Clem Information Strategies works where public policy, communications, and outreach intersect.

Connie Clem, Principal, connie at
@ConnieInfo | | 303.242.6278
Niwot, Colorado, USA

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When it comes to jail and correctional work, the demands made of people could hardly be more intense.

Correctional officers (they are not “guards,” by the way) have to be 100% safety-aware and 100% open to the idea that the person they’re interacting with is a human being, too. They operate within these two very different realities all the time.

Who is that perfect? Or at least, who can bring that to work every day — a willingness and commitment to being fair, just, honest, and human and also to be ready for anything. Any unexpected behavior from people in a wide spectrum:  messed up, addicted, unlucky, made a bad/impulsive decision . . . to the manipulative, assaultive, or weaponized and willing to hurt themselves or others.

Are officers’ instincts right most of the time? Those instincts need to be honed through classroom learning, physical skills training, peer-to-peer teaching, supervisor coaching, and sheer experience.

Some get cynical. Some get hurt or broken. Some get out. Turnover is high. Stress can be excruciating. Families suffer, too.

It’s impressive that some people can keep doing the job for years. What are the characteristics of those who can do the job a long time without getting unhealthy mentally, emotionally, spiritually, or physically? Can these qualities be trained and developed?

Possibly these are often the people who get promoted away from inmate supervision. Possibly some officers make a career choice to stay longer on the housing unit level and keep working to make a one-on-one difference where they can. Possibly some agencies can find more funding to keep good officers in place. (Maybe that statement gets a laugh because of tight budgets.)

It’s a weighty job, and it gets heavier every time the news tells us about another serious, preventable incident.

Not every inmate is dangerous or a hopeless case. Not every officer is waiting for an opening to use inappropriate force. Understanding and respect and common sense are needed, now as always.

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Don’t take my word for it

March 28, 2017

Jails matter! But don’t take my word for it. Talk with your local public safety leaders. Check out agency websites. If you know someone who works in a jail or has spent time in one as a volunteer or a detainee, see what they can tell you. Find out who is in your city or […]

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Industries examined?

October 7, 2016

Recently inmate industries made the news on a public radio talk program:  “The National Prison Strike (According To Prisoners),” September 28, 2016, On Point, WBUR, Boston, Massachusetts. I applaud fresh attention given to jails and prisons, so this was good to hear. However, the program seemed to accept at face value the comments of the […]

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Who’s Responsible?

September 29, 2015

Lately we’re seeing more attention to interactions between corrections/law enforcement personnel and community members, possible suspects, detainees, and inmates. This is a good thing—because accountability is important, and also because the scrutiny is helping the public to learn more about patrol work and jails. A big question is, how responsible is an agency leader for […]

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Jail Standards, Classification, and Safety

September 17, 2015

Last week I sat in on a meeting of jail inspection agency leaders from around the United States. These people work in state government, and their mission is to ensure safety and security in the jails they work with. They or their staff members visit each local facility statewide to check whether these jails meet […]

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What’s the difference between prison and jail?

November 3, 2013

You know how you’re watching the news, and the reporter solemnly says a criminal will be spending his or her life in jail, or will serve a 20-year jail sentence, or is languishing in prison waiting for trial? It’s not going to happen. Let me clear this up. In the United States, we often encounter […]

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Infographic – social media + emergency response

June 10, 2013

Must share this. From USF Master of Public Admin program. University of San Francisco Online Master of Public Administration

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