6 steps to finding simple solutions to complex problems in corrections

Once you have identified your problem, give it a different name. Call it a “challenge”

By William Cope, C1 Contributor

As administrators, we often look turn to the latest best practices or newest technologies to solve problems in our correctional facilities. However, obstacles can often be overcome with simple solutions. The answer to your problem could be hiding in plain sight.

Identifying your problem

Before being able to fix a problem, you must first be able to identify it.
Before being able to fix a problem, you must first be able to identify it. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

Before being able to fix a problem, you must first be able to identify it. That statement may sound self-evident, but many times problems occur for an extended period before they are brought to our attention. The adage applies: “You can't fix what you don't know is broken.”

Turn your problem into a challenge

Once you have identified your problem, give it a different name. Call it a “challenge.” A challenge promotes initiative and drive. A challenge demands engagement. A challenge encourages you to win.

Once you have identified your challenge, here are six steps to finding a successful solution:

1. Use your team.

Share your challenge with your team and give them the opportunity to show off their skills and willingness to support you. Don’t expect them to notice or get involved just because you work together. Remember what you were taught when you first got into this field. Communication is key. We teach it to new employees but, over time, veteran personnel forget the importance of communication.

2. Take a break.

Complex challenges usually don’t occur over night so coming up with a sustainable solution may take time and focus. Complex challenges may require a marathon approach instead of a sprint. Clear your thoughts of everything the challenge means to you. Start with a fresh approach.

3. Read stories and role play.

We often find simple solutions to complex problems from articles or stories we read. Think about hard advice. Most times we are resistant to take hard advice from a friend or family, yet if we step outside of our own problem and read about similar issues others are having we may find some positive inspiration. It is hard to beat the power of a good example. Role-playing and reading stories about how others handled similar situations are good ways to learn.

4. Be imaginative.

After reading those stories, ask yourself how those individuals overcame their challenges. Use the process of elimination by coming up with as many answers (good or seemingly bad) to the question of your challenge. Even bad answers could direct you in a positive way.

5. Be optimistic.

Seeing the glass as half full and not half empty will help with the delivery of your solution and assist those who may be receiving said solution.

6. Keep an open mind.

Don’t let “too good to be true” cloud your judgment when it is possible the best solution is staring you in the face. Just because your challenge seems complex, it doesn’t mean it requires a complex solution.


As correctional administrators and supervisors we face complex challenges every day, which affect both our employees and those in our care. The answer is often in plain sight. Sometimes all it takes is a clear mind, positivity and teamwork to make that which seems very complex, simple.

About the author
Superintendent William Cope has extensive administrative corrections experience with proven leadership in the management, supervision and treatment of adult offenders. He has been instrumental in the implementation and overseeing of educational and evidence-based rehabilitation programs for inmates at the Rutherford County Adult Detention Center and Rutherford County Correctional Work Center for nearly two decades. He is a graduate of both the Tennessee Corrections Institute and Tennessee Corrections Academy, is an American Correctional Association-certified auditor/inspector, is a Tennessee Corrections Institute certified instructor and is a graduate of the National Institute of Corrections Jail Administration program.

Cope has worked in corrections for more than 20 years in four different facilities including state and local institutions. As the facility coordinator of the Rutherford County Adult Detention Center, he transferred to the Rutherford County Correctional Work Center to serve as the assistant superintendent in 2010. In 2017 Cope was appointed superintendent and has since led his facility to receive its first 100% accreditation through the American Correctional Association.

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