Ruminations on the dormitory setting.

Author:McLaughlin, Tom
Position:A View From the Line

When the general public, and media for that matter, calls to mind an image of an inmate's physical confinement at a prison it is usually within a cell. However, depending on the security level of the offender, it is likely the inmate is being housed within a dormitory setting that primarily contains open rows of bunk beds, multiple sinks and showers, and a common area with a TV and microwave.

A dormitory environment, to a correctional officer, can be daunting. It can be loud just due to sheer numbers and active at all times. There is no secure locked barrier to give officers the relief that a cellblock has been known to provide. To put it bluntly, it is a shift of crowd control.

In order to be effective in a room packed with 80 to 100-plus convicted felons--some of whom are ranking gang members--an officer needs to utilize a mindset the outside world rarely recognizes. One cannot, and does not need to, outmuscle a room full of inmates. By following these nine suggestions, an officer can excel in and control a dormitory housing unit.

Name recognition/familiarity. Humans instinctually assess the social dynamics and pecking order of their environment. Correctional officers over time develop an enhanced sense of that trait--the ability to read a room. Survey the area and spot possible alpha males much like one would in a schoolyard or a gym. Learn their names and address them occasionally. Inmates are less likely to engage in misconduct when the officer of the unit has taken the time to memorize their names; it shatters their sense of anonymity.

Irregular unit tours. It goes without saying that if an officer tends to check the unit always from the left first, a pattern is picked up. Change the time and direction, but go one step further; at least twice a shift, double back. This tiny adjustment not only catches offenders off balance but can be a way of seeing what is really going on, and how offenders behave after they assume an officer has completed his or her check of the unit.

Move and swivel. When touring a unit, officers should continually look around and be aware of the area behind them. Never engage in a prolonged conversation; it may be a distraction. If an issue or an infraction is observed, correct it quickly and decisively. Do not stay in one place or address nonemergencies for more than three seconds.

Use the desk. Teachers, judges and detectives, all authority figures the inmate has dealt with, sit behind a desk. Therefore, an...

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