We all wish we could have a “silver bullet” to solve problems. The reality is that many times the solutions are within our reach and in plain site – but first we need to examine and approach the problem from a different angle. 

For all of my 20+ years in the New York City Department of Correction (working across four different institutions) and my almost forty years of experiences since then, I've learned that it’s the basic and fundamental values of respect, fairness, integrity and honor that ground us to “do the right thing” and to be able to experience success in the most dignified way. 

Our jails are overflowing with inmates who are “living on the edge”. Some are on the edge due to drugs, mental issues, embedded criminal behavior, anger and down right hopelessness within a system they hate and that hates them as well. The “system” is quite complex and fraught with flaws that can easily consume all who come in contact with it. 

The role and actions of a Correction Officer (CO) are absolutely critical to the success of our correctional system. But the sad reality is that a CO can only work within the confines of the system, operations and management structure that is put in place. The administration sets the tone and calls the shots. The structure, values and quality of operation must be set in place from the top of the administration and then cascaded through the ranks by both role model behavior (in the senior levels of the institution) and through inspection. I’m a strong believer in – inspect what you expect. Keep in mind that the ball is in the court of the operational leaders. The leaders must show a sense of understanding and take the first step by their actions -  preaching or empty words are not going to get the job done. 

My many professional working years and personal situations of unprecedented success can be attributed to my personal grounding and approach to interpersonal interactions and situations.  First and foremost I give respect and I command respect. Secondly, I stay attuned to body language and unspoken cues. Some of the most important indicators are those that are unspoken and may appear to be unpredictable. My perspective regarding correctional facilities and a criminal justice operation is grounded on a foundational framework which is based upon the following mindset: 

  1. Inmates/suspects/individuals are human beings
  2. Too many people in the U.S. are “thrown” in jail – not all belong there
  3. Control and order can many times be accomplished without violence
  4. You can’t always stop trouble, but you can contain and minimize the impact
  5. “Making the right moves” requires staying in control of yourself and in tune with the situational reality

As we look at what is happening around us today – “stop and frisk”, police/CO brutalities, broken bonds of trust between law enforcement and citizens, a major melt down and lack of respect for correctional institution workers – the solution lies in going back to the basics of how to really run successful operations. 

I don’t propose to have and know all of the answers. What I can tell you is this – there are gems of gold within the foundational principles that I have followed. Sometimes we can learn from past experiences and successes as we turn and look forward to transform our criminal justice institutions. We have to stop building jails and start building bonds within the communities outside of the jail.

Follow me on Twitter @ # royandrikers

A New Way Forward  

Roy and Rikers