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Prison Officers andProfessional Practice Fergus Timmons, IT Sligo
Can we identify / define                             professional practice?• The work of prison officers• Mission, vision ...
The work of prison officers•Turnkey & Security led•Growing importance of rehabilitation & links to recidivism•Power and au...
Irish Prison Service: Mission, Vision & Values•   MissionProviding safe and secure custody, dignity of care and rehabilita...
How do prison officers build these relationships?Authority and legitimacy•Authority – ‘a bond between two people who are u...
Relationships depend on ‘Dynamic authority’ framework               5 important distinctions1. Law in practice vs. law in ...
‘Dynamic authority’ (Liebling 2011)2. Good vs. right relationships‘Good’ problematic term, can depend so much on context (...
‘Dynamic authority’ (Liebling 2011)4. Tragedy vs. cynicismAttitudes toward the human condition and the use of coercionTrag...
‘Dynamic authority’ (Liebling 2011)5. ‘Reassurance’ safety vs. ‘relational’ safety (as described byprisoners in UK)   Reas...
Share & Timmons Research (2011)‘Professionalisation’ scale; Overall mean score: male 3.31/5; female 3.42/ 5Safety‘This is ...
Can we define professional practice in prison officer                   work ?Competency based – situational awareness; fl...
Final thoughts……Must benchmark custodial care practice in Ireland against UK andEuropean jurisdictionsWe need a complete s...
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Prison officers and professional practice

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This presentation asks the question – can we identify and define professional practice among prison officers? It draws heavily on the work of Alison Liebling and others, and outlines the importance of the concept of ‘dynamic authority’ in delivering professional custodial care practice. Recent survey data on research among Irish prison service employees undertaken by Share and Timmons is presented. Finally, some concluding thoughts are offered to the reader.

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Prison officers and professional practice

  1. 1. Prison Officers andProfessional Practice Fergus Timmons, IT Sligo
  2. 2. Can we identify / define professional practice?• The work of prison officers• Mission, vision and values of Irish Prison Service• ‘Distinctiveness’ of prison officer work• ‘Dynamic authority’ – 5 distinctions• Some Irish research findings• Concluding thoughts
  3. 3. The work of prison officers•Turnkey & Security led•Growing importance of rehabilitation & links to recidivism•Power and authority central to prison officer work•Distinctiveness - Balancing security and social care role•“Relations between staff and prisoners are at the heart of the wholeprison system and that control and security flow from getting thatrelationship right” (Home Office 1984 para. 16).•So, how do prison officers build and maintain these relationships?
  4. 4. Irish Prison Service: Mission, Vision & Values• MissionProviding safe and secure custody, dignity of care and rehabilitation to prisoners for safer communities.• VisionA safer community through excellence in a prison service built on respect for human dignity.• ValuesService, public safety, leadership, integrity, respect, principle-led, collaboration, accountability, family life and community, courage and excellence.Source: Irish Prison Service website ( http://www.irishprisons.ie/index.php/about-us/mission-statement)
  5. 5. How do prison officers build these relationships?Authority and legitimacy•Authority – ‘a bond between two people who are unequal (Sennett 1980)When used by the competent toward some higher ideal it is more acceptableIn prisons – what is the ‘higher ideal’? Security, rehabilitation, publicprotection? Depends!•Authority – ‘continually sought, interrupted, disrupted and sought again’(Sennett 1980)•Legitimacy – power used rightfully, but again always in fluxAcceptability of legitimate use of authority requires appropriate attitudes andconduct on part of power-holder (Liebling 2011)
  6. 6. Relationships depend on ‘Dynamic authority’ framework 5 important distinctions1. Law in practice vs. law in the booksUse of ‘discretion’Handling situations, not always enforcing the lawLiebling & Price research on prison officers in action2 competing modelsModel A – rule following, compliance modelModel B – negotiation modelGap between ‘rules’ and ‘practice’.
  7. 7. ‘Dynamic authority’ (Liebling 2011)2. Good vs. right relationships‘Good’ problematic term, can depend so much on context (wing, regime,prison, prisoner)“‘Right’ relationships sat somewhere between formality and informality,closeness and distance, policing by consent and imposing order” (Liebling2011 491)Know when and how much to use authority3. Good vs. bad confidenceBad – indifference to the effects of their power on prisonersGood – comfortable, assured and flexible in their use of power
  8. 8. ‘Dynamic authority’ (Liebling 2011)4. Tragedy vs. cynicismAttitudes toward the human condition and the use of coercionTragic – see the world as complex and difficultCynic – see the world as simplistic – people good or badMuir’s (1977) study of policemenEnforcer, Reciprocator, Avoider and ProfessionalCan this be applied to prison officers ?
  9. 9. ‘Dynamic authority’ (Liebling 2011)5. ‘Reassurance’ safety vs. ‘relational’ safety (as described byprisoners in UK) Reassurance [Cynical] Recreational [Tragic] Disregard for safety Suspicious of prisoners Approachability; accessibility; (some) Avoidance / indifference trust Vigilant Interactive observation Non-observation Resort to force Intervenes verbally in disputes Non-active Reactive Proactive Unclear boundaries Disciplinarian Informal resolution of conflicts Resignation Resist change Less resistant to change Adapted from Liebling 2011 494
  10. 10. Share & Timmons Research (2011)‘Professionalisation’ scale; Overall mean score: male 3.31/5; female 3.42/ 5Safety‘This is a well controlled prison’: 61% agree/strongly agree‘The prison I work in is well organised’: 58% agree/strongly agreeMotivation‘I don’t feel motivated to do more than minimum required: 25% agree / stronglyagree‘Staff morale is good in this prison’: 49% agree / strongly agreeRespect / Trust‘I am trusted by prisoners in this prison’: 57% agree / strongly agree‘Best way to deal with prisoners is to be firm & distant’: 54% disagree / stronglydisagree‘I try to build trust with prisoners’: 85% agree / strongly agree‘You get to like most prisoners in here over time’: 43% disagree / strongly disagreeInitiative‘I am given opportunities to use my initiative in my job’: 66% agree / strongly agree
  11. 11. Can we define professional practice in prison officer work ?Competency based – situational awareness; flexibility & open to change;teamwork; assertive & controlled; people orientation & caring; developingothers; information handling; conscientiousness.Reflective PractitionersSelf-aware, emotionally intelligent‘Dynamic authority’ - discretion, right relationships, attitude to safety,world view and confidence.Pro-social in outlookMotivatedComfortable
  12. 12. Final thoughts……Must benchmark custodial care practice in Ireland against UK andEuropean jurisdictionsWe need a complete survey of all serving prison officers in Republic ofIrelandWe also need the views of prisonersOnly then, will we get a more precise analysis of professional practice inIrish prison work

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