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Prisons: Correctional Officers

Organizational Culture

C.O.s are a numeric minority with a high potential for violent interactions with inmates (Brown). In 1997, inmates committed 14,359 assaults against correctional staff. Four of these staff members died (Camp and Camp, pp. 40, 153). The nature of the inmate population has changed since the late 1960s and the level of physical threat has increased dramatically in response to massive prison overcrowding and an influx of younger, more violent criminals (Hepburn). Because the inmate population views correctional officers as the enemy and may respond to their authority with hostile, dangerous, and unpredictable behavior (Poole and Regoli, 1981) the officer-inmate relationship is one of "structured conflict" (Jacobs and Kraft).

"Structured conflict" provides the foundation for an organizational culture dominated by three principles of officer-inmate interaction: (1) security and control are the highest priority; (2) officer-inmate social distance should be high; and (3) officers must be tough, knowledgeable, and able to control inmates (Welch). The officers' attitude toward inmates is composed of a mixture of suspicion, fear, contempt, and hostility (Jacobs and Kraft). New officers are taught to adhere to a subcultural code of conduct organized around group solidarity and mutual support. The values of this code include: (1) always go to the aid of an officer in distress; (2) never make an officer look bad in front of inmates; (3) always support an officer in a dispute with an inmate; (4) always support another officer's sanctions against inmates; (5) show concern for fellow officers; (6) do not smuggle drugs for inmates' use; (7) do not be sympathetic to inmates; (8) maintain group solidarity against outside groups; and (9) never inform on another officer (Kauffman). This last value is central to the code of silence that prohibits C.O.s from testifying about other officers' corruption or brutality.

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationCrime and Criminal LawPrisons: Correctional Officers - The C.o. And Rule Enforcement, Organizational Culture, Changes In The Correctional Officer Role