|Tales From the Local Jail: Question Authority
|By Gary F. Cornelius, First Lt. (Retired)
In retirement, you keep on learning. In putting a training class together, I like to research through print and on line the events that are happening in our nation’s jails and prisons. I tell my classes that “Nothing surprises me”; I learn every day. I am going to talk about three escapes from custody that are surprising for several reasons: daring, ingenuity and unfortunately-staff mistakes. Hence the title-but I will get to that later. First, let’s look at three escapes:
Those of us who have worked inside correctional facilities know that inmates have the energy and intelligence to try to escape. But as a veteran correctional officer I could not help but wonder if these inmates took advantage of staff complacency; maybe thinking that the staff did not question enough their own authority.
What I mean is this: the correctional officer is the backbone, the foundation of any security system inside a correctional facility, no matter what the custody level or type of housing. In these cases, the inmates had the opportunity and the time to get away. They took advantage of short staffing and apparently, staff complacency. I am not saying that these officers did not do their jobs well or are incompetent. What I am saying that custody is a constant ‘cat and mouse’ game, and officers always have to think of ways to perform the task of security more effectively. Wiggling through a food slot and exhausting oneself in an escape attempt takes advantage of staff not being around, or not ‘nosy’ enough to frequently check areas in the facility. I do not believe that all inmate escapes can be prevented-but I shudder to think of the possible IQs of some inmates that try. But we must do what we can to prevent escapes. Think of both the chagrin of the staff and the disgust from the public if inmates pull one over on officers in your facility and escape, especially taking all night to do it.
If an inmate had all night to try to break out of a correctional facility, then both supervisors and line staff must reexamine how the task of security is accomplished. It begins with self-examination. All staff must, in a sense, question their authority. They should ask questions, such as:
The three escape stories posted in this blog have one thing in common: Correctional staffs were not present enough or not attentive enough. Inmates knew this and used it to their advantage. After an escape, supervisors can say that maybe it was due to short staffing, officer fatigue or flaws in the security system. No matter what reason is given, correctional staff must be innovative, find more effective ways to do the job, and often have to ‘do more with less’. The men and women who work inside our nation’s correctional institutions are deserving of our support and respect. We all should put our heads together-from the top management down to the squad level-and think of how to do the job better.
Question your authority-question how you do your job. Make the necessary changes or adaptations. The facility-your bread and butter, the place that pays the bills and to who the public places its trust-may run more efficiently.
Associated Press. (March 8, 2007). Skinny inmate escapes through food slot. Pantagraph.com, http://www.pantagraph.com, Accessed March 15, 2007.
McNamara, Ann. (September 28, 2012). Inmate says escape was a ‘piece of cake’. WAVY, http://www.wavy.com, Accessed January 8, 2013.
Zaitz, Les. (January 24, 2014). The Oregonian. CorrectionsOne News, http://www.correctionsone.com, Accessed January 24, 2014.
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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