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Top 4 Mistakes Corrections Officers Make While Doing Rounds and How to Fix Them

The life of a corrections officer is far from easy and, like in any other profession, mistakes can happen. While they are likely to occur, an officer's response is key in fixing the problem. So, how can these mistakes be fixed when they occur?
Greg Piper
Greg Piper

Whether it’s a simple mistake, forgetfulness, or laziness, mistakes happen. Plain and simple. However, in corrections, even the smallest mistakes can have extreme consequences.

The completion of well-being checks is one of the most frequently performed tasks within the walls of a jail or prison. As we all know, a round or check is when a corrections professional walks around their assigned area, observing inmate behavior, and noting their presence and demeanor. Some people may be asking themselves, “That seems simple. How can anyone screw that up?” Those with any knowledge of this job know it is far from an easy or stress-free walkabout.

The officers are walking through areas inhabited by alleged thieves, murderers, rapists, and other types of felons 24 hours a day. This is one of the most brutal and dangerous beats on the planet and, unfortunately, corrections officers aren’t perfect and are likely to make mistakes. However (unlike many other professions) a mistake made inside a correctional facility could cost someone their career or worse, their life. 

Four of the most common mistakes seen in jails and prisons around the country include:

  1. Not observing inmates during round

  2. Completing well-being checks too quickly

  3. Distracted by outside forces & take eyes off inmates

  4. Banging on offenders' cell doors to confirm life.

This blog will dive into these four mistakes and possible solutions to help correct and avoid these issues.

#1. Officers Not Observing Inmates During Round

One mistake frequently witnessed within a correctional facility is officers aren’t taking the time to observe inmates during their security checks. Instead, some officers just walk past locations without even looking at the inmates. The whole purpose of conducting rounds is to observe an inmate, whether to ensure their safety or the safety of others, these must be done thoroughly, not quickly.

The Fix:

Whether in charge of four or 104 inmates, officers must ensure each one is alive during every check. To do this correctly, corrections staff must do two things:

  1. Make visual contact with the offender

  2. Look for a sign of life (breathing, talking, snoring, etc.)

Missing even just one inmate during a round is one too many. To combat this, several solutions have been introduced to the market to help officers document what they notice about inmates during their rounds. With that being said, the documentation solution is only as good as the officers using it. Officers must have the professionalism and integrity to observe each and every inmate while documenting their observations. Visual contact with inmates is vital in ensuring they are alive and doing what they should be. Conducting security checks diligently and locking eyes on an inmate helps secure the facility’s safety.

#2. Officers Completing Well-being Checks Too Quickly

Another common mistake officers make when completing a round is trying to finish it too quickly, especially if they notice they’re running late. Time and time again officers look straight ahead, flying down the tier, just hitting tags with their SPARTAN or other guard tour device. The root problem isn’t necessarily poor time management or laziness. Instead, officers often complete their tours too quickly and take shortcuts because they fear being late and reprimanded.

Will there be late rounds from time to time? Yes. Forrest Gump explained this idea best when he said “It happens.” What happens? “S**t.”

The job of a corrections officer isn’t always predictable. A chatty inmate could approach or there may be a fight to break up. Many things could occur that make officers feel like they need to rush through the rest of their round, but it's crucial to understand that it’s just a normal part of the job. It’s an unavoidable issue.

The Fix:

Things are bound to happen that cause late checks, but how officers articulate those occurrences matters most. Lying or pencil whipping rounds is NOT the way to handle the situation. Explain what happened using a documentation method, whether that’s typing directly into a JMS, writing directly onto a paper log, or making a note in a SPARTAN. Explicitly dictate what happened during the check that resulted in a late check and move on.

#3. Distracted Corrections Officers

Focusing on everything at once is far from a natural skill, but it’s a must in corrections. There needs to be a constant awareness of what’s happening around the facility while focusing especially on specific daily duties. To put it bluntly, officers should constantly be prioritizing their tasks. A corrections environment can change rapidly, and it’s crucial to respond correctly whenever that change occurs. Although priorities can change quickly, there’s one thing that Jail Administrators, Wardens, Majors, Captains, Sheriffs, and Auditors can agree upon: rounds must be done. 

The Fix:

There may be times when staff or other service providers interrupt a normal routine. If that happens at the same moment when a round is due, alert them that they will addressed shortly, but completing the round must take priority. Complete rounds when they’re due while remaining willing to assist others as time permits.

#4. Improper Confirmation of Life

The fourth most common mistake seen is officers banging on inmates’ cell doors to confirm life. If the choice was between a dead inmate and a grumpy inmate, (hopefully) everyone would choose grumpy. But let’s pose the question: does there really have to be a choice?

Imagine this: at the end of the day, you lay down to go to sleep, get all snuggled in, and then every fifteen or thirty minutes someone bangs on the end of your bed to make sure you were alive throughout the entire night. Like any typical person, you’d be more than a little upset.

The Fix:

A sleeping inmate is a quiet inmate, so the solution is simple - take the extra 8-12 seconds and watch for that sign of life. These could be things such as seeing the chest rise and fall, a slight movement under the blanket, etc. The next offender can be checked once one of these signs is observed. If there’s legitimately no movement, then by all means do what is necessary to check that they’re alive. However, banging on an offender’s cell door should be a last resort.

Final Thoughts

A job in corrections is tough, and mistakes happen. But, focusing on and correcting these four common mistakes is a great start. Lowering the likelihood of a missed or late check helps reduce the potential for a very bad day.

As corrections professionals, ensuring the safety and security of every employee, visitor, and inmate within the confines of the jail or prison is vital. To do that, everyone must constantly work to improve themselves and their routines.

Greg “OG” Piper is the Director of Academy at GUARDIAN RFID. Piper has been in skills development, training, and instructing for over 25 years in everything from customer service to martial arts. Starting as a puppeteer for the Parks Department in Apple Valley, Minnesota and having worked for multi-million dollar corporations, government agencies, and mom and pop businesses, Piper brings a wide range of business and life skills to each training.