Understaffed, outnumbered, overpopulated & overworked – This is corrections

A prisoner in stripes behind bars, a locked door, and a “guard” on the other side with a set of keys. This is the general conception of corrections with the lack of transparency there is about the profession.

What this doesn’t capture is the entirety of the service corrections professionals conduct, and the challenges they face in such a noble and overlooked profession. It might take a person nine months to get hired on as a corrections officer, where it may only take one shift to realize it takes a certain character to effectively work behind the walls.

Our facilities are scrambling to retain quality staff, yet the ones who push through for the long term are nearly being pushed to their end. In an ever evolving profession fighting to stay in compliance with new laws, standards and practices, our facilities are overpopulating, while remaining understaffed, causing the current staff to be outnumbered and overworked; sometimes 74 inmates to one officer, and that officer being mandated to work a 16 hour shift for coverage.

Studies show that the average life span of a corrections officer is 59 years of age, and the suicide rate for corrections professionals is 39% higher than any other profession. The PTSD rate in corrections is over double than what is found with military veterans due to the cumulative vicarious trauma as well the individual critical incidents. Whether it is cutting down an inmate who has just attempted to hang themselves, or protecting yourself from an inmate who has just assaulted you, each day is just as unpredictable as the next. The implicit effects of hyper-vigilance are very real, and often remedied with caffeine and a jaded sense of humor, while the toll it takes on that person and their family is unrepairable.

A corrections professional can’t forget some of the things they’ve seen dealing with some of the most dangerous members of society, however, many that are successful in this profession are only successful because they remain rooted in purpose and the cause they serve. Having the right heartset and mindset is everything if you want to survive in this career field. However, it is also the responsibility of management to proactively invest in the needs, safety and well-being of their staff.

Crime isn’t stopping, mental illness is rising, and the opiate epidemic and use of illicit drugs is bringing officer safety and liability through the roof. The individuals in custody are becoming more challenging to deal with and the risks are becoming greater, yet as easy as it is to put heads in beds as an industry, our agencies can’t fill the staffing vacancies, nor can they retain the staff they have.

This has certainly been one of the biggest challenges in corrections this past year for both the staff and the agencies. It is going to take some serious attention and work for the professional to unite and put a stop to the understaffed, outnumbered, overpopulated and overworked problem we have. It is plain unsafe, and along with integrity, safety is the something that should never be compromised.

Advertisements

Are Corrections Officers First Responders?

To many, this is a silly question. To some, it is almost insulting that you would even question it. The answer is without a doubt “yes”. Similar to asking whether or not corrections is law enforcement as the final spoke of the criminal justice wheel, the CO has a very critical place in the realm of law enforcement as a first responder behind the walls.

There is little if no transparency of what actually goes on behind the walls. Just misguided and misinformed perceptions based off of tv shows and movies. There is a stigma of being the washed out cop, or the red headed stepchild that we own partial responsibility for. However, it doesn’t discredit the nobility of what we do, nor the fact that if it wasn’t for corrections, law enforcement would just be a catch and release program.

Whether we are a corrections professional in a jail or a corrections professional in a prison, we are a first responder, bottom line.

From being that officer managing a POD of inmates and witnessing and responding to an inmate who has just jumped off the top-tier head first. To being the first officer to respond to a cell and cut down a lifeless inmate hanging by a bedsheet. To being the first to respond to an inmate who has just overdosed on drugs and providing CPR for several minutes until medical aid arrives. To being the first to respond to an inmate who is choking on food, and conducting the Heimlich maneuver as other inmates just watch. To being the first to respond to a unit or cell to control a violent inmate who is undergoing excited delirium, high on drugs and an immediate threat to himself or others. To being spit in the eyes by a hepatitis C carrying inmate and fighting with them until backup arrives. To being the first officer to respond to an assault or riot where an inmate has just been stabbed more than 80 times by an edged weapon made in the facility. The list goes on, as some of these can be daily occurrences.

We literally spend over half the year behind the walls in uniform responding to crisis, ensuring that the safety of our staff and our inmates and security of our facility is not compromised. When we are not responding, we are waiting to respond. Hypervigilance implicitly takes its course. This is on top of all the ongoing nuisance inmate attempts to manipulate you as you are outnumbered 74 to 1. This is on top of the threats you have just received in regards to you and your families safety. This is on top of being overwhelmed by the task demands and expectations of this ever evolving profession fighting to stay in compliance. This is on top of actually trying to make a difference in some of the lives of the inmates we supervise in helping them reenter the community. Most importantly, this is on top of doing our best not to personalize conflict or compartmentalize recent crisis, staying professional, objective and rooted in purpose.

We are Corrections Officers, and we are first responders. As the final step of the criminal justice process, please respect us as the first responders we are; analogous to our brothers and sisters on patrol and fire.

Respectfully,

Brandon Anderson

Ask yourself daily “where can I do better?”

Keep your character and your professionalism under constant evaluation. Everytime you let the little things slip, your character is compromised, and when character is compromised your integrity is jeprodized. We all know that in the glass house profession in which we work in our integrity is the one thing we have total control over, and the one thing we can never compromise.

Pay attention to the little things and fix them, don’t sweat them; and don’t fall victim to anything, especially yourself. Keep your influences positive and your decisions wise, doing the right thing for the right reason, all of the time. Your success will be built upon the sum of all of the unconditional service and unrecognized professionalism you live out each day.

18 Lessons in Leadership By Colin Powell

Lesson 1

“Being responsible sometimes means pissing people off.”

Good leadership involves responsibility to the welfare of the group, which means that some people will get angry at your actions and decisions. It’s inevitable – if you’re honorable. Trying to get everyone to like you is a sign of mediocrity. You’ll avoid the tough decisions, you’ll avoid confronting the people who need to be confronted, and you’ll avoid offering differential rewards based on differential performance because some people might get upset. Ironically, by procrastinating on the difficult choices, by trying not to get anyone mad, and by treating everyone equally “nicely” regardless of their contributions, you’ll simply ensure that the only people you’ll wind up angering are the most creative and productive people in the organization.

Lesson 2 

“The day soldiers stop bringing you their problems is the day you have stopped leading them. They have either lost confidence that you can help them or concluded that you do not care. Either case is a failure of leadership.”

If this were a litmus test, the majority of CEOs would fail. One, they build so many barriers to upward communication that the very idea of someone lower in the hierarchy looking up to the leader for help is ludicrous. Two, the corporate culture they foster often defines asking for help as weakness or failure, so people cover up their gaps, and the organization suffers accordingly. Real leaders make themselves accessible and available. They show concern for the efforts and challenges faced by underlings-even, as they demand high standards. Accordingly, they are more likely to create an environment where problem analysis replaces blame.

Lesson 3

Don’t be buffaloed by experts. Experts often possess more data than judgment. The Elite can become so inbred that they produce hemophiliacs who bleed to death as soon as they are nicked by the real world.”

Small companies and startups don’t have the time for analytically detached experts. They don’t have the money to subsidize lofty elites, either. The president answers the phone and drives the truck when necessary; everyone on the payroll visibly produces and contributes to bottom-line results or they’re history. But as companies get bigger, they often forget who “brought them to the dance” things like all-hands involvement, egalitarianism, informality, market intimacy, daring, risk, speed, agility. Policies that emanate from ivory towers often have an adverse impact on the people out in the field who are fighting the wars or bringing in the revenues. Real leaders are vigilant – and combative – in the face of these trends.

Lesson 4

“Don’t be afraid to challenge the pros, even in their own backyard.”

Learn from the pros, observe them, seek them out as mentors and partners. But remember that even the pros may have leveled out in terms of their learning and skills. Sometimes even the pros can become complacent and lazy. Leadership does not emerge from blind obedience to anyone. Xerox’s Barry Rand was right on target when he warned his people that if you have a yes-man working for you, one of you is redundant. Good leadership encourages everyone’s evolution.

Lesson 5

“Never neglect details. When everyone’s mind is dulled or distracted the leader must be doubly vigilant.”

Strategy equals execution. All the great ideas and visions in the world are worthless if they can’t be implemented rapidly and efficiently. Good leaders delegate and empower others liberally, but they pay attention to details, every day. (Think about supreme athletic coaches like Jimmy Johnson, Pat Riley and Tony La Russa). Bad ones – even those who fancy themselves as progressive visionaries – think they’re somehow “above” operational details. Paradoxically, good leaders understand something alcyon(?) obsessive routine in carrying out the details begets conformity and complacency, which in turn dulls everyone’s mind. That is why even as they pay attention to details, they continually encourage people to challenge the process. They implicitly understand the sentiment of CEO-leaders like Quad Graphic’s Harry Quadracchi, Oticon’s Lars Kolind and the late Bill McGowan of MCI, who all independently asserted that the Job of a leader is not to be the chief organizer, but the chief disorganizer.

Lesson 6

“You don’t know what you can get away with until you try.”

You know the expression “it’s easier to get forgiveness than permission?” Well, it’s true. Good leaders don’t wait for official blessing to try things out. They’re prudent, not reckless. But they also realize a fact of life in most organizations you ask enough people for permission, you’ll inevitably come up against someone who believes his job is to say “no.” So the moral is, don’t ask. I’m serious. In my own research with colleague Linda Mukai, we found that less effective middle managers endorsed the sentiment, “If I haven’t explicitly been told ‘yes,’ I can’t do it,” whereas the good ones believed “If I haven’t explicitly been told ‘no,’ I can.” There’s a world of difference between these two points of view.

Lesson 7

“Keep looking below surface appearances. Don’t shrink from doing so (just) because you might not like what you find.”

“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” is the slogan of the complacent, the arrogant or the scared. It’s an excuse for inaction, a call to non-arms. It’s a mind-set that assumes (or hopes) that today’s realities will continue tomorrow in a tidy, linear and predictable fashion. Pure fantasy. In this sort of culture, you won’t find people who proactively take steps to solve problems as they emerge. Here’s a little tip. Don’t invest in these companies.

Lesson 8

“Organization doesn’t really accomplish anything. Plans don’t accomplish anything, either. Theories of management don’t much matter. Endeavors succeed or fail because of the people involved. Only by attracting the best people will you accomplish great deeds.”

In a brain-based economy, your best assets are people. We’ve heard this expression so often that it’s become trite. But how many leaders really “walk the talk” with this stuff? Too often, people are assumed to be empty chess pieces to be moved around by grand viziers, which may explain why so many top managers immerse their calendar time in deal making, restructuring and the latest management fad. How many immerse themselves in the goal of creating an environment where the best, the brightest, the most creative are attracted, retained and-most potentially-unleashed?

Lesson 9

“Organization charts and fancy titles count for next to nothing.”

Organization charts are frozen, anachronistic photos in a workplace that ought to be as dynamic as the external environment around you. If people really followed organization charts, companies would collapse. In well-run organizations, titles are also pretty meaningless. At best, they advertise some authority-an official status conferring the ability to give orders and induce obedience. But titles mean little in terms of real power, which is the capacity to influence and inspire. Have you ever noticed that people will personally commit to certain individuals who on paper (or on the org chart) possess little authority-but instead possess pizzazz, drive, expertise and genuine caring for teammates and products?  On the flip side, non-leaders in management may be formally anointed with all the perks and frills associated with high positions, but they have little influence on others, apart from their ability to extract minimal compliance to minimal standards.

Lesson 10

“Never let your ego get so close to your position that when your position goes, your ego goes with it.”

Too often, change is stifled by people who cling to familiar turfs and job descriptions. One reason that even large organizations wither is that managers won’t challenge old, comfortable ways of doing things. But real leaders understand that, nowadays, every one of our jobs is becoming obsolete. The proper response is to obsolete our activities before someone else does. Effective leaders create a climate where peoples worth is determined by their willingness to learn new skills and grab new responsibilities, thus perpetually reinventing their jobs. The most important question in performance evaluation becomes not, “How well did you perform your job since the last time we met?” but, “How much did you change it?”

Lesson 11

“Fit no stereotypes. Don’t chase the latest fads. The situation dictates which approach best accomplishes the team’s mission.”

Flitting from fad to fad creates team confusion, reduces the leader’s credibility and drains organizational coffers. Blindly following a particular fad generates rigidity in thought and action. Sometimes speed to market is more important than total quality. Sometimes an unapologetic directive is more appropriate than participatory discussion. To quote Powell, some situations require the leader to hover closely; others require long, loose leashes. Leaders honor their core values, but they are flexible in how they execute them. They understand that management techniques are not magic mantras but simply tools to be reached for at the right times.

Lesson 12

“Perpetual optimism is a force multiplier.”

The ripple effect of a leader’s enthusiasm and optimism is awesome. So is the impact of cynicism and pessimism. Leaders who whine and blame engender those same behaviors among their colleagues. I am not talking about stoically accepting organizational stupidity and performance incompetence with a “what, me worry?” smile. I am talking about a gung ho attitude that says “we can change things here, we can achieve awesome goals, we can be the best.” Spare me the grim litany of the “realist;” give me the unrealistic aspirations of the optimist any day.

Lesson 13

“Powell’s Rules for Picking People” Look for intelligence and judgment and, most critically, a capacity to anticipate, to see around corners. Also look for loyalty, integrity, a high energy drive, a balanced ego and the drive to get things done.”

How often do our recruitment and hiring processes tap into these attributes? More often than not, we ignore them in favor of length of resume, degrees and prior titles. A string of job descriptions a recruit held yesterday seem to be more important than who one is today, what she can contribute tomorrow or how well his values mesh with those of the organization. You can train a bright, willing novice in the fundamentals of your business fairly readily, but it’s a lot harder to train someone to have integrity, judgment, energy, balance and the drive to get things done. Good leaders stack the deck in their favor right in the recruitment phase.

Lesson 14

(Borrowed by Powell from Michael Korda) “Great leaders are almost always great simplifiers, who can cut through argument, debate and doubt, to offer a solution everybody can understand.”

Effective leaders understand the KISS principle, or Keep It Simple, Stupid. They articulate vivid, overarching goals and values, which they use to drive daily behaviors and choices among competing alternatives. Their visions and priorities are lean and compelling, not cluttered and buzzword-laden. Their decisions are crisp and clear, not tentative and ambiguous. They convey an unwavering firmness and consistency in their actions, aligned with the picture of the future they paint. The result? Clarity of purpose, credibility of leadership, and integrity in organization.

Lesson 15

Part I: “Use the formula P 40 to 70, in which P stands for the probability of success and the numbers indicate the percentage of information acquired.”

Part II: “Once the information is in the 40 to 70 range, go with your gut.”

Powell’s advice is, don’t take action if you have only enough information to give you less than a 40 percent chance of being right, but don’t wait until you have enough facts to be 100 percent sure, because by then it is almost always too late. His instinct is right. Today, excessive delays in the name of information-gathering breeds “analysis paralysis.” Procrastination in the name of reducing risk actually increases risk.

Lesson 16

“The commander in the field is always right and the rear echelon is wrong, unless proved otherwise.”

Too often, the reverse defines corporate culture. This is one of the main reasons why leaders like Ken Iverson of Nucor Steel, Percy Barnevik of Asea Brown Boveri, and Richard Branson of Virgin have kept their corporate staffs to a bare-bones minimum. (And I do mean minimum-how about fewer than 100 central corporate staffers for global $30 billion-plus ABB? Or around 25 and 3 for multi-billion Nucor and Virgin, respectively?) Shift the power and the financial accountability to the folks who are bringing in the beans, not the ones who are counting or analyzing them.

Lesson 17
“Have fun in your command. Don’t always run at a breakneck pace. Take leave when you’ve earned it. Spend time with your families.” Corollary: “Surround yourself with people who take their work seriously, but not themselves, those who work hard and play hard.”

Herb Kelleher of Southwest Air and Anita Roddick of The Body Shop would agree. Seek people who have some balance in their lives, who are fun to hang out with, who like to laugh (at themselves, too) and who have some non-job priorities which they approach with the same passion that they do their work. Spare me the grim workaholic or the pompous pretentious “professional;” I’ll help them find jobs with my competitor.

Lesson 18

“Command is lonely.”

Harry Truman was right. Whether you’re a CEO or the temporary head of a project team, the buck stops here. You can encourage participative management and bottom-up employee involvement but ultimately, the essence of leadership is the willingness to make the tough, unambiguous choices that will have an impact on the fate of the organization. I’ve seen too many non-leaders flinch from this responsibility. Even as you create an informal, open, collaborative corporate culture, prepare to be lonely.

Gratitude Shapes Attitude, And Here’s Why…

Gratitude is one of the most powerful and healthiest emotions we have. It is incredibly contagious, and the more gratitude we identify and express, the more we find we have to be grateful for. It is like a snowball effect. A heart of gratitude is not only contagious within, but infectious externally, influencing those who are around us.

On the flip side of gratitude, pessimism is also an incredibly powerful yet cancerous emotion. We live in a world where it is easy to focus on the negative, and for the most part only broadcasts the negative. Use caution. The mind is a powerful thing, and when you consider the 60,000 thoughts a person has each a day, for most, those thoughts are probably filtered through a negative lens. 40 something thoughts a minute, each day, racing through your mind. Unfortunately, is those very thoughts that shape our subconscious mind, and our subconscious mind that ultimately shapes our reality. As James Allen stated, a man is literally what he thinks, his character being the sum of his thoughts. Those thoughts become words, those words become actions, those actions become habits, those habits shape character, and that character becomes destiny. This means it is critical to be mindful of what we are allowing to influence our thought process (people, music, media, culture).

Therefore, if we think negative, we see negative; if we think positive we see positive. This isn’t saying it’s all unicorns and rainbows; but it is saying don’t spend your energy living in the negative, as it will cripple and suck the life right out of you.

The most effective way to establish a positive mindset is simply having a heart of gratitude. That gratitude will then shape your attitude, and your attitude is what will drive your day. We all know that a bad attitude is like a flat tire; unless we change it we can’t go anywhere. We have to take control to move forward.

Studies show that only 10% of external circumstances define our happiness or positive emotion. 50% of our positive emotion is driven by genetics. That gives approximately 40% in our hands to choose to be happy. We can’t be compromised by the other 60% which is out of our control. Positive emotion or happiness is only one element to flourishing, but a critical and foundational element.

The easiest way to live with a glass half full mentality, is to have a heart rich in gratitude. Start the day with gratitude, and end the day with attitude; and don’t just think it, but write it down. For example, start your morning in prayer and express gratitude for the day, as it is a gift. Find something small yet important that is often taken for granted, meditate on it with gratitude, and write it down in a journal. This will have a huge impact on your day, as you will begin to have an easier time:

finding purpose, meaning and abundance in your life;

appreciating the small pleasures in your life,

seeing the good in others rather than the bad,

and begin to appreciate the small contributions that others do that often get overlooked.

Selfishly, there are also personal benefits to reap as well:

more positive emotions,

better relationships,

better sleep,

a stronger immune system,

better work performance (31% more effective according to studies),

and ultimately a better life!

Your spiritual, mental and emotional domains of wellness are just as important as your physical wellbeing, as all 4 domains are all encompassing.

Let this life giving emotion of gratitude allow you to thrive in what you have been called to do.

So, here is a challenge I pose to you…

For 21 days, identify ONE to THREE things you are grateful for each day, and capture it by writing it down. DO NOT MISS A DAY! Make it a habit, a ritual and a way of being. I guarantee it will then begin to clean or even change the lens in which you look at reality.

Gratitude will keep you rooted in purpose and literally change your life.

You’ve Heard It Before, Leave Your Ego At The Door

There are 3 things ego will do as a public servant: First, it will compromise safety. Second, it will damage relationships. And third, it will prevent spiritual growth; a domain that often goes overlooked, but is key to flourishing in success. 

Pride is a virtue and also a vice, so we have to stay humble. We should keep our mind like a sponge, staying open to criticism and absorbing as much knowledge and wisdom as we can. We should make it daily goal to learn something new by the end of each day. Other than our own personal safety, we should shift our focus less on ourselves and more on best interest of others, because there is an intrinsic value of accomplishment and joy when you serve another person, and it’s rooted in purpose.

Unfortunately when you look at history and even recent examples, ego has cost officers their careers and sometimes even their lives. Whether it was arrogance or ignorance that led to negligence, or just an simple act of disrespect that led to an attack, ego is what takes the virtue of pride and turns it in to a vice. There is always someone faster, stronger and tougher than you, and if your ego is bigger than your head, it’s only a matter of time before an offender pulls your card. On the flip side, humility and respect has led to good tactics and personal effectiveness, to lives being changed and differences being made.

Below are 4 verses from the word of God that speak on behalf of ego and pride, not to be confused with the noble and virtuous pride we carry each day, in who we are and why we do what we do as professionals of public service.

JAMES 4:6

That is why Scripture says: “God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.

  • While it is not always instant, pride and success not rooted in purpose always leads to loss or destruction. It’s not karma, because sometimes good things happen to very bad people, and sometimes bad things happen to very good people. However, God’s will is always for the good, and his grace and favor will always cover those who love him. As guardians and warriors of a good cause, our humble service to protect will always be blessed by God.

GALATIANS 6:4

Each one should test their own actions. Then they can take pride in themselves alone, without comparing themselves to someone else,

  • Don’t build success on being better than someone else, build it on being better than you used to be. This is true nobility.

PROVERBS 13:10

Where there is strife, there is pride, but wisdom is found in those who take advice.

  • Pride is a friend of conflict an enemy of growth. Even the greatest have fallen such as King Solomon himself, requiring a humble new beginning.

ROMANS12:16

Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.

  • As public servants in authority and high position, we have to remember we deal with individuals at the lowest points of their lives, not to forget some of the most violent and wicked. However, we must never idolize or demonize anyone, treating ALL with dignity and respect; a respect for ourselves, the situation and the cause in which we serve. 

PROVERBS 9:9

Instruct the wise and they will be wiser still; teach the righteous and they will add to their learning.

  • Our mind is a fire to constantly be fueled. If we stay both humble and mindful, we will consistently grow as professionals. However, if we listen to only our ego, our great successes are only in vein.