|Tales From the Local Jail: Oh Great! Another Ethics Class!!|
|By Gary F. Cornelius, First Lt. (Retired)|
As sure as the sun comes up every morning, corrections veterans know that when there is a serious case of staff misconduct, such as contraband smuggling, sex with inmates, etc., there will be a push for ethics training. Some corrections officers (COs) think that ethics training is a waste of time-after all, they have never been in trouble. But they cannot brush aside the fact that some veteran corrections officers with many years on the job commit unethical acts. Those are the ones that we read about or see on the local news. And when a CO is fired for bringing a cell phone in to give to an inmate, or is caught taking payoffs to smuggle drugs-it makes all of us look bad. The public-and they do pay our salaries, wonder “Is this that what goes on in the jail that I pay taxes for?”
So-let’s talk about ethics. COs, as part of their subculture, abide by the “CO Code”-those unwritten guidelines handed down from the veteran COs to the ‘rookies’. There are formal ethics-such as the department’s code of conduct policy. And then there are informal ethics-The CO Code. This code, for the most part, keeps a CO safe. But it has to be looked at and applied in a realistic way.
The following excerpt is included with permission from Carolina Academic Press:
Proper ethics are taught in training academies, at roll calls, and at in-service training. The correctional officer is aware of the agency’s general order on the code of conduct. How to properly act is taught, and then the correctional officer enters the institution and has to work with many different correctional officers. An informal correctional officer’s code has developed. Some of the tenets of this code are common sense and emphasize security. But some, while meaning well, may have a negative impact. M.A. Farkas in 1997 conducted extensive research on this code. The eight main tenets of the informal correctional officer’s code are as follows:
The new correctional officer is told by the [veteran] correctional officer to forget what he saw. If he does, he is backing the correctional officer’s illegal assault. Unfortunately, if he reports the act to his supervisor, he may be labeled a “back stabber.” It’s a tough call, but it is always advisable to report wrongdoing and not give “tacit” approval to correctional officers who act wrongly.
Cornelius, Gary F. (2017). The Correctional Officer: A Practical Guide, Third Edition. Durham, NC: Carolina Academic Press.
Farkas, M.A. (1997). The normative code among correctional officers: An explanation of components and functions. Journal of Crime and Delinquency, 20(1), 23-36.
Silverman, I.J. (2001). Corrections: A Comprehensive View, Second Edition. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth/Thomson Learning.
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. His prior service in law enforcement included service in the United States Secret Service Uniformed Division. His jail career included assignments in confinement, work release, programs and classification.
He has been an adjunct faculty member of the Criminology, Law and Society Department at George Mason University since 1986, where he has taught four corrections courses. He also teaches corrections in service sessions throughout Virginia, and has performed training and consulting for the American Correctional Association, the American Jail Association and the National Institute of Justice. His latest book, The Correctional Officer: A Practical Guide: Third Edition was published in April 2017 by Carolina Academic Press. He has authored several other books in corrections. Gary has received a Distinguished Alumnus Award in Social Science from his alma mater, Edinboro University of Pennsylvania and an Instructor Appreciation Award from George Mason University.
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