Correctional officers, correctional treatment specialists and other staff that work in U.S. prisons and jails must have daily contact with inmates, some of whom have been incarcerated for violent crimes. In order to maintain their own safety and the safety of other inmates, staff must ensure that the prisoners follow the rules of the institution. To minimize conflict and infractions, staff may leverage a number of interpersonal skills when dealing with violent offenders.
Perhaps the most important skill when dealing with violent offenders is communication. In order to successfully restrict the behavior of these offenders, staff must make clear both the rules that the inmates must follow and the punishment for failing to abide by them. When attempting to resolve conflicts with these inmates, staff should almost make the inmate feel listened to. If the inmate believes his grievances are being heard, he is less likely to resort to violence.
Many correctional staff, particularly caseworkers and correctional treatment specialists, come from a background in psychology. Psychology is particularly helpful in dealing with violent offenders as it gives staff some insight into the causes of violence and provides them strategies to head off violent action. By understanding the decision-making process of inmates, staff can develop means of guiding this process toward a violence-free means of resolving conflicts and solving problems.
When dealing with violent inmates, staff should always pay careful attention to what the inmate is doing. Skillful observation has two components -- looking and knowing what to look for. For example, if a correctional officer suspects an inmate is carrying a weapon, she should know how to look for the weapon on the inmate. She should also be alert to signs that suggest that violence is on the horizon.
Although correctional officers will generally attempt to head off violence through skillful psychology, communication and other non-coercive preventative measures, officers are often called up to use physical force to restrain inmates. Before working in a correctional institution, officers must generally take a number of state-run classes in which they are familiarized with the state's use of force laws. In addition, they will be trained in how to use physical force in such a way as to maximize effectiveness while minimizing the harm done to inmates.