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Correctional Officers ~ Understanding the Sociopath
By Carl ToersBijns, former deputy warden, ASPC Eyman, Florence AZ
Published: 06/17/2013

Personality disorder The purpose of this article is to examine the influences, impact and consequences of supervising a prisoner that has been tagged to be a sociopath. Officers need to learn the different reasons, motives and causes for their behaviors and anticipate their every move. In addition officers must realize how their behavior may be cause to be a concern for them as well as others around those who are sociopaths. They can upset the environment through subtle but destructive forces in the manner your housing unit is acting or perhaps plotting schemes or other misconduct.

Getting away from the Jodi Arias murder trial there appears to be a fascination about sociopaths. Working inside the SMU II unit for several years and bringing in my 25 years of experience working with convicted felons many exhibited behaviors that are most interesting from an officer’s point of view and draws you in to see if you can understand their motive, their relationship and their cause a little bit better so you can have insight how to manage their behaviors or supervise them. In all reality, they make interesting things happen on your shift and you must be prepared to respond to them in the manner trained and not in the manner suggested by the manipulating sociopath.

Make no bones about it you have accepted a most difficult challenge trying to understand these kind of people. However, due to the nature of your job you must learn to maintain control with such individuals as the entire safety of the shift hinges on how you manage these problematic individuals yet treat them the same as others. One red flag or warning sign is their persistence to talk to you and only you when other officers can accommodate their needs under their care just the same. Supervisors beware.

The first danger of working with sociopaths is their ability to draw you into their world. In their own subtle but effective ways, they influence you into their beliefs that can in fact be malicious in nature but innocent up front. It’s not to say they are malicious or a threat to you but rather they are a danger to the environment for many reasons that are often hidden and manipulated to suit their needs rather than others. I have seen sociopaths act out violently when you don’t give them what you want and I have seen them become extremely passive aggressive and pass the request to another more willing to help than me.

The second danger is they may show feelings but in fact may have little feelings at all for you or others. They are always focused on themselves and not so much as others unless they can get you to do something you aren’t supposed to do. Hence it is their intentions are selfish and dangerous and needs your full awareness.

The third danger is spending too much time with a sociopath(s) as it can alter your thinking and decision making patterns. They will attempt to creep into your world and carry on a legitimate conversation to keep your interest. Keep in mind they are only thinking of themselves thus making you expendable and unimportant to them. They will” take you out” if given the opportunity is provided. When I say they “will take you out” it could mean losing your credibility, your reputation, your job or your life. The continuum is endless for a determined sociopath set out to rock your world.

The fourth danger of being around a sociopath inside prison is their sense of entitlement that is fueled by either rage or anger towards something or somebody. This entitlement is masked by outgoing personality characteristics that resemble a pleasant and easy way to talk to attitude as well as demonstrating a charming exterior. For a sociopath there are no limits in ambitions and everything is game to make it a more interesting situation as you must be aware and remember nothing is off limits.

The final danger is to stay alert and pay attention to patterns that allows them more movement or in some cases more seclusion. Being out of sight may give them opportunities to create misconduct or other type of malice. They deliberately want you to ignore them in order to facilitate their designed ploy or activity. On the other hand, too much movement gives them opportunities to scope out the environment, observe logistics, personnel and as well as strengths and weaknesses of your prison layout. Don’t accommodate this individual’s requests to be either left alone or to move them around. There is a reason for doing so and in most cases; consistency in best correctional practices will suffice their attempts to manipulate you and the environment around them.

Complacency will be their strongest ally while incarcerated at your prison.

References: Published on April 2, 2013 by Seth Meyers, Psy.D. in Insight Is 20/20

Ferguson, C. (2010).Genetic Contributions to Antisocial Personality and Behavior. Journal of Social Psychology, 150 (2), 160-180.

Stout, M. (2005) The Sociopath Next Door. Crown.

Corrections.com author, Carl ToersBijns, (retired), has 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."

Other articles by ToersBijns:


  1. Fred Davis on 06/19/2013:

    Sociopathic behavior is rooted in resentment, Passive aggressive behavior can "appear" as "nice". The etymological origin of the word nice means "foolish or ignorant". The sociopath is neither foolish nor ignorant. The real dangerous people are those of the "nurse" types or those that think they can help. These are the enablers. Sociopaths make great politicians. They also can sell used cars and new medications that can have horrible side effects. Many suicides are exacerbated by the use of medical drugs which inhibit pain and thus inhibit real healing.

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