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Cops and Correctional Officers - Public Servants at Risk
By Carl ToersBijns, former deputy warden, ASPC Eyman, Florence AZ
Published: 07/18/2016

Violence gun

Times have changed for the worst rather than the better. Physical assaults and intimidation factors have increased and threatens the workplace with more violence from either the inside or the outside of your workplace. Dealing with violence in your life is an important issue you cannot ignore today. Let’s visit the statistics and you will not only see the volatility trend, but more likely, you will experience it personally and up close at one time or another.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), indicates that healthcare and public service workers face a significant risk of job-related violence. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), 27 out of the 100 fatalities in the healthcare and social services industries in 2013 were due to assaults and violent acts. In addition, 70-74 per cent of all workplace assaults occurred in the healthcare and social service industries and assaults comprised 10-11 per cent of workplace injuries involving days away from work for healthcare workers.

Like it or not, police officers and prison employees act as proxy social workers within the criminal justice system or work in direct support of these assigned functions. They are all focused on the same mission – Rehabilitation & Recidivism – thus they put forth all efforts on the treatment and rehabilitation of prisoners in order to avoid recidivism by managing their caseloads that are overwhelming in numbers. This can include drug and alcohol treatment, mental health counseling, behavior modification, and skills development for positive living on the outside. Their presence for assisting such programs is endless.

As an officer, you may be directly or indirectly, involved in ensuring these prisoners get the proper attention for medical or mental health needs, or help inmates get into a job training or prison work program, based on their progress during rehabilitation. Prison employees, often engage with a mandate or legitimate manifestation to ensure they get the proper medical, legal, and substance abuse problems that are either court ordered or required for their incarceration programing.

The list is endless as well as the challenges they present for these employees. There is also the opportunity to help prisoners make a successful transition back into the community by arranging for the necessary social services such as housing, family reunification, and continuing mental health treatment. The list is endless and often misunderstood by the public who have no clue what a prison employee does to facilitate the prisoners’ needs.

Another facet of the job is the close relationship between community police and parole officers - Some prison workers are able to make a successful career move into the role of parole officer from a correctional officer’s persona. Parole officers work with newly released prisoners to help them find and keep a job, endure treatment, and otherwise make positive changes that will keep them out of jail. In addition, they also carry a caseload of probationers who need constant or intermittent supervision.

Work-related assaults and other incident of workplace violence primarily result from violent behavior from those who receive key social service, in or out of prison. If employees work with people who have a history of violence or who have abused drugs or alcohol, they may be at increased risk for workplace violence. Working side by side with cops in our community, there are also increased risk factors that need to be addressed. They are: working with volatile, unstable people; transporting patients, residents or clients incarcerated or under supervision; working alone in a special needs facility; lack of emergency communication; working late shifts at night or early morning hours; working in poorly lit buildings, long abandoned corridors, areas, rooms, and parking lots, working in areas with high crime rates; the availability of firearms and weapons at the home of the client or offender on supervision, long waits for care and services that creates frustration and anger and overcrowded or uncomfortable waiting rooms with low security available.

This bring on the importance of management commitment and worker participation in developing and maintaining an effective violence prevention program. Ensuring that both management and employees are involved in the creation and operation of a workplace violence program and that both participate in regular meetings/training is the key to making it work.

Agencies should perform a job hazard analysis to identify specific tasks or jobs that may put your employees at risk, giving priority to those that require administering medicine and transferring patients or residents. Also, conducting employee surveys to assist in identifying potential risks may be helpful. Making sure those on the front lines are uniquely equipped to be cognizant and articulate the risks they face and the dangerous behavior they encounter most often. Here are some elements that should be part of your workplace violence program:
  1. maintain a system of accountability for involving managers, supervisors, and workers
  2. establish a comprehensive program of medical and psychological counseling and debriefing of workers who have experienced or witnessed assaults and other violence incidents
  3. ensure that trauma-informed care is available
  4. establish policies for reporting, recording and monitoring of any incidents
Implement physical control measures to prevent or reduce workplace violence including:
  1. physical barriers (such as enclosures or officers /guards) or door locks
  2. metal detectors panic buttons or silent alarms better
  3. additional lighting
  4. more accessible exits
  5. closed circuit videos
  6. parabolic mirrors glass panels in doors/walls
  7. lockable bathrooms, staff counseling and treatment rooms
  8. communicate with staff about violent history or new incidents treat and interview aggressive or agitated patients in relatively open areas
  9. a buddy system when personal safety may be threatened provide responsive
  10. timely information to people waiting for updates or care
  11. implement sign-in procedures for all visitors and guests
  12. use properly trained security officers and counselors to respond to aggressive behavior
  13. have contingency plans to treat clients who are being aggressive or are making verbal or physical threats or attacks.
Reference: Timothy Dimoff, President, SACS Consulting & Investigative Services, Speaker, Trainer, Corporate Security Expert

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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