The dangers of a 'cool' correctional officer

This officer threatens the safety of other COs, correctional staff and inmates

No matter how much we teach about the dangers of correctional officers becoming friendly with inmates, there always seems to be one or two officers who still want to cross that boundary.

These COs want to be the "cool" officers who are liked by the inmates, but their actions put both fellow officers and correctional staff in danger.

Let's take a look at some examples of such behavior and the repercussions.

We can ever overemphasize the dangers of correctional officers becoming friendly with inmates.
We can ever overemphasize the dangers of correctional officers becoming friendly with inmates. (Photo/CorrectionsOne)

The Duck

Correctional officer Johnny Cool walks into his assigned dorm and says, “Hey, Jones, I will get you out of your 'Cadillac' (prison bunk) after count for some cards.”

This type of officer wants to be liked by the inmates and be their friend. In reality, the officer is not respected by the inmates. The inmates laugh behind his back and call him a “duck,” a correctional officer who reveals information about officers and prison staff to inmates. This type of officer does not spend much time with co-workers feeling more comfortable around the inmates who just use him.

Why would an officer want to be liked by the inmates? Here are some reasons I have identified over many years dealing with this type of officer:

  • The officer wants to keep the inmates happy so he or she does not have to enforce the rules. In other words, not have to work.
  • The officer is really scared of the inmates and wants them to leave him or her alone.
  • The officer is overprotective of the inmates because he or she is being paid for sex or contraband.
  • The officer prefers inmate company over his or her co-workers.
  • The officer was corrupt to begin with and slipped through the hiring process.
  • The officer has low self-esteem and is easily manipulated.
  • The officer already fell into the inmates' trap by giving them a small contraband item such as food or cigarettes and does not know how to get out of the situation.

The Next Shift

Being a “cool” correctional officer can make the prison environment very dangerous for the following shift coming on duty. It is not easy for officers to relieve weak officers amid a dorm of chaos. Inmates are rowdy and unpredictable thanks to the “cool” officer and the relieving COs are left with the task of getting the dorm back into shape. It can be done but it should not have to be done.

Officers have to be on the same page on each shift in order to keep inmates under control. Supervisors are a huge part of this process and they need to make sure officers are doing their jobs. Here are some types of damage left by a weak officer:

  • Inmates get used to doing what they want.
  • Inmates begin to feel they do not have to follow orders.
  • Inmates begin to make statements like, “Officer Cool lets us do it.”
  • Causes inmates to play one officer against another.
  • In some cases, it causes a disturbance within the dorm.
  • Leads to attacks on and verbal threats toward officers.

Forbidden Fruit

When officers want the attention of inmates, some begin to have sexual relations with inmates, risking their jobs and the safety of their fellow officers and themselves. Here are some of the reasons and excuses I have heard from officers caught having intimate relations with inmates:

  • The officer wanted to be more than liked, the officer wanted to be loved.
  • The officer enjoyed having control over the inmate.
  • The officer was in an abusive relationship at home and was seeking attention.
  • The officer had low self-esteem and a lack of self-respect.
  • The officer was attracted to "bad boys.”
  • The officer was a thrill-seeker.

This type of behavior causes a clear and present danger to other staff members and shows total disregard for fellow officers and facility security.

Officer Lovelace had been having sexual relations with inmate Jones for several months but has now become scared of losing her job and also scared of the inmate. Officer Lovelace goes to inmate Jones and tells him their relationship is over and her transfer to the work camp has been approved. Inmate Jones gets angry and threatens her and her family. She escapes his loud verbal threats and leaves the dorm. Inmate Jones continues to be in a fit of rage and officers approach him. Inmate Jones, who is a very strong inmate, picks up an officer and slams his back into a concrete wall. Officers finally subdue inmate Jones. The injured officer is taken by EMS to the hospital and dies three days later. Now tell me having sexual relations with inmates is not dangerous to other staff members.

We must take corruption very seriously and ensure there are severe consequences that include criminal prosecution and loss of certification for life.

Introduction of Contraband

Another serious problem caused by “cool” officers is that they can introduce contraband into your facility. Smuggling drugs, weapons and cell phones leads to prison staff being injured, killed or taken hostage. It leads to inmate escapes, which in turn results in innocent citizens being injured, killed or taken hostage in their own homes. This is an area of grave concern and we all must take part in reporting these incidents immediately before they escalate.

Zero Tolerance for Corruption

To combat corruption administrators must adopt a zero-tolerance approach. This strategy includes letting correctional employees know there should not fear retaliation, such as a transfer or denial of promotion, for reporting staff misconduct. Working together, from front-line personnel to the top administrator, is the only way to remove the cancer of corruption from our ranks.

Thank you all for your dedicated service and stay safe and healthy!

NEXT: How to survive inmate tests on your first day on the job

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