|Correctional Officers – Who’s in Charge?|
|By Carl ToersBijns, former deputy warden, ASPC Eyman, Florence AZ|
As a correctional officer there should be basic rules of understanding between you and the prisoner.
The first rule is to establish who is in charge. Although outnumbered sometimes two hundred to one, there are simple rules addressed to establish or claim a sense of dominance and authority role in this setting. How you deal with a prisoner is purely situational and must be quickly understood in the manner you deliver your message and knowledge of knowing the rules as well. This does not need to be a formal disciplinary session as most prisoners know the rules better than you thus its important that you set the foundation of your expectations, tolerance levels and who is in charge.
The second rule is what you will and what you wont tolerate under your supervision in this environment. You must send a stern message you will not tolerate horseplay or fighting or anything else that hurts others. You will insist that all under your supervision follow the safety rules and avoid bullying or extorting others of their property or items because they are weaker physically or mentally impaired.
The third rule is based on the traditional approach and response principle that will determine working relationships and how mutual respect is maintained. The officer must insists that the attitudes must disappear while talking to him or her and enforce mutual respect to pay attention to what is said and what is being directed to be done. In other words, you will insist compliance with your directives and commands.
Rule number four is the respect for other people’s property and things. Showing you will not tolerate disrespect and breaking of other people’s property or things is the quickest way to maintain boundaries of your values and expectations. Teaching them individual responsibility for their own actions is the key to teaching them how to get along with others.
Rule number five is very important in your professional relationship with these incarcerated individuals. It is likely they have already established patterns of deception and lie constantly but as an officer you must warn them that making false statements to them will result in disciplinary action and consequences that will impact their loss of privileges and freedom of movement and programming. Officers should advocate corrective action on minor matters and make critical decisions how to handle such problems on the spot. It may be indicative of another problem or hidden agenda.
The sixth and final rule of who is in charge is to discourage playing you off to the other officers and allow the prisoner to resort to blaming other staff or prisoners to account for their own behaviors and making excuses. In the case of a difference of opinion, you set the rules and insist on compliance and then recognize that this is something you will discuss with your supervisor or co-workers from another shift or area. Don’t let them paint you in a corner to change your decision making and don’t fall for this game as it is played to manipulate a desired outcome that is often not productive or safe.
Being in charge requires the help and support of your supervisor and others that work with you. Consistency is the key to compliance and it all comes down to effective communication in an environment where compliance is rule one and carried out by the correctional officer in charge.
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. Car’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."
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