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Jail Officers - We Win!!
By Gary F. Cornelius, First Lt. (Retired)
Published: 10/08/2012

Checkmate-a Jail officer vs. inmate……… the “cat and mouse game” that is taking place every day in our nation’s jails. Frustrations can build on both sides of the bars. Often the jail correctional officer can think of other places and jobs that would be preferable to dealing with inmates who do not like the staff, do not want to be there and will do anything it seems to circumvent jail policies, procedures and security practices. We hear a lot about handling the stress and anger associated with a career in corrections. In my in service training classes I talk about how inmates use insults and condescending remarks to “push the buttons” of officers in attempts to get them to become angry. Being angry at the inmate may result in the officer losing control and acting unprofessional. Losing control means that anger, not reason, rules an officer’s actions.

This is dangerous. If an officer does not practice effective stress management, relax and vent out anger and frustration, the resulting actions can result in liability if the inmate is unjustly injured or the officer’s actions are viewed as cruel and unusual punishment.

I was asked by a jail deputy in one class if I had ever been taunted or had ‘stuff’ (we all know what that may include) thrown at me by an inmate. Yes, I have. Did I get mad? Yes I did. But-that did not give me the license to mistreat or brutalize inmates. We see examples in the news where correctional officers in jails and prisons have brutally mistreated inmates. I wonder and ask my classes why some officers seem to “snap”, forget their training and professional ethics and engage in such negative practices. Is it a question of wanting to get back at inmates? To show them who is boss? Several examples come to mind, and can be used with others by any correctional trainer and supervisor when discussing this topic:
  • In Oklahoma, a jail officer pleaded guilty for assaulting an inmate, falsifying records and lying to FBI investigators. Court documents stated that the officer sprayed the inmate with pepper spray and allowed a fellow inmate to punch him. The officer lied and said that the inmate was physically resisting the officers (Muskogee Phoenix, 2012).
  • In Mississippi, a jail officer received two life sentences plus 20 years for beating an inmate to death in 2006. The judge stated that the actions of the deputy “demonstrated a callous disregard for human life”. A clinical psychologist testified that the deputy suffered from post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The disorder impacted his reasoning and judgment (WLOX, 2012).

No matter how these cases are discussed in court, two officers’ lives and careers are ruined; one inmate is dead and another injured. The families of the officers and the inmates should not have to go through this ordeal. Neither should the citizens of the jurisdiction responsible for the operation of the jail. In the Mississippi case, a $150 million lawsuit was filed by the family of the deceased inmate against the county and the sheriff. A settlement was reached at $ 3.5 million. The insurance for the county covered $1 million, the remaining $2.5 million the county must borrow (Burton, 2012). Taxpayers do not like that.

Cases such as this can have a shattering impact on the morale of the jail staff. Narrow minded jail officers may think that inmates are sub human and deserve such treatment, thus ignoring the responsibility of the officers involved. Professional jail officers recognize such cases as wake up calls. If an officer goes “rogue” and brutalizes an inmate, he can be sued, any officers present can be sued, the agency supervisors can be sued and the publicity is not good.

But-another question arises: why do jail officers get so angry to the point that self control is lost? One veteran jail officer said to me in class that it is not up to us [jail officers] to judge them. When a jail officer loses control, goes rogue, brutalizes an inmate-he is assuming the role of judge, jury and executor of sentence. Yes-inmates disobey orders, step off the wall when they are being booked in, act aggressively toward staff, assault staff, “mouth off” and spew insults. But the officer’s job is to overcome resistance, protect staff and inmates and maintain security, safety and control-not to beat inmates while restrained or be so brutal that the inmate is hospitalized or dies. Officers must keep stress under control and not compromise their professionalism. If good officers are concerned about the bad-supervisors must be told and corrective action must be taken. Hopefully, by doing so, bad situations can be prevented.

All correctional officers in all types of facilities should have the mindset early in their careers that lawbreakers are judged by the courts and not by officers. Officers that violate both inmates’ constitutional rights and agency codes of conduct by using unnecessary and excessive force must be disciplined both by the agency and the courts. To keep this mindset at the forefront, I suggest one thing to remember when an officer reports for duty:

“You, the correctional officer, win.”

Win what? To understand that, you- the correctional officer- must understand that at the end of every shift you can walk out of the facility, go home, eat what you want, buy what you want, wear the clothes that you want, watch whatever you want on television, go to a movie, spend time with family-the possibilities are endless. If you are in a relationship you can spend quality time together, including intimacy. In other words-your quality of life will always be better than the inmate’s. By being incarcerated-they always lose. You always win. Enough said.

References:

Barton, Keith. (July 2, 2007). Harrison County Reaches Settlement in Williams Jail Beating Death Lawsuit. Gulf Coast News. www.gulfcoastnews.com (Accessed January 30, 2012).

Former jailer pleads guilty to assault of inmate. (May 17, 2012). Muskogee Phoenix. www.muskogeephoenix.com (Accessed May 19, 2012).

Former Jailer Ryan Teel Sentenced To Life in Prison. (November 1, 2007). WLOX. www.lawreport.org (Accessed April 13, 2012).

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:



Comments:

  1. stephanelombo on 10/19/2012:

    Before wearing the suit or the uniform of the job people fill.They are human first not some kind of perfect robot or cyborg that is all rationnal without any hint of emotion.That's why the team spirit and the commanding officer kicks in:the team should restrain the one who is "overexited" ,put him aside so he cools down.TO Avoid escalation is the main goal so a heavier force will not be necessary to be used.Some "wise"inmates should come in hand to calm the situation:some inmate might not respond to penentaciary officers command. It must a synergy. So calm and order can be restored. Mr.Stephane luako Lombo Kinshasa DRCONGO


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