Understanding effective communication in a correctional environment, by ASC Haruna Isa 

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Communication is the process of passing information and understanding from one person to another.

In simple words, it is a process of transmitting and sharing ideas, opinions, facts, values etc. from one person to another or one organization to another.

Working in corrections involves many different communication methods. We communicate with inmates, co-workers, supervisors, administrators and the public.

The ability to communicate effectively is probably the greatest skill, correctional officers can learn.

We need to be able to communicate directives, ideas and concepts daily and sometimes with people who can be difficult to communicate with.

There are times when we need to relay a lot of information to others for them to understand the totality of an event or situation.

There are many noises and barriers to effective communications in a correctional environment. It is easy to understand how inmates often struggle with good communication, as it is likely part of what contributed to why they are in custody.

However, our co-workers and superiors also have their challenges as well, and it can be difficult to communicate with them at times.

Communication efforts can take place verbally and at other times we need to be able to write out our messages. We need to be proficient in communicating in both ways.

Crafting a strong message takes time and effort. Great thought must go into the words chosen and structure in which they are placed. While for some people this comes naturally, others can find it difficult, especially when immediacy is required.

There are skills that can be learned that will make you a better communicator. In time, learning from your success and failures, you will hone these skills and find greater success the more you use them (Sgt David Cardinal, 2019).

To effectively communicate with people, you need to learn how to persuade and influence them to gain their attention, so they hear what you have to say.

There is an enormous difference between listening to someone and hearing someone. Once you have their attention, that is when you fill in your message with greater weight and meaning. How you communicate your overall message will determine the acceptance and longevity of your message.

Active listening is a top ingredient in effective communication. In order to understand the inmate population, you need to ask follow-up questions because gathering intelligence is how you learn about the population you are responsible for supervising.

Actively listen when an offender expresses his/her concerns.

Individuals who choose to work in correctional facilities take on a difficult, yet rewarding career. Myriad employment opportunities are available within corrections, but regardless of the position held, all individuals must receive certain levels of training.

This training typically includes ethics, key and tool control, supervising the mentally ill, use of force, behaviour management, housing and offender accountability, suicide prevention and first aid.

An important training that is often overlooked is interpersonal communication skills.

Simply put, we need more emphasis on corrections training on effective communication skills. Knowing how to talk and listen to others can prevent the use of force incidents with offenders; it can also help coworkers work more effectively and efficiently as a unit.

In order for staff to provide a safe, secure and humane environment for the offender population, all staff must have effective communication skills.

In order to make sound correctional decisions, it is imperative to actively listen to the offender population; your staff’s safety depends on it.

As a correctional staff member, regardless of your position, it is your job to keep those around you safe. Effective communication can positively change the trajectory of an outcome.

Communication is your first line of defence. It needs to be used more often and with more confidence, which is why correctional staff require continuous training in interpersonal communication skills.

Effective communication means that every communication must be just as clear and understandable to people with disabilities as it is for people who do not have disabilities.

This applies whether it is written, spoken, electronic, or any other form of communication.

Communicating to inmates with a disability

To communicate effectively with inmates who have disabilities, When needed, these facilities must provide the items, equipment, or services, known as auxiliary aids and services. When deciding which aid or service to provide, facilities must give primary consideration to the specific aid or service requested by the inmate who has a disability.

An inmate with a disability may need different aids or services at different times because the suitability of the aid or service will depend on factors such as the nature, length, context, and importance of the communication.

In addition to providing the aid or service to an inmate with a disability, the facility is responsible for providing aids and services and to the person’s parent, spouse, or companion, if needed.

For someone who is deaf, an interpreter could be needed for case hearings, medical and mental health services, support groups, or classes, handwritten notes could work for someone who is deaf and needs to give or get briefed.

An inmate who is deaf and uses sign language may use a videophone to call another person who is deaf, such as a family member or a Lawyer.

Good communication is not just a process of transferring information from one entity to another. It's art of first listening or reading the information, comprehending it, processing it and then transferring it.

There is a huge amount of effort that goes into communication. Gestures, tone of voice, body language and spoken language are some of the important aspects of communication.

If the other person is unable to comprehend any of these factors, then the process fails. The following methods are effective when communicating with correctional staff and inmates:

Truth: Whether your message is about an event, situation, idea or opinion, you need to be able to articulate it to others with honesty and sincerity.

To convey this information, you need to have knowledge of what you are speaking about; knowing the facts allows you to speak with truth. If you are unsure of the facts or your information is inconsistent, your message will sound chaotic and inauthentic.

When you appear genuine and communicate truth there is a greater likelihood you will capture and hold a person’s attention. This allows for communication that will be heard by the receiver of your message.

Assessment: Be prepared to respond to questions and challenges from those you are communicating with. Perform a thorough mental assessment of your message for aspects where others might agree or disagree.

Prepare counterpoints to any challenges to help fortify your message, as well as additional details to aid in securing support for your messaging.

Additionally, you will want to be able to demonstrate why other alternative options or ideas should not be given consideration, explaining how and why your message is the best course of action needed.

Poise: Maintaining your poise while communicating your message provides a stabilizing force that is difficult to ignore. Poise is more than just being confident; although that is a big part of it.

Confidence comes from speaking truth and having thoroughly assessed your message. However, poise is also about maintaining a positive attitude and expressing your message with a cheerful passion.

It is easy to allow something you are passionate about to become personal; when that happens, your feelings or ego can get bruised if you are challenged or disregarded.

If that happens, resentment and anger can seep into your message and nothing can be communicated effectively.

Effective Communication is significant for managers in the organizations so as to perform the basic functions of management, that is, Planning, Organizing, Leading and Controlling.

Communication helps managers to perform their jobs and responsibilities. Communication serves as a foundation for planning.

There are many reasons why interpersonal communications may fail. In many communications, the message may not be received exactly the way the sender intended and hence it is important that the communicator seeks feedback to check that their message is clearly understood.

The skills of Active Listening, Clarification and Reflection, which we will discuss shortly, may help but the skilled communicator also needs to be aware of the barriers to effective communication.

There exist many barriers to communication and these may occur at any stage in the communication process. Barriers may lead to your message becoming distorted and you, therefore, risk wasting both time and/or money by causing confusion and misunderstanding.

Effective communication involves overcoming these barriers and conveying a clear and concise message.

How to effectively communicate a message

1. How we respond to each other a message

Never let the offender population witness a discrepancy between your staff; all disagreements need to be handled behind doors and not in front of the offenders. We need to always present a unified front regardless of our differences.

2. How we respond to the offender population matters

Keep your promises and your commitments; if an offender asks you a question, give them an answer. If you do not know the answer, do not lie; tell them you do not know, but you can find out or direct them to the person who would have the answer. Your credibility with the offender population does matter.

3. Active listening is a top ingredient in effective communication

In order to understand the inmate population, you need to ask follow-up questions because gathering intelligence is how you learn about the population you are responsible for supervising.

Actively listen when an offender expresses his/her concerns. You also need to actively listen to your staff when they express their concerns. Remember, at the end of the day you are responsible for you and your partner going home.

4. Actions can speak louder than words

Your body language, facial expressions and gestures can contradict what you are verbally saying, so remember to match your non-verbal cues with your words.

5. Communication is your first line of defence

Be confident in your communication and active listening skills. Be confident in what you have learned from your training and on-the-job experiences.

Internet and Social Media

Inmates are not allowed to access social networking websites (such as Facebook or Twitter, WhatsApp, Wechat, etc) while they are in custody.

You cannot email inmates directly, but some correctional centres use a service called Email an inmate. If you send a message this way, it will be printed out and delivered by correctional staff.

The objection to allowing inmates to use the internet and social media, that inmates inside will use it to get information about their victims and hector them from behind bars are weak.

Besides, there is no reason why someone can not look up a victim’s information upon release. The challenge is to make sure inmates have no desire to do so because they have other, safe, prosocial connections they can rely on.

Those usually get cut off during incarceration. Connecting with one’s past and future life at once, and reconciling them into one plan of law-abiding conduct is what keeps people clean.

For effective communication to prevail, there must be regulations on the use of the internet and social media inmates or there shall be a total ban on the use of it.

Correctional service is built upon the realisation of the principles of reformation, rehabilitation and reintegration of offenders back to society. With that, communication in the correctional environment needs to be monitored.

It is important, therefore, that effective communication is significant for correctional service to perform the basic functions of reformation, rehabilitation and reintegration of inmates.

This could only be achieved through understanding the effective communication between and among the internal and external publics, thereby ensure a correctional environment.

ASC Haruna Isa writes, is a Behavioural Change Communicator and Correctional Officer Stations at Medium Security Custodial Centre Potiskum, Yobe State Command. He can be
reached via harunaisa403@gmail.com or 08168291341(SMS ONLY).

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