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The Dos and Don’ts of Offender Warfare
By Carl ToersBijns, former deputy warden, ASPC Eyman, Florence AZ
Published: 04/27/2015

Prison wall We rarely think of prison management as warfare. We have called it many things but hardly ever, warfare. Taking into consideration in today’s increasingly overcrowded prison environment, it’s essential to have a solid strategy to ensure safety and control, while staying one step ahead of your offenders, prisoners, inmates or whatever you might call them these days.

Implementing “non-sanctioned strategies” to remain safe at all times requires an addition of a few mental steps in order to help you advantage in this kind of work. Prison work is after all is said, potentially dangerous, harmful to your health and unappreciated and noticed by anyone else on the outside. Make sure they are in compliance with existing post orders or policies and training.

Develop these strategies to protect yourself (and others) at work maximizing all areas of personal safety and security towards the goal of going home safely after each shift. This approach is more about focusing on you than the prisoners as there seems to be enough focus on them by other entities.

There are at least four ways that can be used to remain safe as a correctional employee. Offender warfare should include these elements to be safe at all times but can be adopted and adapted per your own needs. They are:
  1. Defensive – Most commonly used by the officer or employee to protect their position. Corresponding tactics include workplace efforts to shift the prisoner’s perception closer to their brand or style of communicating and doing their jobs.
  2. Offensive – this strategy is valuable for any officer holding his or her own in their favorite assignment or niche. Even if it lacks the resources to compete directly with the prisoners, offensive tactics can cause disruption to defensive concerns in the workplace.
  3. Flanking – officers who employ the Flanking strategy are attempting to capture or secure areas assigned not yet identified by the offender as vital to your safety. This may include introducing other officers to come and visit you while you are on your assignment keeping the population guessing on strength of numbers available to respond to an emergency.
  4. Guerrilla – Focuses on creativity and making a statements aka bluffing. Guerrilla tactics are used to get people talking about you, your work style and create awareness. This is accomplished through Ambush, Stealth, or Intrusive efforts to drop in on them unexpected or by surprise.
The strategy you choose to incorporate will depend on the size of your post, assigned area and what works best for you.

Here are a few dos and don’ts worth keeping in mind as you get started:

The Dos:

Do know your position in the workplace, shift hierarchy and command structure order, and post assignment. . This seems obvious but it’s easy to lose sight of where you stand within the “forest” and you are the “tree.” Even though the possibility of who they are and what their names are is nearly impossible with the overcrowding, you need to be sure to understand who they are and what they do.

Do study the moves of your offenders closely. Remember that you’re competing for more than you’re your own safety. See who they hang with and whether they are leaders or followers. Take a closer look at their dress, personality, characteristics, traits and moods– analyze the entire continuum of profiling a person so you can figure out who is who around you, and supervise them better.

Do speak those you identified as “shot callers” or leaders on the yard or housing units. . Regardless of the strategy you’re using, make sure to still get your message in front of the right audience and let them know who you are and what your principles are boldly.

Employees using a flanking strategy find this particularly challenging because it requires them to bring in other employees for support they may have never sought out in the past creating a new team concept while on shift. Ensure harmony and one voice is spoken on the team created.

Do focus on the added value your teamwork creates: this demonstrates strength and backs you up to show you can disrupt perception in the minds of many and show them they have a different choice or face consequences of being caught or disciplined for misconduct or criminal behaviors.

Do set clear measurements of achievement on each shift. Stay focused and be consistent. Don’t create a list of goals and objectives made-up or too difficult to attain success with daily. Keep it real.

The Don’ts:

Don’t go defensive if you’re not the lead person in charge. Unless you’re in the leader of the pack, the use of this tactic may appear forceful and slightly exaggerated to be used against all threats. Keep the presence and force proportional to your abilities, knowledge and skill level.

Don’t be afraid to think outside the box. Guerrilla warfare tactics have even been used and deemed successful in many instances. Think: Dare to be daring and bold but don’t overplay your capabilities. Remember what and who your resources are at all times. Communicate effectively.

Don’t attempt to use all strategies at once. Learn who your target is, how this mixing of tactics can make the most impact on them, then properly execute one of the four strategies accordingly. Make the unexpected routine and keep the population off balance of your thinking or surveillance patterns.

Don’t forget this is still (sort of) an unfriendly competition. This is not an opportunity to make personal attacks on these offenders and publicly take unnecessary shots at their presence. This requires humility when exercising authority or power. Otherwise respect become disrespect.

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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