|Attacking Civilians in Correctional Facilities|
|By Gary F. Cornelius, First Lt. (Retired)|
Correctional institutions are dangerous places. This is a basic statement of fact and is plain to understand by anyone who works inside a jail, prison or juvenile center. Many offenders are locked up for dangerous crimes. When I retired, someone asked me what I learned from a 27 year jail career. The first thing I recall saying was that “nothing surprises me”. In a correctional facility, offenders or inmates are charged or convicted of various crimes and exhibit at times dangerous behavior. We know this.
Sworn staffs in correctional facilities are task oriented-we perform headcounts, searches, checks, and are always on the lookout for security breaches. Non-sworn staff-including counselors, chaplains’ staff, teachers and volunteers know that the facility houses dangerous people. They are more service oriented and depend on sworn correctional officers to keep them safe. They want to help by being positive role models for inmates and helping the inmates who want to change turn their lives around. As a jail programs director, I admired civilians, paid and volunteers alike, who choose to come into a jail, a juvenile detention center or a prison to help offenders, rather than conducting their activities outside in the much safer community.
The safety of all staff who works inside a correctional facility is a critical priority. The recent attack in January, 2014 by an inmate on a teacher in an Arizona correctional facility should be discussed at roll calls, during shifts, at supervisor’s meetings, in correctional officer basic and in service training sessions in every corrections academy and at training sessions for non-sworn correctional staff. A recent news report (www.presstv.ir, 2014) states that the teacher has filed a $4 million dollar lawsuit against the Arizona Department of Corrections (DOC). This is a headache that all corrections staff, especially the correctional staff of the Arizona DOC does not need. Correctional officers are professionally trained and conscientious workers, including those in the Arizona DOC. This tragic event could have been prevented, and we all should strive to learn from it.
While this case has resulted in a lot of publicity and questions as to why a convicted rapist was in the educational program and his classification level inside the facility, I would like to concentrate on some basic principles where safety of civilians are concerned. The problems about procedures, staff operations and classification at the Arizona facility will be addressed in court and in internal audits and investigations. According to two news articles about the attack and the lawsuit, the following facts were reported (www.presstv.ir, 2014, Christie, 2014):
The DOC has initiated steps such as officers carrying pepper spray and more frequently checking on civilians. A DOC spokesman said that the inmate suspect bears the responsibility for this “despicable act”. He also said that prisons are dangerous places and staffs are trained accordingly. According to him, not having an officer inside classrooms or in the nearby area “follows accepted corrections practices nationwide” (Christie, 2014).
This was met with criticism from Professor Carolyn Eggleston of California State University at San Bernardino, a former prison teacher and now director of the university’s Correctional and Alternative Education Program. She states that the DOC’s view is not consistent with standards and that correctional officers should always be present, counting offenders as they leave classes and being in close proximity to monitor programs and render aid to the teachers (Christie, 2014).
This attack is a bad situation. Civilians in facilities, either paid or volunteers are depending on correctional officers to keep them safe. They perform valuable and cost saving services: maintenance, food service, medical, educational classes, religious programs, substance abuse counseling programs, mental health counseling and mentoring. There is a need for their activities; some inmates do benefit, and the mood among offenders in the facility may be more positive. Civilians must be comfortable in knowing that the correctional officers-from agency senior supervisors to mid management down to the squad level-are all watching out for their safety.
I have some suggestions on how to deal with this problem. If you are reading this and your agency has taken a proactive approach to civilian safety and are adapting any of these, I congratulate you.
I realize that correctional facilities are short staffed. Offenders should see a very mobile staff making frequent patrols focusing on staff welfare and security. It is a challenge, but being on your feet and walking around a lot is better than a multi-million dollar lawsuit being filed because a civilian was attacked or needed help and there was no one to assist.
As a former jail programs director, I realize that the risk of assaults by offenders will never be eliminated, but it can be reduced. The importance of keeping our civilian personnel safe is critical. Civilians do not have to work inside a correctional facility with the types of offenders that COs deal with day after day. They do not receive the academy training that sworn staff receives. They can work, mentor and help people outside in the community if they choose. But they have decided to help us and offenders who want to change. Civilians who come into a jail, prison or juvenile detention center should have our thanks, our ongoing respect, and our pledge to keep them safe.
Arizona prison teacher files $4mn for being raped in classroom. July 18, 2014. Presstv, www.presstv.ir (Accessed July 21, 2014).
Christie, Bob. June 20, 2014. Details in Attack on Teacher in Arizona Prison. Associated Press. Officer.com www.officer.com (Accessed July 21, 2014).
Corrections.com author, Lt. Gary F. Cornelius retired in 2005 from the Fairfax County (VA) Office of the Sheriff, after serving over 27 years in the Fairfax County Adult Detention Center. He conducts corrections in service training sessions and has taught corrections classes at George Mason University since 1986. Gary’s books include The Art of the Con: Avoiding Offender Manipulation, Second Edition (2009) from the American Correctional Association and The Correctional Officer: A Practical Guide, Second Edition (2010) from Carolina Academic Press.
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