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Is an inmate’s life worth breaking policy?

Should an officer be punished for doing what comes naturally when seeing someone in peril of death?

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Should you break policy if an inmate’s life is in danger?


Can saving a life lead to discipline? It’s third shift. Officer Johnson reports to his post and is ready for duty. The shift exchange takes place and Officer Johnson begins his rounds.

As Officer Johnson tours his unit, something strikes the corner of his eye as he passes inmate Smith’s cell. As Officer Johnson gets a little closer, he notices that inmate Smith has a sheet around his neck with the other end tied to the grill gate and is trying to take his own life.

Officer Johnson quickly calls the code, but there is no response. He tries again, still nothing. He calls it in by phone and the shift commander tells him that there is another active code (one inmate assaulting another inmate in a cell) and the response team is tied up. At this point, Officer Johnson hangs up the phone and opens the cell to get to the inmate in question.

The inmate is quickly brought down and saved by Officer Johnson. The team arrives to assist but sees the situation is under control.

The supervisor enters the scene to assess the situation and notices the grill gate was already open. He tells Officer Johnson that he should have waited for the response team and his actions could have easily sacrificed the safety and security of the institution.

Officer Johnson tells the supervisor, “If I would have waited, the inmate would have died. So I had to make a choice to act.”

The supervisor quickly reminds Officer Johnson that he violated policy by opening the cell without backup. He continues to state that this is a major security breach and Officer Johnson’s actions cannot be taken lightly.

As the head of administration, the issue is now brought to you for immediate action. Officer Johnson states he acted with the best intentions. The inmate was going to hang himself. The response team, at the time, was handling another situation. Therefore, he could not wait and let the inmate die.

The supervisor in return states that Officer Johnson’s actions violated safety and security. Officer Johnson should have waited for back up before he decided to open the cell door. Officer Johnson clearly violated policy and his actions must be addressed before someone else does the same.

You take a second to think. Can a policy be violated to save an inmate’s life? At this point, what holds more weight, “safety, or security?” You have to make a decision. What do you decide?

This article, originally published 01/08/2016, has been updated.

These training scenarios are intended to draw the reader into the discussion and create a repository of differing viewpoints on a single subject. These scenarios are intended for training purposes only. Though the scenarios are drawn from real-world incidents, no one scenario talks about a specific person or place. If you have questions or ideas for a training scenario, email