revealed that in most cases, certain officers, not always a majority but a few spread out on different shifts or units to be effective to a large degree, can and do abuse their authoritative powers and mistreat prisoners thinking it is the right thing to do under circumstances mentored or empowered by those who trained them, supervised them or hired them for the job.

It is likely these flaws can be traced back to the organizational hiring practices, training, their background checks, the lack of thorough psychological testing, and ins some cases, their obvious sense of authority (with a badge) over the rest of the persons in their care and the fact that management appears to be condoning such misconduct as normal and routine. What often exists within such a High Tolerance Institutional Culture is the lack of consequences or disciplinary actions taken when such a cultural approach is taken and therefore, a sign for other officers that what they are doing is approved by those in charge.

Unfortunately for those officers who do good work, those officers who commit or engage in wrongdoings were trapped while engaged in the acts of abuse or neglect by not co-workers reporting the incident but rather they were results of being observed, taped or reviewed under the scrutiny or observation of surveillance cameras and other electronic devices that record such activity and are difficult to control once retrieved and reviewed. This can be contributed to the fear of retaliations and ostracizing by fellow officers, if labeled a snitch or a rat on other officers.

Thus the challenge to the officer’s dilemma is to break this vicious cycle of abuse and neglect through the development of a safe environment where speech and reports are allowed without repercussions of intimidation or fear of being punished or harassed causing severe humiliation and eventual discharge of the job, either voluntary or involuntary because of peer pressure and cultural banishment tools.

It is with high hopes this article of awareness that prisoners do have basic civil rights and are granted by law both dignity and humane treatment while incarcerated and that those officers who have sworn an oath to protect and serve the public do so accordingly by their laws, their policies and by their adopted customs and traditions that has made corrections a profession and not just a job.

It is also hoped and realized by those reading this chronicle that there are sound correctional practices in place in most jails and prisons and if management and supervisors endorse those practices and avoid deviating for personal reasons such as biases, opinions etc. then other officers will fall in line and get the job done the way it was designed lawfully and reduce violence in the workplace through fostering a safer way to do business and through open communication from the top to the bottom and from the bottom to the top..

Editor’s note: Carl ToersBijns (retired), worked in corrections for over 25 yrs He held positions of a Correctional Officer I, II, III [Captain] Chief of Security Mental Health Treatment Center – Program Director – Associate Warden - Deputy Warden of Administration & Operations. Carl’s prison philosophy is all about the safety of the public, staff and inmates, "I believe my strongest quality is that I create strategies that are practical, functional and cost effective."

Other articles by ToersBijns:



Comments:

  1. BrokenSystem on 06/27/2012:

    I have seen that yes, there are a few good DOC officer's that strive for balance within the system, but more often than not I have seen DOC officers that like to continually poke at inmates with a big stick just itching for a response. They are the ones that chose this line of work to try to hide their massive ego's and mean streaks behind a badge. Unfortunately, we ALL pay a price for that, not just the inmates!


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