Communication with Inmates in Corrections
Gordon Graham here with Today’s Tip from Lexipol. This tip is directed toward our colleagues in corrections, and it’s about seemingly “casual conversations” between staff and inmates. Such conversations may seem harmless, but I assure you they’re not. And by the end of this tip, hopefully you’ll get the gravity of any such conversation.
Trust me, keeping professional is in your best interest and the interest of the inmates you’re responsible for.
Verbal communication skills are absolutely essential for effective correctional professionals, especially in the potentially conflicting context of officer and inmate. If you don’t control the dialog, the inmate will. Inmates have nothing but time to master manipulation of staff through conversation. Let’s familiarize ourselves with some of the warning signs of this sort of behavior.
It starts with innocuous questions or small talk that’s unrelated to your duties as a corrections officer. I’m talking about simple things like “Where did you go to school?” “Are you married?” “Got kids?” In normal everyday life, these sorts of questions might be a friendly attempt to establish trust and common ground.
But you’re in a correctional facility. These prompts should set off alarm bells in your head. It might seem friendly, but more likely it’s an inmate attempting to get you to let your guard down in order to take advantage of you or others. Or they may be attempting to glean personal information that could be used against you. Either way, this is no good.
So what should you do?
Simple, folks, here I go again: command presence. Let the inmate know that you’re in charge and this is a professional, not personal, relationship. When an inmate asks an inappropriate question, your response should be swift and direct. Nothing about your personal life is any inmate’s business. Period, end of story. They should already know that, but it’s now your turn to remind them again. For some of you, this might be awkward or seem unfriendly. Trust me, keeping professional is in your best interest and the interest of the inmates you’re responsible for.
In giving directives or responding to requests from an inmate, be direct. Don’t leave room for negotiation or further discussion. If you do, they will invariably ask “Why?” Don’t be afraid to say, “Because I said so.” Avoid deflected responses like “because the sergeant told me to do it” or “because the rules says I have to fo it this way.” These responses only leave the inmate room for argument. It lends the impression that you don’t have confidence in what you’re doing.
When you ask an inmate a question, do not accept a question in response. Be firm and demand a proper answer. Never — and I mean never — let an inmate know if you’re conflicted about any rule or regulation. This is like ringing the dinner bell to a manipulative inmate.
Finally, and this is critical, you must believe in the directives you are giving to any inmate — that they are lawful, ethical, and prudent. If you own your words, the inmate will understand that you’re in control. And not because of some ego trip, but because you’re a professional with your safety – and theirs – as your priority.
That’s Today’s Tip from Lexipol. Gordon Graham signing off.