The Jail Officer and CIT
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The Jail Officer and CIT

By Major Charles E. Armstrong, Director of Operations, Riverside Regional Jail

Major Charles E. Armstrong, Director of Operations, Riverside Regional Jail

For decades, jail officers and jail administrators ran their facilities without any state or federal oversight and with impunity. If an inmate got out of line or refused to comply with an order, jail officers were quick to use physical force in order to gain compliance. The amount of force used, and its justification was determined solely by the jail officers using it and often without question. The courts were reluctant to intervene on behalf of the inmate because, when it came to running a jail, the jail officers and jail administrators were the professionals.

Over the years, however, public opinion began to shift, and the Court soon took notice. As more and more use of force incidents made their way to the media through cell phone videos, 24-hour news outlets, and social media, the courts began to pay attention and gradually became more involved in how inmates in jails were being treated. The inmate filed lawsuits that had previously been dismissed were now starting to be heard by the courts. For the first time, jail officers and jail administrators were being held legally accountable for their actions and the actions of their employees. New standards were adopted, and policies revised on the use of force in order to detail specifically how and under what circumstances physical force would be used. The use of force incidents also started to be investigated internally to ensure officer compliance with agency policies in an effort to help protect the facility from potential lawsuits.

During this same time period, there were several advancements in tools and technology to help the jail officer deal with violent or non-compliant inmates. These advancements were an effort to help reduce both the frequency and severity of use of force incidents. Most notable of these advancements included collapsible batons, stun guns, pepper spray, Tasers, and body-worm cameras. The newest technological innovation, however, isn’t a mechanical or electronic or device at all. Introducing the newest tool for the jail officers’ tool belt – Crisis Intervention Training or CIT for short. CIT is mental health “basic training” for jail officers and other first responders on how to effectively respond and provide a positive interaction with individuals suffering from mental illness, substance abuse, or any intellectual disability.

"By simply employing the basics techniques of CIT, verbal interaction with the inmate and the CIT-trained jail officer can often deescalate potentially violent situations"

When our agency started to send jail officers to the 40-hour CIT school, I admit I was quite skeptical – until I saw the results first-hand. One of the recent graduates of the CIT school was a physically large officer with a reputation for being “hands-on” with inmates. When I heard over the radio this same officer answer a call for assistance for a mental health inmate refusing to be locked down, I immediately became concerned and responded to the scene. As I arrived at the mental health pod, I was surprised to observe this same officer not threatening the inmate of the consequences of his refusal to lock down, but rather employing the Four Basic Plays of CIT.

Play 1 – “Introduce yourself.” Play 2 – “Try to get their name.” Play 3 – “Reflect the feeling(s) expressed by the individual.” Play 4 – “Restate and Summarize.” The officer simply introduced himself (Play 1) and asked the inmate for his name (Play 2). To my surprise, the inmate responded by telling the officer what his name was. This simple technique almost immediately calms down the inmate. The officer then empathically explained to the inmate that he looked upset and asked if he wanted to talk about it (Play 3). Again, to my surprise, the inmate did just that.

The inmate was still obviously frustrated, but now his fists were unclenched, and his voice level had gone from yelling to talking. He told the officer that he was upset because although his charges had been dismissed in Court, he still had a detainer in effect, and nobody would tell him what the detainer was for or in what jurisdiction it was in. The officer then restated and summarized what the issue was with the inmate (Play 4) and told him, “it sounds like you are upset about nobody helping you find out what your detainer is for. How about you step inside your cell, and I will check with Classification and see if I can find out for you?” The inmate then stepped inside of his cell without incident. About 20 minutes later, the officer came back and told the inmate he had another charge in another jurisdiction, but that Classification was trying to contact his attorney in order to set terms and conditions of bond. The inmate was completely satisfied and even apologized for yelling and screaming earlier.

In conclusion, today’s jail officers are more trained and more educated than any of their predecessors could have ever imagined. Despite being better trained, however, the demands of a constantly evolving correctional environment necessitate long term, continuous training. As such, CIT should be at the forefront of this training – to include being mandatory for all new recruits at their respective training academies. The actions of the jail officer are being observed more intensely than ever before, and society and the courts are no longer tolerating unjustified uses of force incidents. CIT gives the jail officer a very important tool to deal with violent or non-compliant inmates without having to resort to force in most instances.

By simply employing the basics techniques of CIT, verbal interaction with the inmate and the CIT-trained jail officer can often deescalate potentially violent situations. Instead of having a use of force incident with potential injuries to both staff and the inmate, as well as the possibility of a lawsuit, you now have a CIT-trained jail officer, not only gaining inmate compliance but now starting to build future relationships with that inmate and others. This is a win-win situation for everyone. This is CIT.

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The Jail Officer and CIT

The Jail Officer and CIT

Major Charles E. Armstrong, Director of Operations, Riverside Regional Jail