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Assaults: Is complacency at fault for attacks?

It is always better to over-exaggerate safety then to fall short

We know when we, as correctional officers, sign up for this job that we are susceptible to assaults and that we risk our lives each day we step into our facilities.

Assaults and attacks on staff happen daily all around the nation, in every facility, by male and female inmates of all ages, backgrounds, with all types of charges, some with mental illness disorders, and some with authority or anger issues. The reason why inmates attack is such a complex topic.

When I read articles or hear about correctional officer assaults, the hypothetical situations start running through my mind as to why these occurred.

Why was the distance closed in between the inmate and correctional officer?

If an inmate is yelling and acting violent, why did they not have control of him or why was he approached?

Were there enough staff members there to deal with him acting this way?

Did complacency have a play in this?

Sometimes I think assaults on staff can be prevented just by how a correctional officer handles a situation. I learned early on that there is nothing wrong with taking the extra step to remove as much risk as possible when dealing with potentially violent inmates. It is not about my ego, but instead about me going home unharmed at the end of the day.

I’m not one to either judge or understand why assaults happen. All we can do is use these incidents to learn how to deal with difficult inmates and the behaviorally challenged.

Correctional officers deal with the intoxicated, violent, angry, psychotic individuals that jails are protecting society from. Many of the inmates we go hands-on with do not even belong in correctional settings. They belong in mental institutions but we all know we have become the dumping grounds for these inmates since there are never enough beds in the few mental hospitals left.

We have been kicked, bit, spat on, and involved in fights with inmates who lay their hands upon us. I wish every time, every day this happens, all around the nation, the inmates who inflict pain could feel the same agony that we have endured. It’s us, who deal with these monsters on a daily basis and that’s what our job entails.

Sexual assaults are on the rise against female officers although physical assaults are prevalent amongst both sexes.

After reading the story about the Calhoun County female correctional officer who was sexually assaulted, my first thoughts were as to how this happened and how such a horrific incident can be prevented.

I can only imagine how violated she felt. I know I would be repulsed. Being a female in this job, it should not be tolerated, but at least should be expected.

Dealing with the whistling, catcalling or attention-seeking actions from inmates just because I am a female happens from time to time. I do not roll my eyes often, but this can cause me to do just that. How I handle the inmates on a general population housing unit is going to be different than how I handle the mentally ill masturbating inmates on the maximum security unit.

Inmates act in these ways for many reasons. I noticed the Calhoun County inmate was booked in on domestic violence charges. The sexual act against the officer could have been an act of power and out of anger. It may have been the first female he saw since his arrest. Domestic violence is about control. Male inmates who dislike women and who commit violent crimes against women usually struggle with female authority. This may have been his way of trying to intimidate her female authority or degrade her. His actions may have fallen on her due to his anger towards his female victim.

As a CO, I think it is important to not be offended by these behaviors or take them personally since it is the human nature part of dealing with those who hate authority. Some inmates may control their actions and may be trying to reach an insanity plea by assaulting staff to blame mental illness for what brought them to jail in the first place. Some may be just plain crazy, paranoid and delusional. Some may have lack of impulse control when they get angry. And some may just have nothing to lose.

Whatever the reasons may be, these types of incidents are a daily reminder of the potential dangers in the job, the importance of never being complacent, and always being on top of our game every time we step into work.

It is hard not to get complacent when we may go days, weeks or months without physical threat or issues. Or the amount of time in the middle of the night where there may be down time because inmates are sleeping. Or the moments of boredom that may occur on the job. Complacency is easy when we are tired, and we would rather be home with our families, or cutting corners because poor inmate behavior is testing our patience. Complacency comes from our job itself involving much of the same actions and tedious functions day after day, usually at the same times.

When I was new to corrections, someone told me it is always better to over exaggerate safety then to fall short. Every single day I work, those words still resonate in how I do my job and this keeps me from getting complacent. I do not think of it as being worried, paranoid or nervous, but instead to me it speaks smart. It speaks lowering the risk of what could happen.

We have enough to think about at work so not being complacent automatically assists in critical error reduction, lapses in our concentration or judgment and takes away a very silent killer.

Complacency takes away the ability to recognize danger or gives us a false sense that nothing bad can happen. Complacency breeds mediocrity.

My Lieutenant ends every email with “Complacency kills”, and I do believe it plays a part in officer harm. I refuse to allow an inmate to hurt me at the hands of my decision-making or from a downfall of complacency.

It saddens me to hear about Correctional Officer Amanda Baker of Scotts Bluff County who was killed by an inmate last week. I do not know if complacency played a part in the loss of Baker’s life, but from what I read I wish this could have been avoided and that she was still alive today. My heart and prayers go out to Baker’s son, parents, and her Scotts Bluff family.

Complacency will always lead inmates to taking advantage or manipulating staff. These monsters do not deserve us to act complacent on their behalf. They are never our friends and never would put our safety first. We should never allow them to take our safety away.

Inmates look for correctional officers who appear vulnerable at times. Inmates who have been cordial can become violent. Inmates do not look at officers as human beings; do not see us as anything other than the uniform and the enemy authority.

Fortunately complacency can teach us lessons. Little mistakes can become big mistakes.

Complacency is our biggest threat. We can combat it with vigilance and avoiding an unnecessary danger zone, in order to stay one step ahead of the inmates.”

Harriet Fox is working as a Correctional Officer in a county jail in California. She is a Jail Training Officer, Emergency Response Team (ERT) member, Honor Guard member, and has worked as an Intake Classification Officer. Having an inquisitive mind, Harriet is intrigued by the criminal mind, gangs and mental illness within the walls of the correctional system. Prior to becoming a Correctional Officer, Harriet had the opportunity to delve into the law enforcement field experiencing positions including: Reserve Police Officer, 9-1-1 Communications Dispatcher, Crime Prevention Officer, and Police Cadet. Almost twenty years into a law enforcement career, Harriet is still passionate about the work and interested in always learning. Harriet is the bestselling true crime author of The Alcohol Murders: The True Story of Gilbert Paul Jordan. Harriet is also published in Justice Shall Be Served: An Anthology (written by police officers, correctional officers and military personnel). Both books can be found on Harriet has a Bachelor’s Degree in Criminal Justice with a minor in Sociology.