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Correctional Officers – Detrimental Reliance
By Carl ToersBijns, former deputy warden, ASPC Eyman, Florence AZ
Published: 10/06/2014

Correctionsofficer Correctional officers have a very stressful and highly demanding job. They are expected by legal and moral obligations to do their jobs the best they can and deliver what, to the employer they work for, is a judicious performance of their assigned duties and responsibilities. There are diminutive misunderstandings in this occupation as to what the role is and how it fits into any organization. The role is defined.

Anyone who puts on the uniform and badge knows this role is the ultimate expectation when they hired on. So how well are these officers able to perform their duties in order to meet their distinct employer’s expectations? To what degree do they satisfy them or the public? When do they fail in this challenge of managing and supervising the most difficult offenders, convicted felons, in regards to every law on the books?

Let us look at their expectation first. Detrimental reliance is a term commonly used to make another person or group of persons perform under a contract or statement of understanding. The contract is the controlled statement of understanding when hired and the officer agrees to perform these duties under his or her oath under law and moral expectations.

First off, no employee is forced to perform this job. They hire on voluntarily and learn about their expectations and role during orientation and training. There are clear guidelines of the role to be performed as well as the necessary tools to get them done. Thus the word “make” implies their duty call and perform the job as intended.

This is commonly referred to as conditions of employment which entails various policies and procedures, human resource rules, operational and logistical goals and objectives and the overall mission statements. There are other elements of this concept but basically the spheres of control lies on the employer.

One would agree, in a perfect world, the officer would have no problem delivering the conditions of employment if all elements of this spheres of control and responsibilities are balanced, intact and available to the officers. Hence there is a tacit promise made by the agency to provide such conditions to facilitate the successful delivery of services rendered or promised. Every employee expects this from their bosses.

However, corrections officers don’t work in a perfect world. Every day they are assaulted, short staffed, fatigued, and exposed to some of the most toxic human behaviors of this part of the detention or prison world. Prisons are taxing budgets and cuts are common making this world more and more volatile for the officers and the jails and prisons they work in.

There are factors that require adjustments and none are coming any time soon. They are in fact, working in a flawed and poisoned environment filled with biohazards and contaminated elements which are distributed by closed air delivery systems incubating exposures to cancer causing / respiratory risks while enduring the assignment of working with limited equipment in good working order or availability. The list is long and the officers endure such adversity voluntarily.

This is basically the world they work in which includes random or sporadic situations of poor communications, first and mid-level supervisory staff or inadequate management practices.

When the agency fails to keep the promise made at a point conditions of employment are so deteriorated they cause failure, whose fault is it when the officers fall short of their performance expectations and goals?

If the officer relies on these promises which were reasonable and foreseeable in an industry such as this whose responsibility is it when these officers don’t meet the agency’s mission statement or operational goals? We know that the usual manner of examining failures are handled from the top to the bottom and the blame or point of failure is usually found at the bottom. This is how the prison culture works.

The fact is, agency leaders have a legal and moral responsibility to provide officers hired under these conditions of employment the necessary tools, training and supervision to do the job according to their own expectations. Anything less is a broken promise. They need to be held to the same level of responsibility and control as the officers. This is not happening and demoralizing staff.

This reflexive and perpetual reliance on this promise to keep the public safe, to protect staff from unnecessary harms and to provide a safe and secure work environment is a reasonable and mandatory condition of their promise to deliver the agency’s mission statement. It should be honored and kept intact so the officers are given the tools and support they need to do their jobs.

Taking all factors into consideration, the corrections officer may suffer harm or find severe life-threatening inadequacies in their duty to deliver their end of the promise to do the job according to hiring conditions implied or written when hired. There should be nothing more binding that the mutual promise between employer and employee to keep that promise.

There is nothing more important than the officers’ reliance on the agency’s spirit of cooperation, understanding, provision and implementation to assure the promise they made to the public, to the communities and to their employees are kept.

It is reasonable for officers to take whole responsibility for doing their assigned jobs with the known the stipulation their employers take the same level of responsibility to provide them with the administrative support, operational and logistic commitment and the clear and concise communication to ensure the job as described gets done.

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. Carl’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:



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