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Why corrections should cross-train for emergency response

In order to function properly during emergency situations, we must get to know and work with all agencies in our criminal justice system


This image provided by Ray Pruitt with the Kern County Sheriffs Office shows officers looking at a pickup truck after a white prison van crashed into it at the gates of the Lerdo Pre-Trial Facility near Bakersfield, Calif., on Weds., March 2, 2016.

Ray Pruitt/Kern County Sheriffs Office via AP

The mission of a correctional facility is clear: We protect society by confining inmates in a controlled environment. We also must ensure a safe environment for all prison staff and inmates.

We provide public safety and security by preventing escapes, riots, gang activity and terrorist activity. One way to do this is by working together with the criminal justice system at local, state and federal levels.

Make connections before the emergency

As a former prison inspector, I worked with every agency you could think of after an incident occurred. Some of the operations went smoothly, while with others, you could see the agencies involved had their own agenda and plan of action.

In order to function properly during emergency situations, we must get to know and work with all agencies in our criminal justice system, including the state attorney and federal prosecutor.

How many prison administrators can honestly say they meet with local criminal justice agencies on a regular basis? As an administrator, you already know the functions of your prison and what to do in case of a riot or escape. The question is do the other agencies know what we need and what to do in case of a prison emergency? Our local sheriff’s office, police department, fire department, emergency medical units, state troopers, coast guard, airport security and forestry division need to know us and what we do.

The time to get connected is before an emergency happens. Schedule quarterly meetings and discuss possible emergency scenarios. Have some of the meetings at your prison and take other agencies on a prison tour. Introduce your supervisors and officers to other agency heads.

Schedule cross-training days

Cross-training with local agencies builds trust and confidence. Everyone will learn from each other and feelings of fellowship and common loyalty will blossom.

Training scenarios should be provided and played out in mock training environments. While training, try to make it as real as possible with each agency performing their task. You could hold a one-day disaster training exercise each month so everyone gets a chance to train. With staff shortages and personnel time off, several training dates should be provided. Training can be in the following areas:

  • Escapes
  • Riots
  • Hostage situations
  • Evacuation
  • K-9 training (bloodhound and drug/bomb)
  • Suicide response
  • Homicide
  • Rape
  • Contraband introduction
  • Bomb threats

Conduct community outreach

We must seek opportunities to meet and greet our communities. When I was a state probation officer, our supervisors had us spend one evening a month working with the community. Each of us would be sent to a different neighborhood meeting joining other local agencies to give a brief talk and answer questions from involved community people. It was a great way to let them learn our issues and we learned theirs. It also built a bridge and a trust.


Prison and probation officers need to get out in the community so others can learn what we deal with and the dangers we face each day. We can also learn from each other and build respect through partnerships, community involvement and training.

Gary York, author of “Corruption Behind Bars” and “Inside The Inner Circle,” served in the United States Army from 1978 to 1987 and was honorably discharged at the rank of Staff Sergeant from the Military Police Corps. U.S. Army Staff Sergeant Gary York completed the 7th Army Non-Commissioned Officers Leadership Academy with a 96.6% in the Train to Train method of instruction. Gary received the Army Commendation Medal and Soldier of the Quarter Award while serving. Gary was a Military Police shift supervisor for five years.

Gary then began a career with the Department of Corrections as a correctional officer. Gary was promoted to probation officer, senior probation officer and senior prison inspector where for the next 12 years he conducted criminal, civil and administrative investigations in many state prisons. Gary was also assigned to the Inspector General Drug Interdiction Team conducting searches of staff and visitors entering the prisons for contraband during weekend prison visitation. Gary also received the Correctional Probation Officer Leadership Award for the Region V, Tampa, Florida, Correctional Probation and he won the Outstanding Merit Award for leadership in the Region V Correctional Officer awards Tampa, Florida.