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Is it ever okay for a correctional officer to shake an inmate’s hand?

Is the answer a flat-out “no” or does it depend on the situation?


An inmate has just received his GED and reaches out to shake your hand. How do you respond?


Today, the institution is holding a special event. A graduation is being held for the inmates who completed their GED. This is a big day and some of the higher-level staff are in attendance. Officer Jones has been assigned to the gym where the graduation is being held.

As he enters his post, the ceremony is about to begin. He stands guard and remains vigilant throughout the entire event.

As the diplomas are being handed out, he notices that some of the higher-level staff – admins, department heads and the like – are shaking hands with the inmates after the inmates have received their diploma. He begins to worry because, in his mind, this goes against everything he was taught.

As the night begins to come to an end, Officer Jones finds himself talking to a higher-level staff member. The higher-level staff member is talking about the program and the importance of rehabilitation. Officer Jones, in agreement, states, “This is the start and we have to believe people can change.”

At this moment, inmate Johnson, who is getting ready to exit the gym, stops to thank the higher-level staff member for facilitating the graduation. In return, the inmate reaches out his hand and, in response, the higher-level staff member shakes it.

The room goes quiet as the inmate then turns to Officer Jones and reaches out his hand.

All eyes go to Officer Jones.

Should Officer Jones shake the inmate’s hand?

Next: How to set inmate expectations (and why you need to meet them)

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