Mini-team strategies for the corrections warrior

The purpose of mini-teams
Leadership for mini-teams...and beyond

Think about breaking up a fight between two inmates:  In addition to the immediate situation at hand, you are in an environment that can turn deadly fast, where all bystanders could become active participants. This fact alone presents a life-threatening situation for the corrections officer. In order to overcome fears and inhibitions to accomplish the task at hand, corrections officers must become corrections warriors. (CW).

A mini-team is a well-organized team of professionals that are trained to respond to situations where time is not on their side, where danger is immediate — and let’s face it, inside a correctional facility, we are always outnumbered. Having all your officers trained as warriors to respond in mini-team formations will allow them to be in a safer environment when the situation is not safe at all.

Show of force
Having an immediate organized response will optimally stop or slow down a threatening situation inside a facility. This in itself can save lives. It has often been said that the better you look, the less you may have to fight has some truth to it. Mini-team strategies are just that — a well organized, quick response to threats and dangers by a small group of officers that can be quickly assembled and deployed into situations, especially when we are outnumbered or under-equipped.

If you only train a small group of CWs to respond to these situations, you are not only limiting your response time to get organized, but you also allow your inmates to identify who is who beforehand, which also aids in their plans as well. The upshot is that you need to train all of your CWs in techniques and tactics to effectively respond in mini-team tactics. This should include (but not limited to) formations, equipment, weapons, tactics, K9 officers and areas of responsibilities.

Instead of the usual one-to-one ratio, we have four CWs face-to-face in front of inmates. Often, the need to respond in a timely manner to the situation can be different than the actual deployment time into a threat.

Psychological strategies
Situation: You are an inmate fighting with another inmate. You see and hear officers scrambling to your area to break the fight up, then seconds later you feel someone pull you off the inmate you were fighting and there is only one CW there. We all know that as a CW, inmates will often fight us no matter what, if only for the bragging rights to be boasted afterwards. So why not allow the inmate to experience and feel the mini-teams pulling him off the other inmate and stabilizing him on the ground?

Also think about the professional visual deterrent, which can go a long way. Some of your greatest advantages are showing strength in numbers. This is usually one of the inmate’s strengths that we can take back and make ours.

It has been proven time and time again that the mind is the driving force behind the body’s success. The use of mini-teams provides a high level of confidence and mental balance.

Command and control
The command and control of a team takes practice. In order to understand the formations, distance, tactical decisions and intervals, one must ensure their officers are in alignment with one another. This can be confusing at times, especially when the yelling and fighting take place.

Keeping your officers cool and organized under stress is not easy. Things can easily get out of control. Mini-teams help with command and control in stressful times. Working as a small, cohesive unit will enable the team to maintain focus on the threat, listen to the commands of the team leaders and instill the confidence needed to respond professionally to these threats.

Mini-teams will also assist the officers with the paperwork needed to document the incident afterwards. Being truthful, honest and accurate are vital for mission accomplishment — especially when dealing with the all of the liability factors. Using mini-teams makes this task easier and more efficient. Overall, mini-teams enhance the command and control for correctional facilities.


Talking to a large group of officers can be an easy task for some. However, communicating formations; tactics and movement is a completely different story. Noise from inmates yelling and banging on walls and cells, visual distractions, equipment becoming uncomfortable, and the sheer anxiety of handling a physical confrontation in chaos can often block one’s mental mindset, which in turns affects one's ability to hear and comply.

Breaking down into mini-teams allows the team leader to do just that — communicate much more effectively than having and using larger groups of officers. During times of stress we often refer our bodily control to the mind, and we become visually stimulated and highly controlled.

Some agencies spend way too much time training in the use of hand and arm signals, when in fact the squad or mini-team leader will be positioned to the rear of the team. I would suggest using touch and feel as signals to command your officers.

For example, ff you take each hand and place one on the right shoulder and the other on the left shoulder and give 2-3 squeezes, this could mean "advance forward." With each the right and left flank officers always aligning themselves to the center, you would only have to give this commend to the center officer.

To stop the team, place one hand on the right shoulder and the other on the left and hold back to signal the officer to stop where they are.

Commands for touch & feel are not limited to:

  1. Stop
  2. Advance Forward
  3. Retreat
  4. Cease Fire

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  5. Double Time
  6. Shift Right/Left
  7. Guide Right/Left
  8. On Line
  9. Wedge
  10. Flatten Wedge
  11. Echelon Right/Left
  12. Right/Left Turn

Rapid response to threats
Gathering, gearing and deploying mini-teams is another key to responding to incidents quickly and effectively. Response time is always a major concern for facilities (think of locating officers, pulling them from shifts, replacing them on their details or from various locations throughout the facility take time). Donning your gear correctly and ensuring you have all your tools is vital to the success of any mission. Having the properly fitting gas mask, gloves, body protection and weapons at time can make or break a team's ability to perform responsibly.

Performing inspections of personnel, equipment and weaponry takes time to do correctly and can affect the outcome of any mission. The pure management of time is done easer with the use of Mini-Teams.

Respect vs. fear
I heard the term "respect vs. fear" a lot as a kid, and it often hits home. Over the years as a corrections professional, I have learned that respect is earned and given to people by other people who are both rational and compliant.

At times, respect is instilled through fear, intimidation and the show of organized force between professionals and non-professionals. When we think of fear, we may think of experiencing the unknown or unfamiliar. The fear I'm hoping to leverage is that of the inmates when they see a group of officers who are organized, properly equipped, crisp and ready to go.

The definition of intimidation is long, and based on the pretense you are using, can mean many different things to different people.

According to my handy online source, "intimidation" means behavior "which would cause a person of ordinary sensibilities" fear of injury, harm or consequence. If your inmates already know what to expect from your officers and they see a show of unorganized force, then they will never be intimidated to a level where respect is given.

Safety and saving lives
Saving lives is the #1 reason why I feel facilities need to look at he use of mini-teams . Officer safety should be the top concern in any corrections environment. In many ways, small unit tactics contribute to the success of any mission inside a correctional facility.

Read up on them, seek training on them, experience them and make the decision to yourself!


The video below features a mini-team exercise on an inmate refusing to lock down. The mini-team enters housing pod, gives verbal commands, and moves into area, up stairs to control and isolate the inmate's movement.


About the author
Dave Young is the Director of Specialized Programs for Northcentral Technical College and the Director of Training for Redman Training Gear, now part of the Police1 Training Network. He is also a training advisor for Dave graduated from his first law enforcement academy in 1985, and now has over 20 years of combined civilian and military law enforcement and training experience. He was a sworn corrections and law enforcement officer in the state of Florida and has served as a gate sentry, patrol officer, watch commander, investigator, Special Reaction Team (SRT) member, leader and commander in the United States Marine Corps.

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