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Use 'CHUMPS' to beat the dumps

Here's how the derogatory term "chumps" can be turned into a valuable learning tool

In writing the two editions of my book, The Art of the Con:  Avoiding Offender Manipulation, corrections officers have asked me about the CHUMPS approach, what it means and can it be a good training tool for security.  I answer yes-as long as the correctional trainer understands what the acronym means and how each component can be a training program in itself.   The ‘DUMPS’ in  the title of this blog means that if an officer does not let CHUMPS work for him, the agency can ‘dump’ him out the door.  This will become clear.

CHUMPS are what the inmates call us who patrol the institution and maintain security and custody. Webster’s dictionary defines the word chump as a ‘dupe’ or ‘fool’.  Synonyms are patsy, pushover, sap, sucker, tool and soft touch.  We are "CHUMPS” because the inmates think that officers and non sworn staff can be fooled, manipulated and dance like puppets to the inmates’ tune.   When conducting training in boundaries and inmate manipulation, I discuss how the derogatory term “chumps” can be turned into a valuable learning tool and an easy to remember guide for all staff-sworn and non sworn.  

The training takes simple two steps:  first, the officer must understand what each letter of the word represents.  Second, take the components of each letter and apply them to officer training.  Let’s look at each step:  the letter first, followed by suggested training topics.  Also, trainers are advised to take a blunt approach, making use of the proverbial “war story”.   Correctional literature and news contain many examples of lawsuits, staff disciplinary actions and interesting stories of corrections staff getting fooled, inmates having a good laugh and officers being terminated. 


C:  Control and not complacency:   Topics discussed by trainers, especially with new staff and civilian staff should include how to firmly say NO to inmates, challenging excuses and making the offender explain his or her requests, importance of following rules (for staff and inmates), officers knowing what inmates are in his or her area and what they are doing, being curious and controlling inmate traffic on post.

H:  Helping inmates to help themselves:  Topics to be discussed:  require that inmates follow chain of command, recognizing how inmates “shop for staff” to seek out weak, indecisive staff,  requiring inmates to use their handbook, take advantage of programs and address concerns to the proper staff with no shortcuts.

U:  Understanding the inmate subculture and understanding yourself:  Training here could include mental health and veteran staff presenting training on the mindset, thought patterns and culture of inmates, including also how staff can safely cope with them.   Trainers should also discuss self inventories-staff asking themselves if they are handling themselves properly around inmates.  Examples could be:  “Am I too sociable with inmates?” and “Do I get sidetracked easily?”  Supervisory staff can talk to their subordinates about what they have noticed about officers.

M:  Maintaining a safe distance:  Trainers should discuss the importance of maintaining proper boundaries with inmates and the dangers of informality and disclosing personal information to them.  Trainers must frankly discuss sexual misconduct and its consequences to the officer.

P:  Professional in adhering to policies and procedures:   Training in policies and procedures is always a good idea.  Trainers should discuss the importance of following policies and procedures and not spreading gossip, rumors and doing shortcuts on the job that are easily noticed by inmates.

S:  Stressed out staff are vulnerable:   Stress management training should be offered to all staff-sworn and non sworn.  This training should include the dangers of burnout, and services available to stressed out staff such as peer support and employee assistance programs.  The important aspect to note is that staff who are undergoing stress at home and/or on the job SHOULD NOT turn to inmates for support.  Inmates who say that “We can help” or “You can talk to us” are just waiting to manipulate.  Stressed out staff should speak to peers, supervisors, families and friends-not inmates.

Trainers:  I hope that these suggestions can be of assistance to you.  Each part of CHUMPS can easily be developed into a roll call training session.  Finally remember:  Inmate manipulation training is critical to the security of any correctional facility.


  • Cornelius, Gary F.  (2009). The Art of the Con:  Avoiding Offender Manipulation, Second Edition. Alexandria:  American Correctional Association.  
  • Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary, www.m-w.com


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