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How to write a report like a corrections officer

When you write a report, is it something you’d want to put in front of your boss? Follow these steps to create a report that looks like it was written by a corrections professional, not a ‘jail guard’

One of the most critical components of any disciplinary report or incident report that you’ll write is the evidence. Basically, there are two types of evidence: physical and testimonial. In this article, I will focus on physical evidence and how to describe it in your report.

One of the remedies that an inmate has at the facility that I work at is taking a DR to court. I’m not talking only the administrative hearing, but they can sue for loss of money or for unjust confinement (generally a loss of good time earned). Your report in these events may be read by attorneys and judges.

In the prison we understand what a “one hitter” or “shank” is. However, someone who is reading this report, be it an attorney or a judge, may not know. This is why it is important to explain the evidence in terms that a person working outside the facility will understand.

Here’s an example: you find a combination lock inside of a sock tied off and in an inmate’s pocket. You write the report for dangerous contraband. How are you going to describe that weapon? Even after training, many officers will call this a “lock in sock.”

I’m challenging you to take it a step further. When writing a report, which of the following statements would you rather go in front of your supervisor, an investigator, the warden, the Secretary of Corrections, or a judge?

1.) “I found a lock in sock in his pocket. Inmate is in violation of having dangerous contraband,” or

2.) “During a targeted pat search due to the inmate’s suspicious behavior, I did discover a lock tied inside of a sock, which is commonly used as an impact weapon.”

Statement one leaves questions to someone who has not worked in a prison before. Why is that dangerous? Statement two leaves little to the imagination as to why this is a dangerous item. Use terminology and descriptions that even the most uneducated person can understand. The second statement also reflects that you are a corrections professional, not just a “guard.”

Describe the item in the report so that you can remember it when and if you are called to stand by your report. Right now, synthetic cannabinoids are the hot topic at the facility that I work at. We are finding it all over.

One of the reports that I got when this first entered the system read: “I found K2 on this inmate.” That was pretty much it. Do you think that a judge would know what that is? Maybe, but this was when synthetic cannabinoids were new to the scene.

The point is, if you find a knot of a narcotic, describe it. How much was there? What did it smell like? If it was in a knot, about how big was the knot? Was it about the size of a golf ball, or the size of a pencil eraser? Even if you haven’t weighed the evidence, if you use an item with a constant size (such as a golf ball, pen, soda can) everyone who reads the report will be able to visualize how much was there.

When you find narcotics, describe them for what they look like, even if they have been tested. If you find a golf ball sized baggie of green, leafy substance that has a pungent odor, describe it as such. “I found weed,” does not accurately describe your discovery. If it has been tested, put in the body of the report that the substance tested positive for the presence of THC, synthetic cannabinoids, etc.

This can be used in all aspects of report writing. Remember, if you write it correctly now, you will be able to remember the details of the discovery better when it comes time to stand by your report. Describe the item in a way that a civilian would understand what it is, how much was there or how large it is, and why it is prohibited in a correctional facility.

You will be more confident and professional with more accurate and descriptive information to back your report.

Ryan Shanks
Ryan Shanks
Ryan Shanks has been a corrections officer for the last ten years. He started in with the juvenile system where he was an instructor in the following topics: Expanded Writing Skills, Security Threat Group Intervention and Identification, Managing Aggressive Behavior, and Use of Force. Ryan moved to the adult system in 2007, where he promoted to the rank of Corrections Supervisor I.