Concerns for Corrections Staff and Inmates
CRJ 410 Corrections
Correctional facilities often act as small, self-contained cities that rely on administrative, custodial, and program staff, even inmates to make them function on a daily basis. At the top of the tier we have administrative staff. This type of staff monitors the everyday operation of the prison including compliance of the institution with Federal and State law and in some cases, operational standards from the American Correctional Association, tracking the needs/requirements of inmates and their families and overseeing the intake or release of inmates from the institution (discovercorrections.com). Correctional employees, operate in a dangerous environment where inmate assaults and more dangerous incidents, such as riots, are a threat. Managing critical incidents is a significant part of the administrative staff world and this makes them highly important when it comes to how a facility runs.
Next on the tier, is the custodial staff. This type of staff is charged with the responsibility of maintaining order and security within the correctional facility (Schmalleger & Smykla, 2015). They facilitate this by searching cells for contraband, monitoring the movement of inmates inside and between facilities, and generally supervising and maintaining security within the facility. These men and women are the point of contact with inmates daily and have the opportunity to impact the lives of those individuals through mentoring, and respect. This staff is vital to the day to day procedures of the facility to ensure the safety of all involved.
Finally, we have the program staff. This type of staff is generally concerned with the educational, vocational, and treatment programs that inmates are involved in. They are charged with encouraging prisoners to participate in the programs that facilities offer for rehabilitative purposes. This type of staff is vital to the process of rehabilitation and reintegration for inmates and through their contact, prisoners learn everything from basic life skills to managing symptoms of their mental illness. Program staff operate through a separate organizational structure that has little to do with the custodial staff (Schmalleger & Smykla, 2015), however, they depend on these officers for their safety.
Correctional officers are responsible for maintaining prison order, establishing institutional security and managing inmate behavior. To accomplish these goals, officers are sometimes required to deploy available bases of power, which are instruments of behavioral control used to achieve certain objectives (Ferdik & Smith, 2015). These include reward, referent, legitimate, coercive and expert power. If one were to rank these types of power from most important to least, they would need to list legitimate power as most important. Legitimate power is based on the idea that an individual will comply with an order when they perceive the supervisor as having a legitimate right to order them to act in a certain way (Wooldredge & Steiner, 2016). It is important to display this type of power early on in order to establish who is in charge and prevent confusion or overreach by the inmate.
Next in this ranking of power bases would be referent power. Referent power operates when inmates follow directives because they respect and admire officers. Although this might seem naïve in a prison context, officers who are fair and impartial tend to get more respect from inmates (Wooldredge & Steiner, 2016). This type of power is achieved through natural leadership skills and the recognition of mutual respect between the prisoner and officer. What makes this a highly important base of power is that it does not require the physical presence of an officer in order to be effective once established. The idea is that an inmate will refrain from engaging in misconduct if they value the officer’s opinion of their actions.
Third on the ranking list would be expert power. This type of power results from prisoners who perceive certain officers as having some special skill or knowledge. This works through an officer assisting inmates in navigating their way around a unit, problem solving to resolve inmate conflicts, providing tips on how to protect their property, and how to avoid placing themselves in harm’s way of violent inmates. In other words, an inmate recognizes that an officer’s expertise contributes positively to his/her wellbeing, therefore, they rely on them which places the officer in control.
The first three types of power rely heavily on respect, which is very important and valued within the inmate culture. Leading through respect produces purer and more positive outcomes in both the way the facility runs and, in the ability to reach those inmates who can be helped. The last two types of power, coercive and reward provide opportunity to promote a corrupted environment through the use of fear and favoritism which make them end up at the bottom of my ranking list. Examples of coercive power in prison include verbal warnings, intimidation, physical punishments, and segregation. This type of power may seem like it’s the only effective power when it comes to inmates with little commitment to the goals of the organization, however, the damage coercion can inflict on inmates’ perceptions of legitimate prison authority can enhance anger and cynicism toward the administration (Wooldredge & Steiner, 2016). Reward power occurs through the use of formal and informal rewards in order to gain inmate compliance. The constant use of coercive and reward power may reflect an officer’s inability to effectively rely on their expertise, the respect garnered from inmates, or simply their position in the prison bureaucracy for gaining the cooperation of inmates. These two types of power should be utilized sparingly.
Those who work within prison walls deal with many issues on a daily basis from how to deal with different types of inmates to how they will afford to programs and pay employees. If we were to list these concerns from most important to least, we should understand that funding would be the most important concern. Without adequate funding, facilities have an increased chance of failing in their mission to protect the public from dangerous predators and also failing in their attempts at rehabilitating prisoners through needed programs. Funding also affects the safety of correctional officers because proper training could be cut in order to budget for something else which means less money for equipment, fewer staff, and lower staff/inmate ratios which invites a dangerous situation for officers. Second on the list would be mental health. Mental health is a major, major issue, and it’s only getting worse. These special needs inmates are being dumped on correctional staff without adequate specialized training or medical and mental health professionals to care for these inmates. This creates the issue of increased job fatigue in officers and dissatisfaction.
Third on my list would be radical inmates. It’s not just about Muslim terrorists. It’s street gangs, home-grown terrorists, drug cartels – all are getting more and more violent. They are communicating nationally, and you could easily wind with someone dangerous in the facility and not know it. With the wide-spread use of contraband cell phones, you now have threats to family members of staff outside the prison which is a concern to staff and can impede on their job performance due to fear of making the wrong inmate mad. Multi-generations conclude this list. Newer generation of corrections staff mixing with the older generation can create conflict due to different cultural perspectives. The younger generation wants immediate gratification and are concerned about what is in it for them. They display a lack of commitment which produces a breakdown of the team concept. Older staff can be concerned that due to these differences, they have no one to rely on in dangerous situations.
Unfortunately, the corrections profession is known as being one of the most stressed out jobs in law enforcement. Studies have shown that the work environment affects correctional staff and with this are higher levels of job stress with negative outcomes. Compassion fatigue is defined as “the formal caregivers reduced capacity or interest in being empathic or bearing the suffering of clients and is the natural consequent behaviors and emotions resulting from knowing about a traumatizing event experience or suffered by a person” (Adams, Boscarino, & Figley, 2006). In corrections, officers are faced with some of the vilest individuals in humanity. Everyone has a story or reason they got to the position they are in and even the most well-intentioned officer can become disenchanted with his/her original intentions of helping. When all the stressors of inmate behavior, conflicts, and shock have culminated to a point beyond an officer’s capabilities, they tend to shut down and disassociate themselves from everyone and everything around them. They become a shell who no longer cares about their job or anyone involved. This can create a dangerous situation for other officers, inmates, and themselves because they are less inclined to follow procedures that would keep order and safety within the facility. If help is not sought after, this condition can cause a multitude of negative outcomes including the death of the officer.