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Do Correctional Officers Abuse Their Authority?

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Criminology
Wordcount: 3130 words Published: 9th May 2017

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Correction officers hold considerable power and authority within the corrections system. They are in charge of maintaining discipline and order within the facility at which they work. Many people view correction officers as the cause of violence within the prisons and jail. Others view correction officers as those who are professional, ethical, and hold good moral standards. I purpose a questionnaire consisting of yes, no, and no reply answer choices will help in determining the cause of violence, part of the dark figure of crime, and what percentage of correction officers actually follow by the rules and regulations.

Correctional Officers: Do They Abuse Their Authority or Provide Equal Treatment

Are correctional officers abusing their powers and authority by mistreating inmates or could they be justice providers and treat the inmates ethically and fair? Many people are lead to believe that inmates are being treated inhumanely by force or coercion into negative living environment and are being treated unethically by the officers who judge them according to the crime they have committed, or by their associations within the facility. Others view correctional officers as the cause of an offender to relapse or to become repeat offenders. The objective of this research is to determine if the treatment correction officers give inmates affect the crime rate in the facility, to determine if inmates are mistreated, to determine if officers allow one another to mistreat inmates, abuse their authority, and to show that this study can contribute to the general understanding of crime or policy responses to crime.

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The purpose of this research is to determine if correctional officers violate inmates in any way. The purpose is also to determine why violence is still occurring in prisons after the prisoners have been convicted of a crime and given their sentences. This research study will also show how the correction officer job is turning into a multitasked profession. Not only is this research going to be used to show how correctional officers are treating the inmates, but it will also show whether or not more violence is occurring by the inmates towards other inmates or whether or not correctional officers have something to do with the violence occurring within the facility.

Literature Review

There have been previous studies on correctional officer’s concerning the abuse of authority. There have been experiments conducted such as the Stanford prison experiment which discovered that correctional officers do feel as if they have more power and can treat the inmates however they feel like. One point of view that one could perceive from the Stanford prison experiment is that ordinary people change once they are put into a situation where they think that they can dominate (Zimbardo, 1999-2009). The impact of social forces has an effect on the behavior and the way a person reacts to the situation (Clements, 1999). The results of that experiment strongly indicated that in certain situations, behavior applies itself which causes the person to act accordingly to the situation.

In another study, by Wolff, Shi and Siegel (2009), research concluded that people within the prison system have above-average rates of victimization during both childhood and adulthood. The correctional settings are known for the violence between inmates and staff. The research found evidence showing the rates of victimization being higher in a prison setting then that in a community setting. In a study that examined the characteristics of an officer and the investigations of the use of force, there were conclusions made that there is excessive use of force going on in the correctional facilities. McElvain and Kposowa (2004) acknowledged that departmental experience was the strongest predictor of investigations for alleged use of force. While race had no effect, gender did. Males were more likely to be investigated for the use of force than females. Also, younger officers were more likely to be investigated than older officers.

There has always been a history of prison violence and correctional officers abusing the authority. According to Gross (2008), history is replete with incidents of seemingly decent people committing horrendous acts of violence in what they believe to be the pursuit or defense of justice and right. Gross (2008) discussed experiments such as the Stanford Prison Experiment and the BBC Prison Study. Apart of his discussion concluded that both prison studies demonstrated that under some circumstances, some individuals resist going-with-the-flow of group-associated brutality. Gross (2008) also went on to say that if a person with authority over a group of individuals varies in their zero-tolerance stance towards brutality, then brutality may emerge anywhere.

There have been numerous studies on correctional officers and brutality including experiments and questionnaires. Butterfield (2004) talks about physical and sexual abuse of prisoners, similar to what has been uncovered in Iraq, takes place in American prisons with little public knowledge or concern, according to corrections officials, inmates and human rights advocates.


The Profession

Under the job description for a correction officer, one might find that their duties include being able to guard the prisons in accordance with the set forth policies, procedures, codes, and regulations. The officers’ responsibilities include watching and protecting the inmates from harm, escape, and contraband, as well as fights that break out amongst the inmates. Officers are allowed to search any inmate that they feel is a threat, as well as directing the inmates to where or what they need to go and do in order to maintain discipline. Correction officers’ career can get challenging due to the verbal and psychological abuse that they experience.

Within the line of their duties, there are several situations that officers can be put in that can have an influence on the officers’ judgments and actions. Correctional officers have no law enforcement rights outside of the prison. Not being able to enforce the law outside of the prison could lead to correctional officers to want to be more harsh within the area that they are allowed to enforce the law and have authority(McElvain & Kposowa, 2004).


The history of corrections, guards, and officer dates back to the 12th Century under King Henry II when he began a structured court system for handling all criminal charges. During the Ancient and Medieval Era, correctional objectives were more about retribution and retaliation rather then incarceration and proportionate sentences. By the mid 1700s, practices were becoming violent and bloody being completely out of proportion with the seriousness of the offense. John Howard, a well known prison reformer began the era of establishing efficient means of penal treatment and crime prevention. (Henry II of England, 2008)

According to Villanueva (2007), many of the early 1600s correctional methods were based upon the English law and practices.’ The roots of this system began during the colonial times in the original thirteen colonies.’ The jails were used for the people who were awaiting trial or who could not pay their fees and fines.’ Corporal punishment was designed to be viewed by the public as a form of deterrence.’ During the late 1700s to the early-mid 1800s, the penitentiary was designed and developed.’

The Pennsylvania System and the New York Auburn System were two of the most influential penitentiaries to the corrections system.’ These two systems were designed during a time of land and population growth.’ Near the beginning of the 1900s, probation and parole became a broad aspect of corrections.’ Juvenile courts were established and the court system took an individual case approach.’ Throughout the rest of the 1900s until today’s present time, corrections took on the perspectives of providing medical services, community service, and crime prevention and control (Villanueva, 2007).

Corruption in Corrections

Corruption in the corrections system can and has lead to the dark figure of crime.’ There are instances where correction officers allow things to go on that they know is against policy, rules, and regulations.’ Correction officers know that no matter what goes on within the prisons when dealing with the inmates, they have the upper hand. The officers can force the inmates or other faculty members into doing something or letting something go by without saying anything, even though it is illegal from different perspectives. Younger officers should feel the need to follow the rules more closely than the officers that are older with more experience. The young officers’ characteristics should be more ethical than those of older officers who knows how the operation of the system, however all correctional officers should hold high ethical and moral standards.

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The work environment for correction officers is a very challenging and hazardous place.’ Correction Officers have one of the highest rates of non-fatal on-the-job injuries.’ Many of these injuries occur during confrontations with the inmates.’ The newer facilities are well ventilated, temperature controlled, and well lighted while other facilities are older with little to no ventilation, no temperature controls, and the lighting is poor.’ In environments like these, working under stress and pressure would be increased because the nature of the job (Bureau of Labor, 2009). Correctional facilities are known to have an affect on the inmates as well as the staff physically and psychologically. Past experiences of victimization could be relevant causes for adult criminal activity. It would be prevalent to recognize and identify this phenomenon.

Suggested Quality Research

In today’s society, many people believe that inmates are treated poorly once they are incarcerated, while on the other hand, other people believe that the inmates are getting the treatment that they deserve. I have designed a research study that would help in determining whether or not correction officers violate the inmates in any way. The strategy would consist of a questionnaire that contained twenty questions with YES, NO, and NO REPLY answer choices. A copy of the suggested questionnaire may be obtained by contacting the author through the affiliated university. This study could contribute to general understanding of crime or policy responses to crime and I feel that it would be just as beneficial as other similar research if not more significant. The answer choices will help in guaranteeing that the honest answers received will help improve the operational chain of command and the flow procedures within corrections system.

The correctional officers can sometimes have an affect on why inmates act a certain way or why they do certain things to themselves and or others. I want this research to show officials that correctional officers allow one another to mistreat inmates without saying a word to anyone. This research will also allow correctional officers to speak anonymously about what is going on in the facility and how they are treating the offenders, whether it is positive or negative by other officers and or staff. A predicted outcome of this research would be that correctional officers do abuse their authority, and that there are crimes going on inside the prison directly resulting from officers actions or directly from the officers.

Fellner (2004) discusses that in recent years, U.S. prison inmates have been beaten with fists and batons, stomped on, kicked, shot, stunned with electronic devices, doused with chemical sprays, choked, and slammed face first onto concrete floors by the officers whose job it is to guard them. Inmates have ended up with broken jaws, smashed ribs, perforated eardrums, missing teeth, burn scars — not to mention psychological scars and emotional pain. Some have even died as the end result. Both men and women prisoners could face staff rape and multiple forms of sexual abuse and then the officers will bribe, coerce, or violently force the inmates for certain favors. Men and women inmates can experience correctional officers’ mistreatment and exploitation for many different reasons.

Parsons-Pollard (2006) believe that the study of ethics in criminal justice has proliferated over the past 25 years as the public demands a higher level of ethical accountability for those in professional positions. The ethics of criminal justice professionals should be very precise allowing no room for anyone to become corrupt within the system. The ethical values of a corrections officer should be recognized in respect to the expected actions of correctional officers. If the officers’ are not going to abide by their rules and regulations within their workplace, then the correction officer profession may not be suitable for them.

The conclusion and analysis of the result from this study will help to determine whether or not correctional officers are abusing the inmates and how they will address the problem. Sometimes, correctional officers abuse the inmates and take away what rights the inmates do have, making it very noticeable within the prison facilities that there is violence occurring that could be prevented. The best way to conquer this problem is to provide staff with adequate training on controlling their frustrations and anger issues, and to establish a well communicated staff. Even though the inmates are incarcerated for a reason, that doesn’t mean that inmates should get poor treatment from the officers while they are incarcerated. The correctional officers are there to provide safety amongst the prison populations and officers should not judge the inmates according to their crime, the judge has already done it.

Correction officers need to have current training and development in regards to their positions at the facility. They need to have a common knowledge of the application of law and how it is applied to those incarcerated. They should know the Constitutional Rights as well as the federal and jail standards for their state and province. Each correction officer should be able to conduct searches of both inmates and the areas that they are permitted access such as their cell. It would be relevant to have substance abuse prevention training to have a working knowledge of what substances are being used and abused and how.

There are several aspects of corrections. The inmates may all hold different point of views in regards to how they view incarceration. One may view incarceration as a way to do something illegal, get caught and incarcerated, and still be able to receive all the free benefits of being incarcerated such as free food, water, sleeping corridors, television, computer/internet, and legal services. Those incarcerated have a lot more benefits and opportunities then a lot of people that are barely keeping up in life. Another might view prison as the most devastating experience that they have ever encountered. There are physical, emotional, and psychological issues that arise with those that are incarcerated and the officer must be able to understand their changes in behavior in order to maintain discipline.

There are situations that may arise within the facilities where the correction officer would have to report to court. An important area that they should be trained in would be courtroom testimony. Other important areas that they should be trained in would be report writing, and how to take fingerprints, pictures, and identification of the offenders being processed.


Apart of any profession, the employee should be able to provide their employer with professionalism, ethics and morals, and proficient communication skills. These three elements are an important part of the correction officers’ profession. As apart of the training that they receive, the Correction officers should be well trained in how to respond to a situation where an inmate has taken another person within the facility as a hostage. A correction officer should also be able to respond adequately to a situation where there is a barricaded area. If any emergency were to break out, the correction officers should be able to respond as sufficiently as possible.

Offenders all have different reasons as to why they are incarcerated and they are all going to deal with those reasons the best way they know how. Some may not be able to deal with those issues turning them into problems. Psychological issues, abnormal behavior, and thoughts and threats of suicide are all going to be prevalent when dealing with a group of criminals in a somewhat small area. When riots, fights, and or disorder starts to unfold in the prisons and jails, the correction officers are people responsible for being able to respond to the situations.

There are situations that a correction officer may face daily that could result in prisoner abuse allegations. Prisoners are incarcerated for a particular reason and they are there because they committed a crime and have been sentenced. The judge is responsible for giving the inmates the sentence that they deserve therefore no official except the judge should be responsible for giving the inmates the treatment as well as the sentence that they get. Correction officers’ tend to want to give the inmates the ‘treatment they deserve’ and that leads to the abuse of inmates. This abuse is apart of the ‘dark figure of crime’ which is crime that goes unnoticed, unaccounted for, and unpunished.

Inmates that are serving their sentences accordingly are being punished by the law and they don’t need any additional appalling treatment, unless they are acting out or causing more trouble within the system. Officers may believe that because they have the authority to keep the prison under control then they have the authority to treat the inmates however they desire. If they think that they can not get into trouble or will not get into trouble then they will be more prone to doing and completing the actions. There has been a long history of corrections in the United States from retribution to rehabilitation and there has been a history of abuse of inmates from the correction officers.


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