Magazine article Corrections Today

From Corporal to Verbal: Communication in Corrections-Listening, Responding, Probing and Closure

Magazine article Corrections Today

From Corporal to Verbal: Communication in Corrections-Listening, Responding, Probing and Closure

Article excerpt

Author's Note: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and not necessarily the American Correctional Association or the Federal Bureau of Prisons.

Managing inmates in correctional institutions has evolved from a hands-on corporal approach to an emphasis on verbal communication. The American public now expects a safe, humane prison system, shunning the sadistic style depicted by Captain Byron Hadley in "The Shawshank Redemption." Hadley's means of dealing with inmates consisted of threats and a baton to the ribcage. Fast-forward from the fictional Shawshank State Penitentiary in the late 1940s to the contemporary Federal Law Enforcement Training Center (FLETC) in Glynco, Ga., where newly hired Federal Bureau of Prisons employees undergo three weeks of correctional training. The training consists of firearms, self-defense, a written academic test on policies and procedures and a physical abilities test--all with an emphasis on good communication with inmates. Some veterans of the correctional industry may be surprised these classes cover listening, responding, probing and closure in handling situations. The trend is clearly moving away from the use of force to the use of good communication.

Correctional workers graduating from FLETC return to their institutions with newfound skills and are immediately plunged into the frayed gauntlet of inmate needs, problems and wants. Employing their newly learned skills, they work effectively to keep problems from escalating. These learned communication skills are:

Listening. Necessary for new correctional workers to size up situations in the housing units, effective listening is complex and requires full concentration on what an inmate says, as well as the demonstration of full attention--for instance, an appropriately timed head-nod or a "Go on." It involves suspending judgement, picking out key words and identifying emotional intensity for the purpose of assessing the situation and responding.

Responding. Properly responding to inmates often deescalates situations, making them safer for everyone. Two primary skills are necessary: paraphrasing and reflecting. …

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