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The Twenty Minute Trainer: Watching Out for the Seniors
By Gary F. Cornelius, First Lt. (Retired)
Published: 03/13/2017

Old hands I was a programs director in two facilities in my department for many years. I was responsible for the supervision and training of volunteers who came into the jail. Some assisted with chaplain’s programs, some with tutoring inmates in educational programs and some ran substance abuse groups. I and the department appreciated them all; many were retired and did not have to spend their Golden Years coming into a jail. They performed a service-trying to help inmates see a better way to live, and making the facility climate for inmates a little more bearable.

We all have seniors in our families. Our parents get older, as do we, and we all see our aunts, uncles and grandparents at holidays and family reunions. We want the best for them-we do not like seeing them become forgetful and possibly being taken advantage of by ‘scam artists’ in the community. I am not saying that all seniors are forgetful or have dementia, but if a senior citizen is going to be a volunteer inside a corrections facility, there are some important things that he or she must remember. That’s the theme of this column.

The same watchfulness should be extended to the senior volunteers in our correctional facilities. They are not your relatives, but they perform valuable services for the institution. And-they have the support of sheriffs, wardens and superintendents. When these citizens have positive experiences inside the facility, they tell others and the department’s professional image is both recognized and enhanced.

How do we watch out for the seniors coming in as volunteers? The first thing to do is to recognize the value of their activities-giving inmates hope and showing them a positive role model. Second-we maintain open and clear two way communications with them. If a volunteer is concerned about an inmate, such as suspecting depression, he or she should feel comfortable enough to speak to a correctional officer (CO) about it. The CO should appreciate this information and realize that volunteers can be extra ‘eyes and ears’. Volunteers should not be treated with scorn and condescension.

Third-and in my view the most important-concerns COs watching out for senior volunteers. In training, all volunteers should have a sense of how the facility runs, and what to do in emergencies. Also, volunteers should get a clear, blunt condensed presentation in inmate manipulation. We look out for seniors in our families and in our neighborhoods, correct? Why not inside our corrections facilities?

I recently read an article by police officer Tony L. Jones, in the April, 2001 issue of Law and Order magazine titled “Protecting the Elderly: Inform Your Senior Citizens about Con Artists” . Written for police officers, it presents an excellent perspective about watching out for seniors in the community who may be vulnerable prey for con artists and scammers. As I read the article, I realized that I could relate several of Officer Jones’ points to the training of senior corrections volunteers.

  • First: seniors in the community must realize that there are ‘con artists’ out there and not everyone has goodness in them. Many people are not honorable and have little or no conscience. Through con games, lies and persuasive schemes criminals will persuade older people to give them money or do them favors-often resulting in the criminal coming out ahead and seniors taking a loss. Sound familiar? How many of you have had to instruct senior volunteers not to give inmates money or do favors for them-in violation of policies and security procedures? Jones describes criminals out to cheat and steal from seniors as “slick, crafty, greedy and very smart……often [striking] without the victim being aware until it is too late…and the fraud [or scheme] is not so easy to identify”. Any corrections veteran can easily compare this behavior to the inmate manipulator.
  • Second: Most criminals, including thieves, are lazy and detest hard work. They will target unwary and naïve people. They do not like sharp, well informed people who follow the rules. Sound familiar? Many inmate schemers want to do time comfortably, on their terms. This point must be emphasized over and over in volunteer training and supervision.
  • Third: Criminal tactics may be high pressure. In my book The Art of the Con: Avoiding Offender Manipulation, Second Edition, I discuss how staff-sworn and non-sworn-can defend themselves against the inmate manipulator. Many manipulators will ask over and over for favors, often tricking staff into breaking a rule and then using pressure to get the worker to do what they want-including contraband smuggling, running messages, escaping or having sex.
  • Fourth: To be successful at identity theft and con games, criminals must get personal information. All staff should be strongly advised to never, never never give personal information to an inmate, especially dates of birth, financial information, where they live, contact information, etc. And-never perform favors for an inmate or communicate with the inmate’s family or friends. If there is doubt on what to do, the volunteer should ask a CO, shift supervisor or a programs supervisor for direction.
  • Fifth: Training must take two tracks: In one track, all sworn and non-sworn staff must be well versed in how inmates manipulate and the methods they use. This requires both effective supervision and staff training-roll call, in-service, etc. Second-take that training and apply it when training volunteers. Use actual events such as the now infamous escape from the Clinton, New York state prison or the Baltimore jail scandal. You do not want to scare the volunteers away-but be clear that they must be on their guard, all of the time-and the facility staff will look out for them.
In closing, well trained volunteers are a resource. They have experience and can be a positive role model for inmates-but they must be trained on how to resist the inmate manipulator. And-we have to watch out for them-just as we do for the nice retired senior couple living next door.

Jones, Tony L. (April, 2001). Protecting the Elderly: Inform Your Senior Citizens about Con Artists. Law and Order, 102-106.

This article appears in the Spring, 2017 issue of The Correctional Trainer, the on line journal of the International Association of Correctional Training Personnel (IACTP). It appears with the permission of IACTP. To discover how IACTP can enhance and develop your training, please visit www.iactp.org.

Lt. Gary F. Cornelius served the field of corrections in the Fairfax County Sheriff's Office from 1978 until his retirement in 2005. He has more than 30 years of experience in law enforcement and corrections. Gary is active as a trainer and consultant for the National Institute of Justice, the American Jail Association, the American Correctional Association, and the International Association of Correctional Training Personnel (IACTP).


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  2. Mia Afia on 08/23/2019:

    I am inspired to read about Gary F. Cornelius career of teaching the prisoner in jail. I admire his talent and skills for giving his valuable lessons in just twenty minutes. It's good to Write Essays Online that he is helping the prisoners to do good things after released from prison.

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