What does this really mean?
The term firm, fair and consistent has generally been labeled as a “golden rule” in corrections. But
what does it actually mean? It can be interpreted in many different ways, especially with
various generations, philosophies and mindsets. Agency Culture and Common practice often
dictate how a new corrections officer will operate firm, fair and consistently. With these various
views, we actually lose consistency itself in being firm fair and consistent.
The term firm is easy to define. To be firm in how you operate means you are unwavering in
the principles you stand by. We are firm in our beliefs, values and standards, and at the same
time we are firm in our expectations we give to inmates.
The term consistent is also a fairly easy term to define. As much as it is speaking on behalf of
your actions, it also speaks to your attitude. Are you the same person each and every day that
you show up to work? Are you able to manage your emotions even when you are having a bad
day, and be a positive and professional corrections officer regardless?
Consistency really is one of the most crucial aspects of our job. When inmates know what to
expect, managing them is a lot easier. Also, when you are consistent, it makes your job a lot
easier in the way that the rules are the rules, policy is policy, and you stand firm in the
principles you believe in.
Fair is the term that often gets lost in translation, and is where we lose a lot of new officers. It is
important that we remember that fair is not equal. These are two separate things. Equal means
we do the same thing the same way every time regardless of the situation. This holds truth in
some of the things we do as officers, however, with this mindset we forget about officer
discretion and limit our ability to be problem solvers. To be fair you have to be able to think
outside of the box and apply practical wisdom.
Many new officers are so concerned about deciphering between what is policy, what is the law,
and what is an ethical act of good faith. The important thing to remember is that agency culture
and common practice are not always policy or the law. We have policy and procedures that act
as guidelines so that we may do our jobs effectively, legally, safely and professionally. Some
things however are not black and white, and when there is grey area, it is on the officer to
problem solve and use his or her discretion to make wise decisions that is legal, professional
The bottom line is that being firm, fair and consistent is a necessity in this profession, and it is a
skill we have to develop through experience. Each individual officer will have his or her own
style of managing inmates, however, inmates will find it much easier to conform to your style if
they know what to expect from you.