The Corrections Formula

The following formula is nothing more than a way to remember 9 key principles that optimize your success as a corrections professional. It is an operational mindset and way of being designed to guide your thoughts, decisions and actions. Safety is your top priority, professionalism is your foundation, and legality is your path.

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The 3 stands for the following:

  1. Safe
  2. Legal
  3. Professional

Within these 3 elements contain 3 principles that make up the 9 total principles for success.

  1. Officer Safety – Your top priority and your duty to yourself and your coworkers.
  2. Facility Safety – Your duty to the communities you serve.
  3. Inmate Safety – Your duty to those you have been entrusted to protect.
  4. Federal Law – The U.S. Constitution, which shapes state law, major acts of congress and case law.
  5. State Law – The laws and statutes of the state, which guide your facilities operations and practices.
  6. Agency Policy and Procedure – Your guardrails that keep you on the path of legality and in compliance with the law.
  7. Guardianship – Your purpose as a corrections professional and why you do what you do,
  8. Health & Wellness – Your resilience in staying fit both personally and professional.
  9. Firm, Fair & Consistent –The golden rule in being the same professional everyday.


Officer safety is, and always will be the number one priority. It should be the one thing you are constantly running through your head at all times. If you compromise your safety, you compromise the safety of your fellow staff as well. Below are some strategies to visualize and apply that can assist you in maintaining good officer safety:

Distance: Maintain a safe distance from inmates at all times, staying properly postured, positioned and aware of your surroundings (hands up, non-threatening, bladed stance, eye contact, close enough to hear and see, but far enough to be safe)

Awareness: During regular, routine operations, you should be relaxed and aware. This means your mind and body are at ease, however, you are vigilant and aware of what is going around you.

Resilience: Stay resilient and fit for duty. (physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually) Think of each domain as a battery, and in order for you to be at an optimal state of coherence, each battery needs to be fully charged. Each domain will deplete and renew, working for and against each other; so you have to have to do your best to keep them working in harmony with one another.

Respect: Be respectful (respect gets results, whereas disrespect creates conflict) One of the easiest ways to create an unsafe environment is to be disrespectful. Many people feel you have to get (feel) respect to give (show) respect, the “respect is earned” way of thinking. As a professional, you should reverse that formula, meaning you operate with dignity and respect because you respect yourself, the profession and the situation. This path of respect starts with taking a suspicious mindset and turning it into a curious mindset. A suspicious mindset leads to hostility, whereas a curious mindset will typically lead to cooperation and results.

Ego: Leave your ego at the door when you go to work. Ego can damage relationships and cause you to personalize conflict. An untamed ego that gets to big can get you in to trouble both personally and professionally. Stay humble, and careful not to idolize yourself and demonize others.

Communication: Effective communication is arguably the most effective tool you have. The way we communicate will either escalate or de-escalate situations. It is critical to keep communication professional, treating people with dignity and respect even when it is hard. Do not let ego get in the way. The way we communicate with others is a prime reflection of our character and our integrity.

Communication is also how we gather the information we need to make the appropriate decisions. While there are benchmarks to consider while communicating with inmates, your conversations should flow and be genuine. See the following communication benchmarks to consider below that will allow for effective communication:

  • Ecology: Know your environment and who you are talking to. Stay safe.
  • Conversation: Initiate the conversation, establish rapport and actively listen.
  • Information: Respond to feeling, suspend judgement, ask questions and validate what is said. Remember the who, what, when, where, why and how.
  • Decision: Be reasonable, know the rules, policies and procedures, and exercise practical wisdom. Decisions should be legal, professional and safe.
  • Solution: Know your scope of authority, consider all possible solutions, and be able to explain you decision and solution.
  • Notification: Inform your supervisor and the appropriate personnel with pertinent information, as well as your plan of action.
  • Documentation: Always document the incident, your actions and your decisions.

Remember that tone and body language plays a huge part in how you effectively communicate.

Choice Model: When dealing with negative behavior, use the choice model. Present choices; the negative, the positive, and the consequences of both. Take the threat out of the consequences, depersonalizing the conflict, personalize cooperation, and try to end on a positive.

Emotional Intelligence: This is the ability to recognize one’s own feelings, and other’s emotions; to discriminate between different feelings and label them appropriately, and to use emotional information to guide thinking and behavior. The 4 domains of resilience are:

  • Perceiving Emotions: The ability to identify your own emotions and process emotional information. (faces, voices, pictures, demeanor)
  • Using Emotions: The ability to harness emotions to facilitate cognitive activities. (problem solving)
  • Understanding Emotions: The ability to comprehend and recognize emotional language, and appreciate the diversity in various emotions. (empathy, patience)
  • Managing Emotions: The ability to regulate emotions in both ourselves and others. (self-control, knowing emotional triggers)

These 4 domains funnel down to both a self and social context, in how we both recognize and regulate emotion. An example of good emotional intelligence would be walking into a unit of inmates who are tense and recognizing that something is off and that the inmates are collectively upset about something. An example of poor emotional intelligence would be walking into that unit with an abrasive demeanor and further escalating that tension. Pay attention to the tension.

Trust your gut: If something doesn’t seem or feel right, it probably isn’t. Trust your intuition.

Searches: Know the principles of quality searching. Be thorough, consistent, systematic, curious, professional, safe and objective. The principles of searching never change, only the methods do.

Breathe: Stay in a coherent state of mind by practicing heart focused breathing. An example of this would be to clear your mind, inhale for several seconds, hold it for several seconds, exhale for several seconds, and hold it for several seconds. As you do this for several minutes, try to focus only on your heart.

Threats: Know your threats, your areas of cover, and your routes of escape. Don’t be paranoid, but stay prepared and ready.

Blind spots: Know all of the blind spots in your facility, because most likely the inmates do.

Manipulation: Be familiar with the manipulation tactics often used by inmates:

  • Taking kindness for weakness in trying to become familiar.
  • Trying to have long conversations and grooming your emotions.
  • Giving you lots of compliments.
  • Asking for favors and breaking rules to see how much they can get away with.
  • Using the “us vs they” or “you and me” method. “you’re not like them other CO’s.

Training: Training is life insurance and the investment should never stop. Keep your knowledge and skills sharp, and remember that as laws and standards evolve, so should policies and practice. Sometimes current practice isn’t best practice, and policy isn’t the law.

Survival Triangles:

The 3 things you need to stay safe and survive are:

  1. Training
  2. Physical fitness
  3. A winning mindset

The 3 things that a predator needs to attack you are:

  1. Desire
  2. Ability
  3. Opportunity

There are 2 elements of the attacker that you cannot control, those being the ability and the desire. The 1 element you do control however is opportunity. Never put yourself in a vulnerable situation leaving you open to attack. Again, don’t be paranoid, but be prepared.


Along with officer safety, the safety and security of your facility is also a top priority. Your facility and the officers working in your facility are the only thing keeping damaging members of society secure from the community. Security of a facility should never be breached. Below are some strategies to both visualize and apply to ensure the safety and security of your facility is not compromised:

Key control: Always maintain positive key control, keeping your keys secure and exchanging palm to palm.

Personal belongings: Keep personal items out of the secured facility, such as cell phones, personal keys, pocket knives, money and other items that could potentially pose a threat to the facility.

Doors: Never leave any door unsecured. It is good practice to always secure every door. Convenience is not worth compromising safety.

Exits: Never leave any direct access to the outside of the facility.

Jail Tours: Make jail tours a priority. Notify a supervisor if a check is late, and do not falsify a check. Frequent checks allow you to effectively supervise what is going on in your facility.

Equipment: Keep your equipment secure, practice drawing your equipment, and make sure it is all in good functioning order. (TASER, handcuffs, radio) This should be a practice done at the start of every shift.

Evacuation plan: Know your facilities evacuation and emergency procedures. Practice evacuation drills for the unfortunate event of a fire or natural disaster.

First aid: Know where all of your agencies first aid stations are, and keep current with first aid training. You never know when you might have to use it.

Safety before task: Never let operational need or task demand take priority over safety.

Random searches: Randomly conduct shakedowns and searches on both the units and the inmates, and keep your searches reasonable. Reducing the amount of contraband in the facility is a priority for all agencies.

Movement: Keep inmate movement throughout the facility at a minimum. This minimizes the opportunity for safety and liability issues to arise, as well as minimizes the chance for contraband to pass throughout the facility.

Learn something new: Make it a daily goal to learn something new about your facility. Look around and ask “what if” questions and scenarios:

  • What if an inmate breaks off a sprinkler head in their cell?
  • What if I find an inmate that is deceased?
  • What if the power goes out?
  • What if there is a fire or natural disaster?
  • What if I have an inmate out in the dayroom, refusing to return to their cell?

The list goes on, but it is up to you to figure what critical questions you should ask.


Corrections officers have been entrusted by the law to uphold the law behind the walls of their facility. This means not only protecting the community from damaging members of the community, but protecting inmates from one another and keeping them safe. Even though corrections officers deal with some of the most manipulative, violent and dangerous members of society, a good majority of the population are those simply at the worst points of their life. You deal with the mentally ill, homeless, struggling addicts, and others who do not even have their basic needs being met. Inmates who are in your care have been legitimately deprived of liberty, however, they still have certain constitutional rights. It is not you job to punish, as that is for the courts to decide. However, it is your legal obligation to keep yourself, your facility, and the inmates you supervise safe and secure. Failure to keep inmates safe can lead to possible litigation for both you and your agency. However, more importantly, remember that inmates are people, and each inmate has a story. Below are some strategies that you can both visualize and apply to ensure inmate safety is not compromised:

Power of influence: Remember that your power of influence is more powerful than your power of control. To influence is to lead, as it earns trust and respect, and generally leads to compliance. You have the power of control (authority, force, tools) that our necessary at times, but you should try to use as a last resort. Human beings will always resist control, as control is “to make”. So use influence to your advantage. Work smarter not harder.

Dignity and respect: Treat inmates with dignity and respect. As stated in Officer Safety, respect makes a safe environment. You should operate out of respect because you respect yourself, your profession and the situation. Respect leads to results.

Curiosity: Be proactive, professional and curious when communicating with inmates. Curiosity will lead to establishing rapport and trust, and getting results and information. A suspicious mindset will often lead to hostility.

Listen: The only way to be an effective communicator, and gather pertinent information is to be a good listener. Don’t interrupt or get caught up with what you are going to say next, rather actively listen and reflect and respond to what the inmate is saying. Be sure to validate. While it may not be as important to you, it is important to that inmate.

Reasonable: Be flexible, patient and reasonable when communicating with inmates; especially with those who have a sever mental illness. You can personalize cooperation, but never personalize conflict. Ask yourself “what would another officer with similar training and experience do if faced with a similar set of circumstances?

Empathy: Practice good emotional intelligence and try to understand the point of view of the inmates you communicate with. As you communicate with mood disorders, personality disorders and delusions, be flexible and patient. Have empathy toward inmates but don’t confuse that with sympathy. Find out what the problem is, fix the problem, and do not fixate on fixing the person.

The small things: Pay attention to the small things, and do not ignore them. (Verbal cues, key words, warning signs, behavior indicators) Again, if something doesn’t seem right, it probably isn’t.

Resolve conflict: Identify conflict and tension between inmates, and try to problem solve it at the lowest level possible. Place keep separates if necessary, document, and inform.

Suicide prevention: Be familiar with suicidal warning signs as well as the procedures for acting upon them. The Bureau of Justice Statistics has recently reported that suicides in jails are one of the leading causes of death in U.S. local jails. More than a third of all jail deaths are self-inflicted.

  • Never leave a suicidal inmate alone!
  • Do not de-humanize the situation once you’ve determined that you feel an inmate is suicidal.
  • View suicide prevention as a primary part of the job

Below are some suicidal warning signs to be familiar and stay in tune with:

  • Current depression (depression is the single best indicator of suicide).
  • Strong guilt or shame over the offense.
  • Threat of suicide attempt
  • Prior suicide attempt
  • Current or prior mental illness, particularly paranoid delusions
  • Hallucinating (believing that they hear, taste. Feel or smell something that is not there, or voices telling them to kill themselves).
  • Being under the influence of alcohol/ drugs at arrest (first 72 hours of incarceration)
  • Projection of hopelessness or helplessness – no sense of future
  • Noticeable behavioral change
  • Unrealistic talk about getting out of the facility
  • Inability to deal effectively with the present – preoccupied with past or fixated on the future
  • Packing belongings
  • Giving away possessions
  • Attention getting by gestures of self-injury
  • Excessive risk taking
  • Rehearsing a suicide attempt

Re-entry: Corrections is literally the beginning of reentry for inmates. Know the various programs and services your facility offers, and appropriately point inmates to those services. Consider this when communicating with inmates and trying to come up with the best decision and solution. The goal of corrections is to change behavior for the long term, or at least influence it, leaving people better off than the way you found them. Reducing recidivism starts just as much behind the walls as it does upon release. Influencing future oriented thinking can help turn a destructive mind into a productive mind.

Medical: Never think twice about calling medical to evaluate an inmate you feel needs to be evaluated. Remember that life is the core of all core values, and as far as care and custody goes, you have a legal duty to protect life.

Basic needs: Make sure the basic needs of inmates are reasonably being met. (food, water, hygiene, medical) Basic needs are the foundation for human motivation and effective behavior management. Unless these are met, social, esteem and other higher needs are most likely irrelevant. Additionally, basic needs go hand in hand with litigation as it relates to many conditions of confinement cases.


The profession of corrections is incredibly noble and deserves courageous men and women of character who have the heart and mind of a Guardian. This kind of character is defined through the unwavering integrity that is lived out each day both personally and professionally. It is also defined by how power is used, from the power to legally and justly perform your duties, to the power of influence you have with every interaction. It is crucial that as Guardians, you understand “why” you do what you do, and the purpose and cause in which you serve. Having the proper skillset to effectively and safely do your job is crucial, however, if your heart is in the wrong place, and your integrity is compromised, the skills you have and use can be very damaging not only to yourself, but also to the entire profession. You must be both a warrior and scholar, who applies your skills and strength to good purpose. Below are some key principles to follow that will keep your heartset and mindset priority, and your skillset sharp:

First, ask yourself the following questions:

  • What is my purpose in corrections?
  • Where can I do better?
  • How can I make a difference today?
  • What am I grateful for today?

With a servant heart, a good daily goal to have is to simply leave people and things better off than the way you found them.

Integrity: Do the right thing for the right reasons no matter who is around. Never compromise your integrity, remembering that every time you compromise a standard, you set a new one.

Nobility: Remember the nobility of corrections, and that as the final spoke of the criminal justice wheel your role in law enforcement is vital. You are not JUST a corrections officer, YOU ARE a corrections officer.

Warrior: Remember that while you are a guardian first, you are a warrior always. All skill and strength should always be applied out of good faith and for good purpose. Have a winning mindset remembering that you never lose, you either win or you learn.


corrections wellness

Below are 6 principles to live by that will optimize your safety and wellbeing as a corrections officer.

So much of corrections related training and demands are focused solely around the tasks, liabilities and things that help move the organization towards achieving “its” mission. This is very important, unfortunately, it can often be forgotten that it is “the people” that make operations run and that relationships require just as much investment as operations. The people are a priority, and investing in them is not a task, as “life” itself is the core of all core values. We owe a service to our communities, and we cannot serve and protect our communities at full potential if we do not take care of ourselves and take care of each other.

Corrections officers walk one of the toughest and most challenging beats out there as first responders behind the walls, with the risks and rigors they are faced with each day. They spend 8, 12, sometimes 16 hours supervising those who have literally been cast out of society, responding to suicides, fights, assaults, overdoses and other crisis. With the challenges of such a noble and necessary profession, taking care of “self” is probably one of the most critical elements in truly optimizing the best out of the person, the people and the agency.

A corrections officer can train significantly on how “not” to become a victim to inmate manipulation and assaults, but if they fall victim to themselves, they have already been compromised. Sometimes a corrections officer is his or her own worst enemy. Our corrections staff deserve better, and they also owe that duty to themselves to look after their own personal health and wellness.

Below are 6 elements for total wellness I refer to as “Life on P.A.R.O.L.E.”. However, it’s a different kind of “parole” which actually lets you live free from the restrictions we often place on our own lives. These are strategies that you can apply to optimize our wellbeing both personally and professionally, getting you ON MISSION through a life of service and accountability. The whole idea is to make each of these steps a habit and ultimately a way of being. Doing this will require both disciple and consistency, and will also require taking ownership of your life. However, in the end it will be worth it. There is no greater way to live, than to live ON MISSION for your faith, your family and yourself. Make no excuses, start taking ownership of your life today, and get ON MISSION through P.A.R.O.L.E. What you feed and nurture will grow, but what you starve and neglect will die.

Below are the 6 elements of P.A.R.O.L.E.

PUnderstand and stay rooted in PURPOSE:

Purpose is the foundation of “why” we do what we do. It is easy to explain to someone “what” you do and “how” you do it, but it takes deeper thought to explain to someone “why” you do what you do. The “why” is the driving force that what makes life worth living, provides us with meaning and value, and keeps us grounded in knowing the greater purpose in life. Many entered this career with a service heartset and mindset, and that is where you should stay rooted. When you ask yourself “how and who can I help” and make it a daily goal to leave people and things better off than the way you found them, as simple as it is, that alone is enough to drive your “why” each day.

Constantly evaluate your purpose, and whenever you think about giving up, fall back to remembering why you started. Corrections is an incredibly noble profession, and even though it may be implicit, you are making a difference each day you work behind the walls.

As much as you should take pride and be committed to the profession, it should never take priority over your faith, your family and your home life. It is critical to keep your home life and work life separate. Purpose runs deeper than just your career, however, it is not unlikely that if your purpose is to make a difference, it is fitting for both realms. Yes, you should view success as retiring when and how you want to, looking back at an honorable career of service, but if you fail to go home and love your family, you’re missing the bigger picture of success itself. Success is only one part of purpose, so don’t miss the journey. Ultimately, the true value of life and success may simply be measured by how much of life itself you are willing to give away in service.


At the end of the day, we all look for a true sense of accomplishment, and people often over complicate it. In fact we sometimes tend to overcomplicate corrections itself. It’s not about being better than others, it’s about being better that you were before. It’s also about making others better. In fact, the more it is about doing unto others, and the less it is about personal gain, the more fulfilling that sense of accomplishment is. The little things really matter when it comes to fulfilling purpose, value and accomplishment, and they come in all shapes and sizes. The little things are especially relevant in corrections. You do not need to move mountains to make a difference. Sometimes a random act of kindness makes the largest impact. There is also a deep intrinsic sense of accomplishment when you help someone out in need. As you recapitulate at the end of the day, a random act of kindness can be the very thing that you find gratitude in, which you can then express, and in turn strengthens relationships, promotes positive thought and emotion, and makes life truly fulfilling.

This doesn’t mean stop setting goals for yourself. Just don’t make those goals the defining factor of accomplishment. Also, each time your brain has a success, do not change the goal post for what success is supposed to look like, just continue to set realistic goals, and stay disciplined in accomplishing those goals one step at a time. Find accomplishment in the present, don’t define it by the future.

The quickest way to tear down the bridge between goats and accomplishment is both a lack of discipline and a victim mentality. Discipline, consistency, and having an “I can” attitude despite the circumstances is what bridges the gap between goals and accomplishment. This takes practical wisdom in knowing the right way to do the right thing, with particular people at particular times. Cutting through the black and white, and into the grey of situations. It’s knowing how to play and win the game, placing principle before rules, without compromising safety, integrity and honesty. When you learn to master this craft in doing not only the right thing, but the wise thing as a servant, you start to find victory in even the smallest successes.

Additionally, you must also have accountability in your life. Someone or something has to hold you accountable to the accomplishment you set for yourself. You must acknowledge and own the problems and challenges that occur, as well as your current circumstances. If we have nothing to hold us accountable, we tend to cheat ourselves. Accountability requires courage, discipline and consistency, which in turn pave the path to accomplishment. You must do the best you can, with what you’ve got, in your current circumstances, leaning on friends and mentors for support, wisdom and accountability. It’s perpetually reminding yourself that as long as you’re breathing, you never lose, you either win or you learn.

R – Maintain meaningful and authentic RELATIONSHIPS:

As social animals, people were made to be in relationship with one another. Relationships and healthy human connections are one of the most vital aspects of life, as they enhance trust and unity amongst each other. In corrections, it is easy to feel isolated in a POD surrounded by inmates, working 12 hours out of sight and out of mind from the rest of the community. It is easy to get caught up in the tasks demands and operational needs of the day. However, tasks and operations do not override people and relationships. People first, mission always. You literally depend on strong professional relationships with your peers and supervisors, and strong professional relationships do not exist without trust. Fostering and maintaining a culture of trust and transparency can sometimes be an obstacle in itself. While you should trust carefully, you should also keep a mindset of curiosity rather than suspicion, looking at intention over perception. Make it a goal to acquire trust from not only the peers you work with, but the inmates you supervise. This requires practicing good emotional intelligence in recognizing and regulating emotion. Corrections can be an emotionally challenging and depleting environment, and it’s okay to have bad days. As a peer, it is important to not only recognize this, but be supportive of this as well. This falls back to servanthood and purpose, in asking “how and who can I help?” Think of your peers as family, not just-co-workers; family united behind the walls. Negative and broken relationships can not only cripple operations, but also affect your wellbeing. However, strong, meaningful, positive and authentic relationships can be the driver in flourishing operations and a thriving culture.

Again, relationships at home are the most important. Your family always comes first, so don’t neglect them. Go to work, work hard, then go home and love your family. Family needs constant investment and nurturing. Nurture positive, meaningful and authentic relationships, remembering they are one of the most important aspects of life.

O – Stay perpetually OPTIMISTIC:

It’s easy to look for the negative in everything, but it’s not productive. The difference between pessimism and optimism is the same comparison as a victim and a survivor. One loses, the other either wins or learns. So don’t be part of the problem, be part of the solution.

Yes, the small things matter in corrections, and it is important that you pay attention and do not compromise the small things. However, that does not mean you should sweat the small things, just fix them. You have to surround yourself with positive relationships but not expect everyone and everything to be compatible with you all the time. We must remain flexible, empathetic, and open minded in how we harmonize with the flow of life and our relationships. Optimism starts with managing positive thought and emotion and staying mentally and emotionally fit. This is paramount in solving problems. You have the choice to be part of the problem or part of the solution. Gossip, complaining and pessimism are all cancerous vices that will pollute an organization and damage relationships. However, being part of the solution fills the void of achievement and accomplishment, and is the easiest way as a leader to humbly set the example in solving problems. Ideas are important, innovation matters, and having a creative mind will not only promote positive thought and emotion, but create safer and more effective operations.

L – Live with LOVE and gratitude:

Life is full of both battles and blessings, so we have to stay strong, fight the good fight and live with gratitude and love. Gratitude alone is one of the most powerful and healthiest emotions you have and it is one of the purest forms of love. It is incredibly contagious, and the more gratitude you identify and express, the more that expression of gratitude becomes a daily way of being. Despite any circumstance, there is always something to be grateful for. It is a matter of perspective, and when you are rooted in purpose, and realistically optimistic, gratitude is literally the cherry on top to your mental and emotional wellbeing. Make it a habit to journal 1 to 3 things you are grateful for at the beginning or end of each day. You will relive those positive experiences. However, do not just capture that gratitude, but express it as well. It is not enough to just feel grateful, but the expression of gratitude completes the circle for meaningful and successful relationships, and successful relationships complete the circle of successful operations.

Gratitude stems from thought, so you must also manage your thoughts and emotions. With the millions of operations it performs each second, and the 12,000 to 60,000 thoughts it has each day, your brain is one of the most powerful tools you have in determining the course of your life. Many think that it is the circumstances themselves that define happiness, when in reality, you hold the key to almost every situation. Your thoughts are the very thing that shape your subconscious, and your subconscious that ultimately shapes your reality. Sure genetics and circumstances can definitely be factors in your state of happiness, but approximately 40% of that happiness is your choice. Be mindful and perpetually optimistic of the past, present and the future. Also, be very careful where you spend your thoughts and energy, especially in your facility where many would label as a negative environment. Unmanaged depleting emotion and unhealthy thought will only cripple operations, relationships and a fulfilling life.

Keeping a glass half-full perspective will not only improve your view of work, but your relationships, creativity and performance. Studies show that humans are actually 31% more productive in the positive, than in the negative, neutral or stressed. With corrections, not only are you more productive in the positive, but safer as well; and safety will always be the top priority. James Allen said it in this way “a man is literally what he thinks, his character being the complete sum of all of his thoughts.” While God has ultimate control over all, God gave us control over your thoughts, even though sometimes it doesn’t feel that way. It is okay to have depleting emotion such as anger and frustration, but we must recognize and regulate that emotion so that we can use it for good purpose. Our own mind can sometimes be our biggest enemy. So as you go throughout your day, learn to scan the world for the positive. As you practice emotional intelligence, don’t just be good at recognizing emotion, but master the regulation of your emotion and use it appropriately. Constantly ask yourself “how do I feel, and how do I make others feel?” Constantly ask yourself “how and who can I help?” Constantly ask yourself “is the lens in which I am viewing things the right lens?” If not, change it. Remember that love and gratitude are not based on conditions or compatibility, they are base on principle, choice and action.

E – EXERCISE and find flow:

Living in vitality means staying resilient, coherent and fit. Often when people think about the term fitness, they think salads and treadmills. Bottom line is that your physical health is only a quarter of your overall resilience in being fully fit for duty. There are 4 domains to resilience, and they should all flow with one another as they deplete and renew throughout the day. Below are the 4 domains of resilience:

Physical – nutrition, proper rest, exercise

Mental – positive thoughts, optimism, proper rest, exercise

Emotional – positive relationships, positive thoughts, flexibility, patience

Spiritual – faith, morals, values, tolerance, servanthood, PURPOSE!

It is easiest to think of each of these 4 domains as rechargeable batteries that all sync with one another, and require balance and charge. The heart, the mind, the soul and the body all require exercise. When you exercise physically, generally you feel better mentally. When you think positive, you generally feel better emotionally. Staying rooted in purpose, thinking positive and expressing gratitude as listed earlier, are just practicing habits that keep your mental, emotional and spiritual batteries charged. This leaves the one domain that people often neglect, and requires discipline and consistency in eating healthy and exercising. Unfortunately, “I don’t have time” and “I don’t have a gym” is not a valid excuse. All you need is 10 minutes a day. Remember, exercise is also a contributing factor to your mental and emotional wellbeing. Below is a simple Tabata exercise that requires no equipment and only takes about 10 minutes of your day depending on the number of sets you decide to do:


  • 20 Seconds: Exercise (push-ups, sit-ups, lunges, burpees, planks, body squats)
  • 10 Seconds: Rest
  • Repeat 8 times (4 minutes total)
  • Do at least 2 sets (8 minutes total)
  • Rest 1 minute in-between sets
  • Try to alternate between exercises (push-ups, rests, sit-ups, rest, body squats, rest, repeat)

Corrections can be physically, mentally and emotionally demanding, so stay disciplined and keep those batteries charged. Exercise regularly, eat healthy, and get adequate rest. Most importantly, don’t forget to breathe. Heart focused breathing is the quickest and most effective way to align the heart and mind, and come back to a state of coherence. When safe to do so, clear your mind, close your eyes, find that feeling of inner ease, breathe in for 4-5 seconds, hold it for 4-5 seconds, exhale for 4-5 seconds and hold it for 4-5 seconds. Focus on your heart as you do this for 1 to 2 minutes. This is like the CTRL, ALT, DELETE for the human body, and we all need a reset every once in awhile.

The Kansas Highway Patrol have a saying that goes “when you chose law enforcement, you lose the right to be unfit”. The only thing to remember, is that there is a deeper meaning to the term “fit”. Fitness and vitality requires balance, discipline and consistency, and when you become engaged with life and find your flow, you’ll realize that a body in motion stays in motion.

It’s important to also remember that practical wisdom and a survival mindset play a critical role in not only your metal and emotional wellness, but are key players in finding daily flow. This doesn’t mean choosing the path of least resistance, it means learning how to improvise, adapt and overcome while staying balanced and in control.

Recapitulation and evaluation

Finally, it is critical to take time to recapitulate and re-evaluate at the end of every day. Along with taking time to journal thoughts, problems and ideas, mentally replay your day and your interactions and ask yourself:

  • what happened today?”
  • so what did I do?”
  • now what do I need to do?”
  • “Is my attitude productive and beneficial to me or others?
  • “Am I giving my best, or is my best yet to come?”
  • “Where and how can I do better?”

Re-evaluate your purpose, your attitude towards life, friends, family, and your career. Do you need to control alt delete? I think we all do every once in awhile.

Bottom line is, your wellness matters, so take charge of the life you have been given in such a noble profession. Each day is a gift and tomorrow is never promised. These are steps that you can apply starting today that will help you change that pattern and lens through which your brain perceives reality, and help your body, mind and soul harmonize with the current flow of life. A happier and healthier you, means a happier, healthier and safer work culture, more effective operations, a happier family and an overall better life. You have to take care of yourself because you cannot pour from an empty glass. Getting ON MISSION starts with you.

I challenge you…

21 day challenge

Find flow for 21 days in a row by going through each of the following steps:

  • Start your day early and be thankful for it. Each day is a gift to be grateful for, so own your current circumstances, smile and find flow with the day. Reflect on your purpose by asking yourself “what’s my why?
  • Journal 1 thing about the day that you are truly grateful for, and ask yourself “how can I express it?
  • Ask yourself “how can I serve, and who and how can I help?
  • Serve through a random acts of kindness. Maybe it is simply expressing your gratitude to someone and letting them know they are appreciated, whether it is verbally, or through a letter or text.
  • Find a safe, quiet and calm place of solitude; sit down, relax, close your eyes, and practice 2 minutes of heart focused breathing, or several rounds of power breathing. Capture and hold on to that positive emotion that puts you at ease.
  • Complete at least 10 minutes of physical exercise even if it is simply getting out and moving.
  • Drink 8 glasses of water and maintain a healthy diet, the mind and body need it.
  • Journal all thoughts, ideas and problems that come to your mind. All ideas are worth writing down, and all problems have a solution. Ask yourself “where and how can I do better?” Journal the “what” about the day, then ask yourself “so what, and now what?” Put words into action.

Here is the simplified checklist you can use to take you through this new journey of P.A.R.O.L.E. and get you ON MISSION:

☐ Own the day, your current circumstances and smile / “What’s my why?”

☐ Gratitude / “What am I grateful for and how can I express it?”


☐ Random act of kindness / “How can I serve and how or who can I help?” ____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

☐ Get out and move! (At least 10 minutes of exercise)

☐ Hydrate (8 glasses of water)

☐ Heart focused breathing / Meditation (At least 2 minutes)

☐ Thoughts, problems and ideas / “Where and how can I do better?” / What, so what, now what?



The term “firm, fair and consistent” has generally been labeled as a “golden rule” in corrections. However, 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, you actually lose consistency itself in being “firm fair and consistent”. It then becomes “my way and my way only”.

The term firm is easy to define. To be firm in how you operate means you are unwavering in the principles you stand by. You are firm in your beliefs, values and standards, and at the same time, you are firm in your expectations you 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 your 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 you stand firm in the principles you believe in meaning no standard will be compromised.

Fair is the term that often gets lost in translation, and is where you lose many new officers. It is important that you remember that fair is not equal. These are two separate things. Equal means you do the same thing the same way every time regardless of the situation. This holds truth in some of the things you do as officers; however, with this mindset you limit officer discretion and your ability to be problem solvers. To be fair you have to be able to think outside of the box and apply practical wisdom. This means that you are able to move beyond the black and white of rules and policy, and into the gray of each situation.

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. You have policy and procedures that act as guidelines so that you may do our jobs effectively, legally, safely and professionally. Some things however are not black and white, and when there is gray area, it is on the officer to problem solve and use his or her discretion to make wise decisions that are legal, professional and safe.

The bottom line is that being firm, fair and consistent is a necessity in this profession, and it is a skill you 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.

The idea of being “firm, fair and consistent” directly influences how you supervise and manage inmates. It is important you are emotionally balanced and emotionally mature, knowing which one of the 4 supervision styles best fits with the inmates you are supervising. There are weaknesses and strengths in every supervision style. The trick is to use them all at the right time, remembering that while rules control, principles guide:

  1. ENFORCER (control)
  2. CONFRONTER (authority)
  3. NEGOTIATOR (options)
  4. DIPLOMAT (cooperation)

The first 2 supervision styles would generally be labeled as a “hard employee”, whereas the second 2 supervision styles would be generally labeled as a “soft employee”. You can’t always be a hard employee, and you can’t always be the soft employee. Being the “medium employee” by using all 4 supervision styles at the appropriate times is the most effective way to operate both safely and efficiently.

Practical wisdom: Practical wisdom is simply the right way to do the right thing, in a particular circumstance, with a particular person, at a particular time. In addition to understanding the law, it is the key virtue to successful risk management, as each individual situation can be so uniquely different. Corrections is a profession full of risk and liability. It is far from black and white, and requires practical wisdom to safety, legally and professionally navigate through the gray area of every situation; making decisions with sound judgment that minimize negative risk. Every decision in a specific incident will produce a consequence, and practical wisdom is your greatest defense against litigation and negative risk.

The constitution is your fundamental backbone, and policies and procedures are critically important to have in place to avoid negative and unnecessary risks. However, it is important to keep in mind that there is not a policy or rule in place for everything you do, and every decision you make. Policies, procedures and laws are constantly evolving and changing, and never overshadow just “doing the right thing”. Policy is simply the guardrails in helping you make wise decisions, while legality is the path towards your destination. The destination itself is success, ultimately defined by your integrity. If you compromise your integrity, you then change that destination completely. However, if your heart and mind are in the right place, you know and follow the law, and you exercise practical wisdom; you can then navigate your way to success. There might be different routes you take (decisions you make), and you might veer to the left or right a little, but as long as you stay on the road of legality, making decisions that are legal, professional and safe, you can still get to your destination (success). It is when you start to violate policy, break the law, and make unwise decisions, where the guardrails start coming down and the road becomes narrower and more dangerous.

While rules and policies will control the black and white of situations, a wise person stays guided by his or her principles, able to navigate beyond the black and white of rules, and see the gray in each situation.

Legality is the path, policy are the guardrails, success is the destination and integrity gets you there.


It is critical to have a clear understanding of legal issues in corrections considering you are in a high liability business. In terms of understanding how the legal system actually works, it is easiest to think of it as a funnel that starts at the FEDERAL level, and narrows down to STATE, all the way down to AGENCY policy and procedure (why operations are the way they are).

Eras of corrections: There have been different eras of corrections that have shaped how you do business. The 3 different eras of corrections have been:

  1. The hands off era: From decades ago, to the mid 1960’s this is when the courts simply would not respond to inmate claims.
  • During the Hands off era, institution conditions were typically not fit for human habitation.
  • Being that the courts were not involved, neither was the public. So there was a lack of funding to upkeep, maintain and remodel the institutions.
  • Wardens and those in charge of the institution were given free rein to manage their facility without court involvement, as long as the lid was kept on the prison.
  • Standards were minimal. Those in charge of an institution were typically selected due to political reason over corrections experience. New officers were not given the proper training, and 40% of the state institutions did not even require a high school diploma.
  • With all the above, there was a significant lack of leadership, and serious abuse that would occur.
  • Washington v Lee – 1966 – Civil rights issues were arising in the courts, such as whippings, shocking’s, lack of medical care, racial segregation and inhumane practice in an Alabama prison causing the courts to become more involved, and ultimately putting an end to the hands off era.
  1. The hands on era: In the 1970’s, there was a great increase in court involvement with corrections operations and institutions, ultimately changing the way corrections does business.
  • Court requirements would include time to exercise, proper diet, no double bunking, pre-trial inmates allowed to be present during cell searches, and allowed to wear their own personal clothing.
  • This momentum of court involvement continued to build, but came to a halt in the late 1970’s. The main reason for this slowing was the amount of time it would take cases to reach the US Supreme Court. As well as too many case taking too long to be heard, there were also inmate rights conflicting with penological interests.
  1. The one hand on one hand off era: Beginning in the 1980’s to present day, there has been a reduction of court intervention caused by a series of US Supreme Court decisions. There has been more focus on inmates being protected by the Constitution.
  • This era began in the early 1980’s.
  • A more conservative approach was taking place in the corrections industry, and the courts would look at both inmate rights and facility safety.
  • This is the era of corrections we are currently in, as legal issues continue to evolve.

The Constitution of the United States: The U.S. Constitution established America’s national government and fundamental laws, and guaranteed certain basic rights for its citizens. It was signed on September 17, 1787, by delegates to the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, presided over by George Washington. It is the backbone for all Law that we as Law Enforcement Officers have been entrusted to uphold. Below are the 4 key amendments you should know as a corrections professional; the 1st, 4th, 8th and 14th.

The 1st Amendment: The freedom of speech, press and religion.

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

The two most common 1st Amendment issues you deal with in corrections are MAIL and RELIGION.

  1. Mail:
  • Incoming and outgoing mail can and should be searched.
  • If mail is rejected, the inmate and sender have the right to be notified of the rejection.
  • Legal mail must be searched in the presence of the inmate.
  • Abbott v Thornburgh (1989) – The courts decided that to reject mail, the facility must prove that the material advocated some type of safety risk or breach in security.
  1. Religion:
  • Religion is a sensitive subject as well as the most common 1st Amendment issue that arises in jails and prisons.
  • Corrections officials must be reasonable in allowing inmates to practice their faith unless their practice somehow threatens or violates the safety and security of the facility.
  • This means any genuine or sincere belief even if it is not common or required by the tenets (principles) of faith.
  • This is a standard used to balance the inmate’s right and the institutions need for restricting that right. After 2 different 1st Amendment cases (Turner v Safley and O’lone v Estate of Shabazz1987) caught the attention of the courts, this 4 pronged test is what the courts would then begin to use to resolve these 1st Amendment Issues.
  • Turner Test:
  1. Is there a rational connection between the restriction and the institutions need for the restriction? (Why is it being restricted?)
  2. Are there alternative means for the inmate to exercise his or her right? (What are the alternatives for the inmate?)
  3. Are there alternatives to the restriction? (What are the alternatives for the agency?)
  4. What is the impact on correctional officers and inmates to accommodate the right?
  • RLUIPA (Religious Land Use for Institutionalized Persons Act) – This is an act that made it harder to restrict religious practices. It increased the power of the courts to second-guess decisions made for restrictions, requiring that they are “least restrictive”.
  • With religion being the constitutionally sensitive subject that it is, not only should you be reasonable, but document all reasonable efforts made to try and accommodate a need.
  • Reasonable accommodations would include diets, materials and pre-qualified practitioners.

The 4th Amendment: Searches and seizures.

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

Considering the amount of searching a corrections officer conducts each day, there are some key factors to remember with the 4th Amendment:

  • The 4th Amendment does not apply to cell searches, unless the search is done solely to harass. Hudson v. Palmer – 1984
  • When it comes to booking and intake, it is assumed by correctional staff that the arresting officer has lawfully detained (seized) the individual. Charging documents such as a warrant, court order or new charge must be present for any corrections officer to legally take an individual into custody.
  • For an arresting officer to confiscate an inmate’s property who has already been booked in to jail, he or she must obtain a warrant to do so.
  • Random urine tests for inmates are seen as reasonable by the courts.
  • You do not need “reasonable suspicion” to conduct a pat/clothed search. The courts have upheld that random pat down searches are reasonable within an institution. Again, the searches must be reasonable and not done solely to harass the inmate.
  • Strip Searches: The Supreme Court has approved strip searches without a search warrant in the following circumstances:Inmates opportunity to obtain contraband (contact visits, hospital trips, furloughs)
    • Reasonable suspicion of contraband
    • Drug charges
    • Prior knowledge of incarceration
    • Inmates who are post-conviction status
  • Giles v Ackerman – 1984 – This was a case that determined that strip searches are reasonable under the 4th Amendment where the security needs of the local jail outweigh the privacy interests of the arrestees subject to strip searches. In this particular case, a woman (Giles) in Idaho was arrested on a minor traffic violation. She was never frisked by the arresting officer and was taken to Bonneville County Jail. After Giles was unable to post bail, she was booked into the jail; and within compliance of the Jails policy, she was ordered to conduct a strip search. Giles claimed that the officer who searched her violated her 4th Amendment rights. Initially, the held that for an official to strip search a subject, the officials must have a reasonable suspicion that the subject is concealing contraband. However, after a cross motion for summary judgment was considered, the District Court found that the particular strip search did not violate Giles constitutional right, as the official was simply staying in compliance with the jail policy at the time of the search.
  • A strip search falls under all of the following:Witnessing clothing exchange
    • Clothing removal to photograph tattoos
    • Clothing removal for a medical inspection
    • Doesn’t matter what you call it!

The 8th Amendment: Cruel and unusual punishment.

Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.

This Amendment applies to post conviction status inmates (convicted). While the term “cruel and unusual” is fairly vague, the courts have come up with a test to define what cruel and unusual means according to the following:

  • Shocks the conscious of the court (manifestly and grossly unjust)
  • Violates the evolving standards of decency of a civilized society
  • Punishment that is disproportionate to the offense
  • Involves a wanton and unnecessary infliction of pain

Conditions of confinement cases like overcrowding would fall under the 8th Amendment. If the inmates have not yet been convicted, then the protections would fall under the 14th Amendment.

Examples of conditions of confinement would be:

  • Overcrowding
  • Food / nutrition
  • Sanitation / cleaning
  • Safety / protection

Estelle v. Gamble – 1976 – was a critical case under the 8th Amendment that established the term “deliberate indifference”. Deliberate indifference is simply ignoring a situation known to exist. It is a conscious or reckless disregard of the consequences of one’s acts or omissions. Deliberate indifference is relevant in failure to protect cases and cases where inmates complain of not even having basic needs met such as medical care as seen in the Estelle v. Gamble case.

In order for an “institution” to violate the 8th Amendment they must meet 2 factors:

  1. The conditions must be very bad, creating a substantial risk of serious harm by failing to adequately provide inmates with one or more basic human need (food, water, clothing, shelter, hygiene, medical care).
  2. The defendants knew of the serious problems and failed to take any sort of meaningful corrective response. (Deliberate Indifference)

Excessive force cases are also evaluated under the 8th Amendment for sentenced inmates.

Per Hudson v. McMillian, the use of excessive force against a prisoner may constitute “cruel and unusual punishment” even though the inmate does not suffer serious Injury.

The 14th Amendment: Due process and equal protection.

Section. 1. All persons born or naturalized in the United States and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

This Amendment applies to the deprivation of life, liberty and property without due process of the law. Pre-Trial inmate cases will typically fall under the 14th Amendment. It basically means that a state is required to go through a certain procedure “due process” before depriving an inmate of a right.

The ultimate goal of due process is fairness.

The grievance system was a system put in place as an administrative remedy to address inmate concerns. Providing inmates with a proper grievance process helps the jail administration resolve internal issues before they become a full-blown lawsuit. Inmates must comply with the institutions deadlines and procedural rules. Proper exhaustion requires compliance with the institution’s deadlines and other procedural rules.

Inmates have the right to have “access to the courts” as well as legal counsel.

When it comes to discipline for inmates, corrections officers must follow a disciplinary process:

  • A hearing in which the inmate has the right to be present.
  • Advance written notice given to the inmate at least 24 hours before the hearing.
  • The opportunity for the inmate to call witnesses and present evidence on his or her own behalf, unless it would be considered hazardous to the institutions safety.
  • Assistance (right to a lawyer)
  • Impartial tribunal
  • A written decision (evidence and reason for the decision)

Involuntary medicating an inmate is another common 14th amendment issue in jails and prisons. Bottom line is that inmates have the right to refuse medical treatment unless it is absolutely necessary and in done in good faith.

Torts claims are civil as opposed to criminal. They are the first step in a legal proceeding that could lead to a civil lawsuit. These arise when there is a violation of:

  • Damaged / missing property
  • Failure to protect the inmate from harm / assault / DEATH
  • Medical malpractice or breaches of other duties of reasonable care that correctional staff may owe inmates or others.
  • The most common torts in corrections are missing, lost or damaged property.

The Prison Litigation Reform Act of 1995: In 1995, congress passed the Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA), which placed several restrictions on the ability of prisoners to file lawsuits based on the conditions of their confinement. This was the single most important development in correctional law that took place in the 1990’s.

With the rise of thousands and thousands of lawsuits flooding the courts, the PLRA ultimately made it easier for corrections officials to terminate court orders entered against them, and made it harder for inmates to file lawsuits.

The PLRA also requires that inmates exhaust all administrative remedies (such as grievances and internal appeals) before filing a civil rights case.

Additional landmark correctional cases:

PREA (Prison Rape Elimination Act) of 2003: The purpose of the act was to provide information, resources, recommendations and funding to protect individuals from prison rape. There are 8 primary important functions of PREA:

  1. Make prevention a top priority.
  2. Sets National standards for detection, prevention, reduction, prosecution and punishment.
  3. Increases data collection to determine prevalence of sexual abuse and develop applicable responses.
  4. Standardizes definitions for collecting data.
  5. Increases accountability of officials who fail to detect, prevent, reduce and prosecute sexual assault.
  6. Protects Inmates 8th Amendment rights.
  7. Established requirements for accreditation organizations to adopt accreditation standards (PREA)
  8. Impacts health care, mental health care, disease prevention, crime prevention, investigation and prosecution, physical plant, maintenance and operation; race relations, poverty, unemployment and homelessness.

Here is how PREA affects you:

  • PREA promotes good operational practices regarding safety and security.
  • PREA Standards give direction to staffing, classification, inmate supervision, investigations, first responders and training.
  • Agencies are required to screen all inmates / offenders for rape risk.
  • Agencies must also have a method to receive complaints to include anonymous complaints.
  • Searching: According to PREA, inmates will be searched according to physiognomy (genitalia). With transgender searching, PREA prohibits “duel” searching (2 people of opposite gender searching the transgender inmate). There are three practices consistent with PREA for assigning staff to perform pat searches on transgender and intersex inmates and residents:
  1. Option 1: Searches are conducted only by medical staff;
  2. Option 2: Searches are conducted by female staff only, since there is no prohibition on the pat-searches female staff can perform (except in juvenile facilities).
  3. Option 3: Asking inmates to identify the gender of staff with whom they would feel most comfortable. This preference can be documented at intake.
  • Housing: According to PREA, for the purposes of housing, inmates should be housed according to their gender “identity”. With regards to both housing and searching transgender and intersex inmates, all actions and accommodations should be documented.

ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) of 1990: The ADA prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities in employment, transportation, public accommodation, communications and governmental activities. (confined in a correctional institution) It basically comes down to appropriate accommodations, but equal treatment:

  • Medical care
  • Specialized housing
  • Mental health care
  • Voting
  • Visitation access

Always look for reasonable alternatives and accommodations. If you have to, be creative, and document your efforts.


Every state has its own statutes, laws and courts that typically funnel down from the federal level. It is critical that you stay informed with all current state law that governs how you jails and prisons operate.

Use of Force: The law for the use of force is fairly consistent across each state. The courts are going to look at whether or not the force was:

  • Necessary – were there reasonably effective alternatives?
  • Reasonable – would a reasonable officer react in a similar manner given a similar set of circumstances?
  • Justified – was there a legitimate reason for the force used, and can you articulate the reason for the use of force?

Bottom line is that in order for your force to be lawful, it must be objectively reasonable under the totality of circumstances.

Hudson v. McMillian is an excessive force case that speaks to excessive force constituting cruel and unusual punishment under the 8th amendment. However, the five-pronged Hudson test the courts use to evaluate these cases is still critical to include in any use of force, regardless if convicted or pre-trial.

The five-pronged test (PANAM) helps the courts determine whether or not your actions were reasonable, necessary and out of good faith; or malicious, unreasonable and unnecessary:

P – Perceived threat by correctional officers?

A – Any and all efforts to deescalate?

N – Need for the application of force?

A – Amount of force that was used?

M – Medical issues, and extent of any injuries?

Levels of resistance:

  • Static resistance – isometric muscle tension actively generated by the violator.
  • Egressive resistance – violator is attempting to escape control using evasive and reactive movements. There is now more than static resistance, but the violator is not attacking.
  • Aggressive resistance – violator is now attacking or assaulting you. They are trying to injure you in the process of resisting.
  • Aggravated aggression – violator has pre-planned the attack or is implementing weapons that are potentially lethal.

Progression of force:

  • Presence – being there, badge, uniform, lights.
  • Verbal commands – talking, directing, trying to de-escalate.
  • Physical touching – guiding or directing the person for minor passive resistance.
  • Control tactics – using control tactics in trying to gain compliance.
  • Defensive tactics – designed to impede the violator as they are attacking you.
  • Termination tactics – designed to STOP the violator as fast as possible.


When the funnel finally gets down to the policies and procedures that guide the facility you work at, you must remember that with foreshadowing cases and major acts of congress, it will continue to evolve. With that being said, it is critical that you study and keep current with the policies and procedures of your facility.

Knowing the rules, policies, procedures and post orders of your facility will keep you:

  • Confident and competent in your decisions and actions.
  • Credible and trusted by both staff and inmates.

While policy is there to protect the interest of the agency, staff and inmates, it is not all black and white, and does not have every answer. Practical wisdom and common sense will keep you safe when you are faced with those grey area situations that policy does not cover. Do not be afraid to make suggestions for better, safer and more efficient ways of doing things. As legal issues continue to evolve, so should policy and procedure. Agencies are required to be proactive and innovative staying current with litigation, trends and topics. Below are some current topics that effect agency policy and procedure.

Suicide liability: Jails and prisons are generally required by state law to perform suicide screenings and offer suicide prevention programs. In the event of a suicide or wrongful death case, the courts will look at 3 factors:

  1. Failure to identify
  2. Failure to monitor
  3. Failure to respond

In most states, you can be sued under state law for negligence for failing to protect an inmate if the proper procedures to identify, monitor and respond were not followed. In on case, Freedman v City of Allentown – 1989 – an inmate killed himself who the probation officer knew of previous attempts, as well as the inmate showing the officer scars from previous attempts all over his body. The Courts saw this as both negligent and deliberate indifferent. In order to prevent suicide liability, it is important that we:

  • Slow down, pay attention to the warning signs, and trust you gut. It is always better to be safe than sorry.
  • Ask the right questions, gather the right information and take the appropriate actions.
  • Never leave an inmate you suspect to be suicidal alone.

Opiate use and detoxification: About 70% of jail populations are drug users, 80% in which are opiate users. This poses significant risk to the facility, so it is critical to pay attention to the warning signs. If they are thin, they are at a higher risk of death. If they have diarrhea or if they are vomiting, they are at risk of dying from dehydration.

In one particular case, Crowell v Cowlitz County – 2015 – a young inmate was booked in on a misdemeanor warrant, was detoxing from heroin, and normal detox protocol was taken (medical was notified).  During his detox, he fell off of his bunk, began vomiting and eventually died. A lawsuit was filed and the courts found that the jail was not deliberate indifferent. Because the proper procedure for detox protocol was followed, the agency was not held liable. The take way from this is to have a detox protocol in place, notify medical staff, and remember that just because they are young doesn’t mean that they will be fine.

When it comes to opiate use and detoxification, 83% of all in-custody deaths are related to drug and alcohol withdrawals. The human body simply cannot handle the rapid decline of the needed drug, causing a rapid neurological shock when the body is without the drug.

Some alternative solutions agencies are looking at to try and reduce the liability from in-custody deaths are methadone and suboxoen programs. These programs help the inmates come down off of the drug slowly, minimizing dangerous detoxification, ultimately reducing the risk of potential death while in-custody. These programs have a success rate of 33% for quitting the drug, whereas quitting without any form of assistance is at 3%.

Mentally ill inmates: Approximately 2 million people with mental illness are booked into jail each year. Approximately 15% of men and 30% of women booked into jails have a serious mental health condition. According to recent studies, approximately 73% of women and 55% of men in state prisons have at least one mental health problem. In federal prisons it is approximately 61% of women and 44% of men, and in local jails it is approximately 75% of women and 44% of men. Approximately 76% of jail inmates who have a mental health problem are dependent on, or abused alcohol or drugs. This creates some serious challenges and obstacles as we try to manage this clientele in custody.

When dealing with the severely mentally ill, it is critical to be patient flexible and to not take things personally. You should stay objective, reasonable and try to fix the problem and not the person.

Keep your supervisor and mental health informed, and point the inmate toward the correct resources. With that, you should document all unusual circumstances, behavior, as well as all reasonable efforts made to accommodate.

Restrictive housing: Another topic subject to litigation is restrictive housing without reason. According to the DOJ, anything less than 4 hours a day is seen as “restrictive housing” no matter what you call it (specialized, ad-seg, observation). Even if it is for medical observation or some reason other than disciplinary, it is still legally seen as the county or cities problem since they are the ones detaining the individual; and it is still “restrictive housing”.

Anytime someone is placed in restrictive housing, the reason must serve some penological interest. The safety and security of the facility always comes first, just be sure to document and articulate your reason for placing individuals in restrictive housing.

According to federal law, inmates are required showers and access to legal counsel and grievances at least every 72 hours, 1 hour a day in restrictive housing and 4 hours for general population. Anything otherwise must be documented. The DOJ is encouraging agencies to seek alternative solutions for restrictive housing, and ways to increase out time and access to resources. Unfortunately, behavior and certain situations are what will dictate in inmate’s time out of their cell. Just remember to be reasonable, be creative, and that boredom is one of the biggest enemies used against you. Keeping those in restrictive housing occupied in their thinking brain keeps them out of an emotional brain, meaning less disruption and easier to manage. Look at things like activities, pointing to resources and future oriented thinking; and document those efforts made.

Inmate releases: Releasing inmates back out into the community can be a risk if the wrong inmate is released, or an inmate that has severe physical or mental health issues is released to the community without proper planning.

The DOJ believes inmates in restrictive housing should not be released directly to the community without some kind of release planning.

For inmates that are getting released, ask questions and identify if there should be some release planning:

  • Are they able to care for themselves?
  • Are they mentally ill?
  • Do they have anywhere to go?
  • If they are taking medication, will they be able to access that medication upon release?
  • Do they need to be released to a medical facility?

Documentation: Good documentation may be the one thing that saves you in the event of a lawsuit. With the number of incidents and interactions you have each day, years down the road it may be virtually impossible to recall the details of a particular event. Whether it is medical events, uses of force, unusual circumstances or simply just an effort made to reasonably accommodate, proper documentation is key.

As a mandatory reporter, documentation is also an essential part of your duty and responsibility. It not only represents who you are as a professional (your image), but also reflects your agency and the profession. It is critical to know your policy for documentation, and make quality documentation a priority. It provides a detailed account of the decisions and actions you made, and helps justify and articulate those decisions and actions. Remember, if you did not document it, it did not happen!

Here are some documentation best practices:

  1. Paint the picture. Tell the whole story — who, what, when, where, why and how. As you paint the picture in your documentation, remember your audience of judges, jury members, attorneys and the public.
  2. Stay objective. Only document the facts, and don’t allow emotion to come out in your reports. Avoid opinions and, if you use them, label them as such.
  3. Be concise. Tell the whole story, but keep your report brief and to the point. Provide pertinent and relevant information only. This helps keep your report objective.
  4. Avoid slang and jargon. This goes hand in hand with knowing your audience. For example:
  • Instead of “cuffs” use “handcuffs
  • Instead of “wasted” use “intoxicated
  • Instead of “racked back” use “returned to their cell
  • Instead of “patted down” use “conducted a pat search
  1. In the beginning of your report, identify the date, the approximate time, the location and the person talking. The opening of the report should include a brief synopsis of who is talking, and what the report is about. Your timeframes should be in approximate time only, as your watch may have said something different than someone else’s.
  2. Write your report in first person, using an active voice and keeping it past tense. For example, write “I applied handcuffs on Inmate Anderson and he began to turn towards me,” not “Anderson then turns toward me as I’m applying cuffs.”
  3. Write your report in chronological order, identifying all persons involved, all actions taken and include all follow-up actions. Don’t leave your audience guessing. For example, “I applied handcuffs on inmate Anderson and he began to turn towards me. I told inmate Anderson to turn and face the wall in front of him until instructed to move, and he complied,” or “I conducted a pat search on Inmate Smith, and nothing was found.”
  4. After you finish writing your report, proofread it, then have someone else proofread it. Another set of eyes may find spelling or grammatical errors you missed, or give suggestions for how something may be re-worded. Your report is your report, an accurate record of your actions; however, how it reads may be interpreted differently by someone else.
  5. Make documentation a habit, and document everything. Document:
  • Uses of force;
  • Medical events;
  • Unusual behavior or circumstances;
  • Threats toward yourself or others;
  • Reasonable actions and efforts made to accommodate.

Documenting the use of force: How we document and articulate the lawful force we used is critical. Remember to look at the 5 pronged test (PANAM) established by Hudson v McMillian and used by the courts to determine whether or not your actions were reasonable, necessary and out of good faith; or malicious, unreasonable and unnecessary:

P – Perceived threat by correctional officers?

A – Any and all efforts to deescalate?

N – Need for the application of force?

A – Amount of force that was used?

M – Medical issues, and extent of any injuries?


  1. Safety is your top priority, professionalism is your foundation, and legality is your path.
  2. Always document.
  3. Notify your supervisor and keep them informed.
  4. Be reasonable and care.

This formula is nothing more than an operational mindset and way of being for a corrections professional. How it is applied is what truly matters, otherwise it is just content. It is up to you to put it into context. Utilizing this formula will help you flourish in this noble profession. Each officer is their own “person” and has their own style in which they conduct business with strengths and challenges. Each officer also has their own definition of success, however, the daily goal and primary purpose should be somewhere along the lines of simply “making a difference”. As long as you operate in a way that is legal, professional and safe, you will make a difference in this line of work; not just for yourself, but also for your family, your agency, and your community.