Goal-oriented use of force in corrections
To ensure the force you are using is within the bounds of what is legal, appropriate and covered by your agency’s policies, keep these four goals in mind
By Remington Scott
Having to use force on a violently resisting inmate can feel chaotic and messy. Even defensive techniques that are widely accepted do not apply to every situation. When your approach is disorganized, it is easier to slip into using force above what is reasonable and necessary. To ensure the force you are using is within the bounds of what is legal, appropriate and covered by your agency’s policies, keep these four goals in mind.
When inmates are fighting each other, resisting staff, or causing a disturbance, the first step to resolving the situation is to gain physical control of them. You will likely have some options available to you at this stage, so rely on the tools and training provided by your agency.
Whether you use a TASER, OC spray, or defensive tactics, the goal at hand should guide your decisions. We should be as professional in the application of force as we are in all other aspects of our job. The guiding philosophy of control is what makes us so much more effective during use of force, as opposed to an inmate who is just looking to “kick some ass.”
This step is where it can be most difficult to strike the balance between controlling the inmate and using the least amount of force necessary. But because the subject is actively resisting and it may be a one-on-one fight, it is also where we must be the most conscious of not using excessive force.
Manual control of a subject should be short-lived. Once backup arrives or restraints are applied, whatever control hold or technique you were using must be released.
Restraints are mechanical tools that take over some of the work of controlling an inmate. As soon as it is safe to do so, apply restraints. This is not to say that handcuffs allow you to disengage from the inmate, but it typically takes far less force to continue controlling a restrained subject.
Moving from controlling an inmate on your own to applying restraints can be as challenging as gaining control in the first place. Your agency’s use of force policy may specify that pressure points and pain compliance techniques are acceptable ways to coax an inmate into restraints, but once again, the pressure must be released once you gain compliance. If one technique is not yielding the desired results, you should transition to another tool or method.
Before moving an inmate to another location, search their person for weapons or contraband. It is not always easy to search a resisting subject, but the speedy application of restraints should help. They will still need to be manipulated to affect a search of their entire person, and this may still require you to use some force. Remember that the subject is already contained in restraints, and the level of force that you used to get them there is probably not reasonable to use at this point.
After a use of force incident, an inmate will typically need to be transported whether they are being moved to a maximum-security dorm, a dry/hard cell, or some other close supervision area. Be sure to continue using only as much force as is reasonable and necessary to move them. If the inmate has stopped actively resisting and is effectively restrained, a simple escort should be sufficient.
Always compare yourself to the reasonable officer standard when using force in a correctional setting. Using these goals to break an incident up into manageable steps can help you be even more sure that the actions you are taking are reasonable in that situation. Remember, the level of force that would reasonably help you to achieve one goal, may not be reasonable for another. Using this goal-oriented method will make your application of force safer, more efficient and more effective.
About the author
Remington Scott is a jail deputy with the Bonneville County Sheriff’s Office in Idaho Falls, Idaho. He has worked in corrections and detention since 2017. He serves the Sheriff’s Office as a field training officer and disciplinary hearing officer.