5 types of use-of-force assessment in corrections

The following are what a facility’s use of force program would consider important under legal review

Inmate Smith is a heavyset new arrival in the intake unit. Suspicions are that he is suffering from heroin withdrawals. He is being escorted in restraints by two officers to the medical unit. As they enter a sally port, inmate Smith becomes combative, will not listen to verbal commands and resists being restrained. The officers take him down to the floor to apply added restraints. 

Others follow with a gurney and medical assistance. Inmate Smith is lifted to the gurney for movement to a restraint cell where he can be better controlled. He dies on the gurney and attempts to resuscitate him fail. 

In cases like this, staff and the corrections department typically face a lawsuit from the inmate’s family. The following are what a facility’s use of force program would consider important under legal review.

Photo The Texas Tribune

Administrative Oversight
Administrative review of all incidents gives an important message that the leadership cares about uses of force in the system. To not do so gives the outside world a strong, very damaging impression that leadership is flippant about use-of-force inside the facility. 

The seven essential elements of administrative review are:

1. The administrative review is both openly complimentary towards excellent staff performance in the use of force and provides constructive direction for improvement where appropriate.1 
2. All staff and witnesses to uses of force provide a written statement before leaving the facility.
3. Include a review for each incident at multiple levels in the organization.
4. The topics addressed in each use of force report should be standardized and the information should support a larger data collection effort.
5. The administrative choices in responses to excessive uses of force should be aggressive in terms of disciplinary and corrective actions.
6. The process should never be considered a “rubber stamp” exercise; each incident should be carefully examined and accountability assured. 
7. The administrative oversight process must be clearly expressed in policy.

“Force cannot be used successfully without extensive training.”2 There are three outcomes that use of force training in corrections must achieve. They are:

1. Training must influence staff performance in terms of use of force and related decision-making.
2. Staff use of force training must educate so that, in addition to competency with equipment and techniques, staff must become knowledgeable in terms of policy, and it must shape staff thinking.
3. Finally, the training experience must provide staff with confidence that they have the full support and encouragement of the agency when they do use force as part of their job performance.

“With the tremendous growth and expansion in corrections in the last two decades, correctional agencies, for the most part, have become large organizations that cannot afford to operate a collection of facilities as though each were an independent element with freedom of decision making on all issues. Nowhere is that issue more compelling than on the issues related to the use of force.”3

Correctional policy and training programs are faced with the daunting task of communicating support for excellent performance in the use of physical force and, simultaneously, causing staff to be sensitive to human rights issues connected to use of force choices. Some believe each view is not compatible with other. We disagree and believe both views are compatible and possible for staff to reflect in their job performance.

The use of force reporting form should be standardized and include critical information such as the identity of the inmate(s), reason for the use of force, whether a medical examination has occurred, a description of the inmate’s behavior leading up to the use of force, and the names of staff and inmate witnesses. 

Most importantly, through the process of review, it is critical that the administrative head of the facility express whether or not the use of force was appropriate under the circumstances. Such declaration is a critical statement for everyone involved. 

Force Technology
For safety and success, weapons have continued to play a significant role in the use of force in corrections. Recent trends have emphasized limited physical contact, low impact and in most cases are less than lethal in effect. Many correctional systems have formalized their process by which they select weapons technology for use by involving operations and staff technology experts in finalizing their choices. Making those choices are not easy decisions in the face of the multitude of alternatives offered today.

Suggesting staffs’ use of force in a correctional environment is a mistake is unrealistic and dangerous thinking. We would state that excellence in performing effective corrections cannot be achieved without the balance between use of force and inter-personal approaches to problem solving. 

Satisfying some or all of the requirements in this brief article better prepares the organization to be successful under scrutiny. More importantly, it supports the inclusion of the element of force as a part of the correctional environment that is seen by all as fair and understandable under the circumstances. 

USE OF FORCE – CURRENT PRACTICE AND POLICY, Craigs Hemmons, J.D., Ph.D., Eugene Atherton, B.A., American Correctional Association, Lanham, Maryland 2076-4322, page 83, item #1.
USE OF FORCE – CURRENT PRACTICE AND POLICY, Craig Hemmons, J.D., Ph.D., Eugene Atherton, B.A., American Correctional Association, Lanham, Maryland  2076-4322, page 85
Eugene Atherton, B.A., American Correctional Association, Lanham, Maryland 2076-4322, page 87

Andjela Jurisic is an accomplished professional with over 19 years of progressive experience gained in conflict-affected regions all over the world performing a variety of roles on behalf of the NATO, the UN, the Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe (SHAPE), and in programs funded by the US State Department. In her 19 years of experience in the field nearly all her assignments have addressed terrorist organizations. She holds a masters degree in Terrorism and Diplomatic Studies from St. Andrews University in Scotland. She is currently undertaking research on the management of terrorist inmates in the correctional environment. 

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