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Tips To Succeed As A Jail Officer.

Simple Advice For A New Officer

By Jason Ray Morton Published 3 years ago 7 min read
Tips To Succeed As A Jail Officer.
Photo by Damir Spanic on Unsplash

So, you've decided to work in a correctional setting as an officer. Well, depending on the agency, whether it's a prison or a jail doing pretrial detentions and local sentencing, there are things that work and do not. I'll start by saying that some of these rules apply across the board and some will apply based on agencies policies, procedures, and the practicality of applying them where you are working. Because, like each prisoner is going to present different challenges, each facility is a little different than the next.

1. It Is Their World, Not Yours

Now that I have said it, get all the preconceived notions that the academy or the macho officer have put into your head out, as soon as possible. It will save you many headaches and bad days, as well as slow arthritis in your hands from all the reports you will write. Certainly, fear will not serve you well behind the walls of the jail or prison you assigned to, and will absolutely shorten your career. The trick is to control their world. Remember, that they aren't there for following rules. You are there to remind them of those rules when you see an infraction.

2. Being Fair, Firm, and Consistent

Academies, especially like the one in Sangamon County Illinois, like to preach being Fair, Firm, and Consistent as you head off to your new role. Fair is a balancing act between policies that can't be written for every incident and what actually happened. Firm, means quite simply, you can't back down. This eliminates the human element of being willing to be wrong and believe me, you will be wrong about something in your career. How you handle it will define your reputation and your character with the inmates in your charge. Consistent is the simple one. While I don't recommend it, if you're going to be an "asshole" then be one from the first day to the last day. People, even inmates, recognize consistency as fair. You should never do something for one inmate that you aren't going to do for another under the exact same circumstances, whether that means taking five minutes of your day to listen or enacting a disciplinary measure over an alleged infraction.

In a career spanning from the early nineties into the twenty-twenties, I wouldn't say I saw it all or knew it all, but I saw a lot and learned quite a bit. One of the few things that I learned that helped me in my time, was flexibility. Being flexible doesn't mean inconsistent or not being firm when you have to be. It means that you recognize not all situations can be quantified as the same, even under identical circumstances. People commit the same action oftentimes for different reasons. What might be construed as an actionable threat from one person, could be an ill-conceived test, meant to see what kind of officer you're going to be and how you'll respond.

On my very first day as a solo officer, I stood six foot and two inches and weighed about two-hundred and thirty pounds. As I was entering one of the eight cell blocks I was confronted with a question that honestly, in hindsight, could have gone a different way if I'd responded poorly. A six-foot nine-inch man asks me what I think I could do to stop him from taking me hostage. The guy was huge and had nine other inmates in his housing unit. I was completely alone except for my radio. In my mind, at the time, I had to use my poker face because I had no idea what the correct response was. That is corrections, unfortunately.

"Just make sure you keep me long enough that it's worth my time. I could use the overtime," I told him.

Crazy, right? It was however the right attitude with this inmate who saw me as just another white officer that needed testing. He never gave me a bit of grief from that day forward and admitted days later that he expected a trip to the administrator's office or to maximum security. He had no idea that my Sergeant, who I consulted with later, gave me the scoop on the guy and how they tested everybody in some way, shape or form. Tread carefully with your response, depending on your division head or supervisors, as it wasn't exactly within policy.

3. Admit Your Mistakes

You're going to make them, so admit to them. The one thing that will put you at odds with your agency is honesty. It damages your record and reputation as well as rendering you nearly unusable in a courtroom if it comes to it. Recent laws, over the past five years, have made it mandatory to report officer disciplinary issues to prosecutors and defense attorneys. Your record will follow you so the last thing you want to answer for is being dishonest on a report or during an investigation, no matter how small the issue.

I was asked a question by a commanding officer from another agency. I did, unfortunately, know the answer even though it wasn't something that I was at liberty to discuss. We all, at some time, slip. I spoke out of turn and it had far bigger ramifications than what I could have imagined. This was at three o'clock in the morning on the tail end of a double shift. It all came full circle by nine in the morning and my Captain called me. I honestly think he was surprised when I told him that I had in fact commented on the issue. I was even more surprised to find out that one of the guys in the room vehemently denied that I said anything about it to the officer. He took a bigger hit than I did because I was honest about my mistake.

4. Remember, They're All Human

All men are created equally. It's what happens after birth that decides how your life goes. Before you judge them, remember that it could actually be you, someday. In my time I saw all kinds. The most interesting of them included a decorated war veteran and ex-cop who robbed a bank. The Sheriff that gave me my first badge, then a convicted felon and not one, but two police lieutenants from our hometown agency. Prison guards, doctors, lawyers, and half my high school graduating class were included in the list of celebrity inmates arrested and brought through the jail I worked at. I once knew a veteran that committed one of the most heinous acts I was ever around for; knew him quite well actually. Then, it happened, one of my current day partners was a criminal.

Anybody, from any walk of life, could end up wearing a jail or prison uniform. In all likelihood, you'll see someone you worked with arrested for a crime. Try to imagine the things that pushed them there, pushed them across the line, and then keep that in mind. It could be you someday.

5. Do The Job

While I wouldn't recommend law enforcement or corrections to anyone in this day and age we live in, I'll always respect those that choose to put on the uniform and badge. Whether you're a street cop, jail officer, sheriffs' deputy or prison guard, you've chosen one of the most thankless and often demeaning jobs in the world. It'll come with the greatest of challenges, force you to see things that nobody should see, and cost you personally in ways that you can't imagine. Yet, you chose the job. It takes effort, getting through the education, the entrance exams, the academies, and field training programs. Once you're there, it's important that you give the job every ounce of your energy while you're at work. Stay focused, vigilant, and ready for the challenges of your day. Do it that way each and every day, until you can't do it anymore. Then, when you know it's no longer for you, get out with your skin intact.

There's life after the badge.


About the Creator

Jason Ray Morton

I have always enjoyed writing and exploring new ideas, new beliefs, and the dreams that rattle around inside my head. I have enjoyed the current state of science, human progress, fantasy and existence and write about them when I can.

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