Jails are dangerous places; prepare yourself for your safetyBy Dave Grossi | Oct 25, 2016
I just returned from a swing across New York and Pennsylvania. I had to venture up to the great northeast to take care of my annual H.R. 218 recertification at my former PD after which my wife and I stopped in to see the kids and kidlettes in Pennsylvania. While scanning the local newspaper, I came across a headline announcing a state prisoner, Joel Perez, age 42, was found guilty of a 2014 attack on a 45-year-old veteran CO, Francis Petroski. The jury reached their verdict in under an hour after listening to all the testimony, which included evidence of the suspect fleeing the scene of the attack on video and the CO’s blood found on the inmate’s clothing.
The weapon was a pair of razor blades that had been embedded in a toothbrush. Perez had been charged with slashing Petroski’s throat. In light of this recent conviction, I thought it might be a good time to remind our readers of some of the concepts and tactics for dealing with corrections threats.
An awareness of the dangers inherent to the corrections environment is the primary goal. Despite of advances in the security to physical facilities around the U.S., the risks to COs are greater than ever.
A while back, I had the pleasure of meeting Maricopa County (Ariz.) Sheriff Joe Arpaio. When he offered to show my wife and me around his famous Tent City Facility, we jumped at the chance. The look was austere, with the inmates stacked two and sometimes three high in bunk beds. But the security is state of the art. Plus, it’s hard to look intimidating when you’re wearing pink boxers.
Regardless of precautions, evidence of inmates’ gang affiliations (tattoos) is everywhere. And while Sheriff Joe and his corrections staff have this place under control, make no mistake: county jails are dangerous places to work.
In-service training is also important when discussing threat awareness. The American Corrections Association (ACA) offers an Online Corrections Academy with an assortment of courses geared to professional COs. And I’d encourage all interested to become a part of this organization, at least to take advantage of the information that’s available via their Online Corrections Academy.
Education and Training
For those COs who desire higher education, many community colleges and several universities also offer both Associate’s and Bachelor’s degree programs in Corrections Science. Chaffey College in California, California University of Pennsylvania, Penn State University and Kaplan University, just to name a few, offer outstanding professional and degree programs, several online, for the professional CO. They also offer more specialized degrees, such as Certified Corrections Manager, Certified Corrections Supervisor and Certified Corrections Executive designations for first- and second-line supervisors and upper-level managers.
Individual courses of study in Interpersonal Communications, Penology, Working with Special Needs Offenders, and Ethical Issues in the Correctional Setting are also available. In addition, the ACA through their Correctional Certification Program also provides career advancement study in Conflict Resolution and Management of Aggressive Behavior. In-service training programs on Prison Gang Intelligence are offered in many state prisons where programs on gang philosophy and inmate culture are addressed.
While I’ve never worked as a CO, I network with a lot of county and state correctional officers. Without exception, they tell me one of the most valuable tools for corrections officers are after-action critiques. After any disturbance—from a minor cell extraction or a full-blown riot—I understand that these critiques provide a tremendous amount of feedback on how a particular incident was handled. Issues such as use of force, manpower, equipment, and/or training are openly discussed. I know from personal experience from my participation in Use of Force Review Boards, that if conducted properly, a lot of valuable learning can take place in identifying how future incidents can be handled better.
Lately, there’s been a lot of discussion on whether municipalities are better served by private correctional institutions or state run facilities. I’ll let the CO pros debate that issue. But one thing is sure, regardless of the technology or philosophy, the dangers and threats within our prisons and jails will always be there. With constant and frequent education, training, and an awareness of those dangers, those threats can be mitigated.
In case you’re wondering, Petroski retired this past fall. And while Perez was found guilty on all five felonies—three counts of aggravated assault and one count each of possession of a weapon and assault by a prisoner—he was already doing life for Murder 1.