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16 safety tips from those who work behind the wall

If these lessons are not taken seriously, the safety and security of staff, and all who reside within, will be at risk

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Never forget that you are dealing with people who do not want to be there.


In an effort to protect the many who risks their lives on a daily basis, here is a list of safety tips that must be observed and maintained when working in corrections.

The below correctional officer safety tips originate from those who have spent some serious time behind the wall. If these lessons are not taken seriously, the safety and security of staff, and all who reside within, will be at risk.

1. In terms of safety advice, the very first thing we tell our rookies is, “Learn how to say no. That’s the answer to every question until you know what you’re doing.” — Gabe Salazar

2. Always be incognito. Never wear your uniform or advertise what you do for a living outside of the walls. Be like Clark Kent. — Brian Rowback

3. Consistency will be your best friend. Be consistent with policy even when it’s exhausting. And it will be exhausting. But once they get you the first time, they have you every time. — Jennifer Malaeulu

4. The three L’s. Look, listen, learn. Always look at your surroundings. Make note of anything different. Listen to what they are talking about. Do not ever disregard a rumor from inmates. Stay alert. Listen for different sounds. Learn from situations. Keep learning and stay on top. — Mari Trevino Ortiz

5. Don’t be complacent. The worst mistake you can make as a correctional officer is to assume that any current policy or procedure is working based on an absence of incidents. — Sgt. R. Hamilton (ret.)

6. Watch their hands and watch your hands. Don’t just stand around with your hands in your pocket. — Capt. Keith Hellwig

7. Avoid showing bias to any inmate or race. Remember that we are not here to punish them, just to make sure they stay safe and we stay safe during their sentence. — Ryan Kuepper

8. Treat them all the same, no matter their level of custody. All inmates are a potential threat to my safety. — Kat Williams

9. Approach determines response. This saying has worked in many states I have had the pleasure of working in. — Felipe Zvala

10. Always treat an inmate as unpredictable. — Phil Caruso

11. Remember your prescribed roles. Do not let inmates connect with you on a personal level. Any personal information about yourself must be protected, or they will exploit it. — Anthony Gangi

12. Above all things never show an inmate fear or your uncertainty of a situation. If you don’t know an answer, say “No” because it’s easier to switch a no to a yes then a yes to a no later. And whatever you do, don’t panic and stay firm on your answer. — Matthew Zamborowski

13. Safety is a mindset that should be on your mind from the moment you enter the facility until you leave. Never forget that you are dealing with people who do not want to be there, who will try to get by security and are seeing life pass them by. Keep a safe distance mentally and physically. — Gary Cornelius

14. Always remember that inmates listen to every conversation that corrections officers and staff have. — Jamey Noel

15. Always be aware of your surroundings. Inmates have 24/7 to watch your behaviors and body language, so always assume a threat is imminent. — Dr. Michael Pittaro

16. Transfer knowledge from veterans to newer/inexperienced staff. Newer staff need to be trained. Veteran staff need to be open to change and get away from “We’ve always done it this way.” — Captain 43

This article, originally published 07/29/2016, has been updated.

Anthony Gangi has a BA in psychology and is a 20-year veteran in corrections. He currently works as an Associate Administrator for State Corrections and has worked his way up through the ranks, from officer to sergeant, and then into administration. Anthony currently sits on the executive board of the New Jersey Chapter of the American Correctional Association. To date, Anthony Gangi has been invited to speak on CNN, MSNBC, CBS, Lifetime, ABC, Fox and NewsNation. He is also the author of “Inmate Manipulation Decoded” and “How to Succeed in Corrections,” as well as the host of the Tier Talk podcast.