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Correctional force in the form of effective relationships:
Part I

David committed some very violent acts that got him into administrative segregation. From that point on he waged a war with staff. He remained at war continuously while in administrative segregation for 12 years. He worked out in his cell and was full of hate and violence to the extent that he almost seemed to look forward to every forced cell entry to see if he could defeat the team of officers. Then, as he explained to me, one day it was apparent to him that somebody had changed the rules of the game.

Suddenly, the new officers were more like kids to him, rather than the warriors he had known during those years. The new officers insisted on talking and having purposeful conversations before resorting to physical force. Even as we talked several years later, David seemed confused about the new rules. It was at this same time that David gave up fighting. He was released from segregation, reclassified to a lower security level, allowed to pursue his exceptional talent in art, and, within a few short years, was paroled to the community. Seven years later, I talked with David by phone. He is doing well and thoroughly committed to maintaining his new direction in life.

Physical force capability forms an important — and necessary — context in which we do business in corrections. However, if the truth be known, most all successes in corrections are managed through successful relationships among staff and inmates.

Although all would agree that the circumstances in corrections are vastly different than those in the free world, a level of trust must exist between staff and inmates for those relationships to occur. In fact, trust and accountability is probably more important in prison than any other place in the world. Dr. Stephen Covey has described trust as the crowning achievement that enables effective, successful relationships. It is my opinion that this principle applies to the world of corrections.

In corrections, we vacillate continually from times that we use physical force and authority to times in which we manage issues through dialogue and verbal problem solving. Far too often staff divide themselves as being supportive of one of these approaches. Correctional professionals continually prepare themselves as warriors, to protect themselves and to be the strongest in physical conflict. It is my opinion that correctional professionals need to possess effective skills in both areas. Just as they are physical force warriors, it is equally important for them to be relationship warriors. The positive force in effective relationships is as important as any physical force. In part II of this article we will discuss some of the important skills and abilities to have in order to be an effective relationship warrior.

Ed. note: Part II of this article will be published in the December Corrections1 Leadership eNews.

Gene Atherton is currently in his 40th year of service in the criminal justice field. He served 27 years for the Colorado Department of Corrections. After promoting thru the ranks, he became Director of Prisons for the Western Region in Colorado until retirement in 2004. For the last fifteen years Mr. Atherton has served as a technical assistance consultant and trainer for the National Institute of Corrections on a variety of topics related to corrections. He has served as an author of numerous ACA publications. He has served as mentor to Afghan Corrections Leadership and as a subject matter expert to the United States Embassy in Afghanistan. He has provided evidence in Federal Court as an expert witness on a variety of correctional issues, including conditions of confinement, use of force, unlawful discrimination, and management of high risk offenders. He is currently serving as an expert for the United States Department of Justice in the application of the CRIPA act to the Alabama Department of Corrections. Finally, Mr. Atherton currently serves as a member of several committees for the American Correctional Association, and as an ACA standards compliance auditor for the nation of Mexico.