Abuse plus neglect equals inmate violence?

Jun 6th, 2012 | By | Category: Prisons & Confinement, Spotlight, Use of Force

A Correctional Officer’s Challenge: Does Abuse or Neglect lead to Violence?

By Carl ToersBijns | Corrections.com

…Correctional and detention officers have a tremendous challenge while doing their jobs inside a large jail or prison. Their role is to balance the needs of the public [society] and those of jail or prisoners entitled to basic civil and human rights treatment under the color of law. Hired on to protect the inmates from harm either from themselves or others, it has become more evident that this role is often compromised by cultural interference and barriers that has changed the “tolerance levels” experienced by officers while doing their jobs…

Simply put, a correctional officer may abuse or neglect a prisoner in many different ways…In defense of some of these actions, there are factors not often brought to the light when it comes to correctional officer misconduct or alleged misconduct. Many of these factors are well beyond the practical or realistic controls of the officers and lay somewhere between upper management decision making and the ability to provide the proper resources and necessary supply of staff / tools to these officers.

There are also circumstances where these officers are put in a catch 22 situations by their supervisors or managers who “moralize” these high levels of tolerance approach and attitudes that endorse such conduct on a daily basis.

Their re-enforcement of such practices along with suggestions (tacit approval) or their refusal to correct such conduct (code of silence), leads to more violence and most likely injuries (or death) to either the prisoners or the officers engaged in these violent behaviors inside the jail or prison…

Thus the challenge to the officer’s dilemma is to break this vicious cycle of abuse and neglect through the development of a safe environment where speech and reports are allowed without repercussions of intimidation or fear of being punished or harassed causing severe humiliation and eventual discharge of the job, either voluntary or involuntary because of peer pressure and cultural banishment tools…(Full text at Corrections.com)

[Image:Natchez Democrat]

Carl ToersBijns, a retired Deputy Warden, presents a balanced, credible and accurate assessment of the dangers of institutionalized abuse, neglect and indifference. All readers are encouraged to click through to the unedited article at Corrections.com.

Mr. ToersBijns rightly notes CO’s are often placed in a Catch-22 when supervisors tacitly endorse heavy handed and/or negligent actions.  Ultimate responsibility redounds to management–It is clear routinized maltreatment does not manifest itself in a vacuum.

In Paco’s opinion, it is  axiomatic that mistreatment leads to violence.  In that context, from managers down to officers, practitioners of  inmate abuse and neglect are playing with fire.  And, experience tells us it is rarely the actual abusers who get burned when the population erupts.

Having worked as a CO at 3 prisons, I saw no institutionalized abuse–Neglect and indifference was another matter.

Those who have never worked in a prison are often surprised to learn how much prison life is centered on food and toilet paper (in that order….and not just biologically speaking).

On several occasions I saw problems develop over how meals were timed.  The rule there was 10 minutes after the last inmate leaves the steamline, the order to bus trays went out.  Now it may sound reasonable to give a man 10 minutes to eat his meal but, by the time he walks to the far end of the chowhall where the last diner was always seated, it was more like 9 minutes.  After about 5 minutes the CO at the adjacent exit would warn the inmates at the end table they had less than 5 minutes to finish up–Those who were still eating with 2 minutes or less left would be reminded again.  For some reason, the last few guys to eat felt it was unreasonable to have to shovel a meal down their gullets while cops hovered about telling them to hurry up.  Sometimes it got ugly.

Similarly, I often participated in a bit of fun called supply line where toilet paper was the prize.  At one facility, someone up the chain felt it was reasonable to issue a single roll of TP per inmate per week.  Again, that may sound reasonable but I defy anyone to try an experiment.  See if you can go 7 days on one roll.  In any case, fights and arguments over TP were rather common in the unit.

Now, even though I agreed with the inmates regarding the chow and TP procedures, it never occurred to me to take the matter up the chain.  That’s the way it was : “Inmates got nothing coming.”

To be clear, the timely and orderly service of food is critical to prison operations.  Similarly, toilet paper is an expensive commodity–It must be properly controlled.  However,  when the controls and procedures lead predictably to discontent, they run counter to the mission of safe operations.  In other words, if giving a man more than 5 minutes to eat before interrupting his meal and an extra roll of asswipe to finish his business means things run a bit smoother, Paco says it is both reasonable and desirable.  After all, one incident will drive costs beyond any savings realized from overzealous TP control.

One assault on staff is one too many. When it happens because CO’s are enforcing unreasonable meal times or denying a diarrhea-prone population toilet paper, it is wholly avoidable and, therefore, an outrage.

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One Comment to “Abuse plus neglect equals inmate violence?”

  1. Bob Walsh says:

    Good cops can go a long way towards making the system fair for residents of the system. Bad cops can go a long way towards making the system intolerable. Administrators, managers and dumb-ass policies have even more sway on how things run. A moderately crappy system is generally tolerable if everybody involved feels that everybody is being treated more or less the same and the treatment is reasonable, if crappy. A system that seems to be arbitrary, capricious or deliberately nasty and oppressive becomes intolerable and it’s client population will act out, if for no other reason to give themselves the feeling that they have some control over their lives.

    Dicking with people just to dick with them, just to show them that you can, is stupid, petty and counter-productive. People who feel the need to do that are mentally defective and should not have power over others. They sure as hell shouldn’t have a badge and a gun.