During the past 30 years, there have been a number of high-profile hostage situations in correctional institutions in the United States. These incidents include the violent conclusion of the Attica, N.Y., siege in September 1971, along with the peaceful resolutions of the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility (SOCF) standoff in Lucasville, Ohio, in April 1993, and the St. Martin Parish Louisiana County Jail takeover in December 1999. During this time, law enforcement agencies learned many lessons in the area of correctional setting negotiations.
This article attempts to articulate the knowledge acquired by crisis negotiators as a result of a number of intense, protracted correctional sieges. Negotiators have come to realize that there are several unique aspects to negotiating in correctional settings. However, these same incidents have also highlighted the fact that there are far more similarities than differences when comparisons are made between negotiating within the walls and outside of them.
The first task confronting authorities during a correctional siege is to determine whether they are dealing with a contained hostage/barricade situation or a riot. In a contained situation, basic crisis negotiation techniques will apply; in most instances, time will be an ally. However, an ongoing riot involving large-scale injuries and/or property damage should be suppressed with a rapid police response. In the event that a rapid response is not possible, authorities must attempt to initiate a dialogue and enter negotiations.
The priorities in correctional setting negotiations are similar to those in any hostage/barricade situation. Preservation of life is the No. 1 priority, with the emphasis on the lives of correctional staff. Re-establishing control in the facility, preventing escape, apprehending hostage takers, recovering property and prosecuting those engaged in violence are also concerns in correctional environments.
There are several distinct advantages to negotiating in a correctional environment. The first is immediate containment, in which the crisis site is located within a physically secure structure so there is little chance for escape. The second advantage is an abundance of intelligence. Authorities know who the subjects involved are. In most cases, psychological profiles of the subjects exist and authorities have access to the mental health professionals who conducted these evaluations.
Additionally, authorities are thoroughly familiar with the crisis site. This can be a valuable advantage for tactical teams that must constantly probe and construct contingency plans to be used in the event that the situation rapidly deteriorates and an emergency assault becomes necessary. During the SOCF siege, authorities were able to exploit the tunnels running underneath the institution, resulting in the ability to glean real-time intelligence within the facility.
A third advantage for the authorities is the ready identification of potential third-party intermediaries (TPIs) and the benefit of prior positive relationships between inmates and staff. Inmates' visitor lists of family and friends are kept and their mail is routinely screened. These procedures significantly help authorities identify TPIs who may be used to influence a subject to surrender. In August 1991, during a siege at the Federal Correctional Institute (FCI) in Talladega, Ala., a staff counselor was able to convince inmates to release a correctional officer during the onset of the takeover. It seems the staff counselor had previously established a positive relationship with the inmates who, therefore, viewed him as a "regular guy."
The fourth advantage authorities have during a prison siege is the inmates' vulnerability, to the use of force. Although inmates have shown a great deal of creativity in designing potentially lethal makeshift weapons, those weapons will not protect them from a well-armed SWAT team during a tactical assault. …