Establishing Rapport with Offenders: The Experience of Correctional Officers

Key Words

dynamic security, staff-offender relations

What it means

Dynamic security involves establishing relationships with offenders to enhance staff knowledge of the offenders’ activities and behaviours that may compromise the safety and security of staff, offenders, and the public. Correctional Officers must carefully establish rapport with offenders while also maintaining appropriate boundaries.

What we found

As highlighted by almost 60% of the interviewees, dynamic security relies on the Correctional Officers’ ability to establish a rapport with offenders. This rapport is essential to upholding institutional equilibrium and deescalating volatile situations before they become unmanageable. Correctional Officers’ own words best illustrate this approach and the following quotes are excerpts from interviews conducted for this study.

That dynamic security, that rapport can take a possible situation from completely exploding and make it manageable.

You need [to] form some type of working relationship with the offenders so that when there are issues arising, somebody usually gets tipped off. Someone will tell you things like that.

Correctional Officers also highlighted the need to maintain boundaries between themselves and offenders while establishing rapport.

So you have to keep a degree of separation. I look at it at the level of a car accident, you’re emphatic or sympathetic with the person that’s been involved, you get the information; if you can make them feel better you do...

Many officers discussed strategies for maintaining boundaries such as refusing to share personal details about their lives, avoiding communicating on a first name basis, and disallowing inappropriate comments.

Yep, over the years I’ve heard people talking about their personal lives. They’re talking about their families and stuff like that. That’s a big no-no and you just don’t do that. I mean they start to ask are you married and stuff like that, that’s not the issue.

I decided very early on that no inmates were going to call me by my first name. I don’t call inmates by their first name and I’m not comfortable with them calling me by my first name.

[Some officers] have skewed boundaries and think it’s ok for inmates to make comments to them, “Oh you look lovely today”. No no! That’s inappropriate. That’s outside my boundaries.

In sum, Correctional Officers must exercise caution in regards to how they interact with offenders and employ strategies to maintain boundaries without compromising their ability to create rapport.

Why we did this study

The role of dynamic security has become increasingly important in effectively managing correctional operations. It is important to gain a better understanding of how Correctional Officers develop relationships with offenders without violating personal boundaries that may compromise safety and security of staff, offenders, and the public.

What we did

We conducted a pilot study to assess the use of dynamic security practices in correctional institutions. Thirty-four Correctional Officers from two medium security institutions in the Ontario region were interviewed. These interviews were analyzed qualitatively.

For more information

Please e-mail the Research Branch or contact us by phone at (613) 995-3975.

Prepared by: Sherri Doherty and Mindy White