U.S. Department of Defense


Date of this Version



FROM: Leadership in Dangerous Situations : A Handbook for the Armed Forces,

Emergency Services, and First Responders. Edited by Patrick J. Sweeney,

Michael D. Matthews, and Paul B. Lester (Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 2011).


US government work


I magine you are the warden of a prison or the administrator of a jail, you enter the facility, and the heavy metal door clangs shut behind you. A riot breaks out and several members of your staff are taken hostage. Fires are set in various locations. The rioting inmates, members of a gang, attack other inmates who want no part in the rebellion and are only concerned for their safety. The decisions you as a leader make are literally matters of life or death, not only for yourself, but also for your staff and those incarcerated. The dynamics of power and guarding against potential corruption are also a constant concern. The leader of an incarceration facility must account for and respond to public opinion and political demands, as well as the individual needs and group dynamics of corrections officers and inmates.

Some of the desired outcomes for leaders in a confinement setting are a reduction in recidivism, security of the facility, prevention of escape, and efforts at rehabilitation. While some would argue that depending upon the reason for incarceration, the inmates do not deserve much more consideration than would an animal in a zoo, others-leaders-in this situation strive for much more. Accomplished leaders in a confinement setting seek to develop a culture that creates and sustains the psychological health and well-being of the corrections officers and provides inmates opportunities to develop skills and their potential. After all, they are in the"people business." Such an approach would conceivably result in an institution that functions based on the strengths of the corrections officers and inmates, thereby allowing them the greatest opportunity for self-development, physical and psychological security, and indirectly decreased chances of recidivism.

This chapter discusses the contexts of confinement, the psychology of corrections officers and inmates, and the forces at work on a leader and the population being led.