I like the oldies-being the old guy that I am…..I have always liked The Lettermen’s-‘Goin Out of My Head’. What does that have to do with corrections? Read on!
I teach in service academy classes for jail officers, and I discuss subjects such as negative staff, avoiding liability and maintaining boundaries. I have discussed recent news events about corrections officers (COs) ranging from firings in Florida due to excessive force to mistreatment of mentally ill inmates to officers falsifying records. I have discussed sleeping on duty and sexual misconduct with inmates. There are times when I wish that I did not have to teach such about such topics…..these are correctional officers that have taken an oath to uphold the law and not to violate the public trust, and then violated that same oath, right?
Let’s put aside the big news events of recent months such as the Baltimore Detention Center, Riker’s Island and the Florida Department of Corrections.
I went to my library and found three news articles where the phrase ‘goin out of my head’ seems to apply to some (and certainly not all) corrections officers. Most COs are professional, conscientious, have integrity and character and are proud of the uniform that they wear.
Let’s look at several that maybe “went out their heads”:
And this one tops the aforementioned two-
- In 2012, a 26 year old jail detention officer pleaded guilty of assaulting an inmate and then covering the incident up. He pleaded guilty in federal court to civil rights violations, using excessive force, making false statements to the FBI and falsifying official records. Court documents stated that he sprayed the inmate with pepper spray while the inmate was in a restraint chair and was not considered a physical threat to the officer. Also, according to court records, the officer did this in retaliation for the inmate ‘bothering’ him. Then the officer lied-falsifying his report, a colleague’s report and lying to FBI agents. He said the inmate was physically resisting, not fully restrained and posed a threat. In addition to all of this-he allowed another inmate to punch the restrained inmate, telling him to ‘go in there and do what you gotta do’.*
- In 2012, two federal corrections officers were charged in separate incidents with smuggling contraband into a correctional facility and bribery. One officer-in exchange for cash payouts and store valued cards-was charged with smuggling the synthetic drug “spice”, a cell phone and tobacco. The other officer allegedly smuggled in-for cash-cell phones, tobacco, a lighter and a music player. **
Assaulting inmates in violations of the law, excessive force, lying, cover ups, taking bribes, smuggling contraband and “dance contests”….how can jails and correctional facilities function if some people who wear the badge behave either as bad as the inmates or like bullies on a school playground? Hopefully conscientious correctional officers and supervisors-and they make up the majority of the corrections workforce- can both spot these officers and discipline or terminate them before things get more out of hand. They must-if the corrections profession is to maintain any sense of professionalism and earn and maintain the public’s trust.
- A jail deputy was fired in 2012 for ordering jail inmates to dance to a song by Usher. In doing so, the inmates could use a phone or have the unit microwave returned. He was fired for mistreating inmates and possessing a cell phone inside the facility. Reportedly, he placed inmates in a disciplinary unit and used the cell phone to play the music; some inmates had to do a ‘bump and grind’ while others did the ‘worm’ or the ‘robot’. One inmate said that in order to use a phone to contact family members about a death in the family, he had to dance the ‘robot’. Another inmate felt ‘humiliated’ when he was forced to dance in front of fellow inmates. The deputy, 35 years old and an 8 year veteran, removed the unit microwave after inmates ignored orders to go into their cells for lockup. The deputy said that if they danced, the inmates could get out of lockup and have the microwave returned to the unit. He also allegedly threated an inmate with ‘going to the hole’ for not dancing for a full minute to his (deputy’s) approval. The deputy said that he was only trying to relieve tension in the jail, admitted that his actions were wrong and he had not planned to have the “dance contest”. To make matters worse-investigations indicated that other deputies observed the dancing and some maybe were acting as lookouts. Some inmates were laughing, apparently enjoying the festivities. ***
Did any of these correctional officers “go out of their heads” and throw their careers away?
You make the call.
* Former jailer pleads guilty to assault of inmate. (May 17, 2012). Muskogee Phoenix, www.muskogeephoenix.com, Accessed May 19, 2012.
** Rubenfeld, Samuel. (June 26, 2012). 2 Prison Guards Indicted on Bribery, Smuggling Charges. The Wall Street Journal, www.blogs.wsj.com (Accessed September 18, 2013).
*** Franko, Kantele. (May 4, 2012). Ohio deputy fired for making inmates dance. Associated Press. PoliceOne News, www.policeone.com (Accessed September 18, 2013).
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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