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Power of Obligation
By Anthony Gangi
Published: 07/20/2015

Inmate jail There are no favors to be granted by an inmate to correctional staff. Favors are considered to be a key tactic used by the inmate population to foster obligation. Obligation is defined as an act or course of action to which a person is morally or legally bound; a duty or commitment. This definition listed above is the main reason why correctional staff is not in the business of giving and receiving favors. There is no time in our career in which we, as correctional staff, should feel that we are morally or legally bound to actions dictated by the inmate population that lies outside our prescribed roles. Feelings of obligation can lead to favors committed by staff that can jeopardize the safety and integrity of the agency in which we are employed. Obligation to an inmate can blind correctional staff and limit their ability to see the potential threat that a returned favor can produce.

If an inmate comes to your area and volunteers to help you, you need to ask yourself, "why?” What is this inmate expecting in return? If the word favor has been employed, you need to make that inmate aware that we, as correctional staff, are not in the business of giving or receiving favors. If the inmate is given an order to do something, then it becomes the inmate's responsibility to do it to the best of their means. There will be no sidebar in which the inmate tells staff, "I only go the extra mile for you and if there is anything else you need, don't hesitate to ASK". First off, we, as correctional staff, do not ask. Asking implies that the inmate has a choice to either say "yes" or "no" to your REQUEST. If that is the case, saying "yes" by the inmate can be interpreted as a favor being granted. Correctional staff must be made aware that you are to give your order in a professional manner in which respect is given, but there is no option within your order for a response that lies outside the affirmative. If correctional staff gives an order disguised as a request ("can you...."/"if you don't mind....."), then you are giving the inmate the opportunity to change your order into a favor being granted. By this standard, the inmate will be given the chance to employ a sense of obligation that can be used as a way to garner favors for susceptible staff members.

In closing, we are all aware of giving orders in a professional manner. Having said that, these are orders and should never be disguised as a request. Request, in essence, may make the inmate think they have a choice and, if that is the case, your granted request by the inmate population will be seen as a favor that may lead correctional staff into feelings of obligation.

For over twelve years, Anthony Gangi has worked in the correctional setting dealing with both male and female offenders. He served on the custody level and has moved through the ranks from line officer to supervisor and has also spent time as an instructor. His background in psychology has helped him to become a leading expert in inmate manipulation.

Anthony is also the host of "Tier Talk", a radio program that looks at corrections from an international level. You can catch "Tier Talk" on Saturday nights at 6 pm Eastern Standard Time on Spreaker. For more information regarding the show or other publications by Anthony, you can contact him at gangianthony@yahoo.com


  1. Luap on 07/22/2015:

    I believe it is a mistake to take away one of the basic rights of all humans, to be respectfully asked to do something. Inmates are not indentured servants, if we want them to become better people, show them the fruits of being better people. Everyone wants to be asked, no one wants to be ordered. The majority of Corrections staff know the difference between respect and coercion. Asking something if they can do something does not diminish one's power. There is a big difference between asking someone if they can perform a service and supplying power tools and sexual favors.

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