Showing posts with label Criminal justice. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Criminal justice. Show all posts

Sunday, January 10, 2016

That's Correct! An Interview with a Corrections Officer: Information for Writers with Harriet Fox

Amazon Author Link

ThrillWriting welcomes HARRIET FOX who comes to us today to give insight into the life of a corrections officer in a jail system in California.

Here's a handy link to my article with an explanation of the differences between jails and prisons etc.

Fiona - 
Corrections officer - can you tell us how you arrived in your career?

Harriet - 
I have been a correctional officer starting my 14th year. No one ever says they are going to be a correctional officer when they grow up. 

I wanted to be a dentist, a brain surgeon and a race car driver when I grew up. I worked 6 years in the law enforcement field prior to becoming a correctional officer. I applied for this job as a stepping stone to becoming a police officer and never left. 

I think society truly does not know what a correctional officer does. In television and movies and in stories covered on the news, correctional officers are usually heard to be corrupt, heavy handed or abusive with their authority. That is far from the truth. While there are bad apples in every line of work, correctional officers are not the bad people we've been portrayed as being.

The work on a daily basis dealing with violent and manipulative criminals is challenging but I do know I am protecting society from the evil and potential harm. The teamwork and camaraderie in law enforcement is a way of life, a brotherhood, lifelong friendships, and I have made some of the best friends I have ever had in this job.

On a daily basis, not only are we making sure inmates do not escape or harm anyone, we wear many hats. We are authoritarians, disciplinarians, parents, counselors, helpers. Our hats may change at the drop of the hat, many times through a single shift.

Fiona - 
How long does a shift last? 

Harriet - 
Some jails work 8 or 10 hour shifts. I work 12 hour shifts, graveyard. We call it the dark side. It is a very different way of life, not only working nights, but working inside the walls of a correctional institution.

Fiona - 
So you write as well, do you find what you learned from working in the jails informs your writing?

Harriet - 
I write for a nationwide corrections website, and I use my daily experiences to do so. 
I use my experience to write about things I think other correctional officers can benefit from. It's a stressful job, always having to be on guard, ready in the event someone wants to attack us while we are doing our daily duties face-to-face with these inmates. We can learn from each other and I am constantly learning each and every day, even after all this time.

Fiona - 
Why kinds of things does your job entail?

Harriet - 
The job itself is so complex. It includes: 
  • Conducting daily duties, making sure inmates receive their necessities which are laws and regulations governed by the state that we follow, along side of our facility policy and procedures 
  • Conducting Safety and Security Checks hourly to make sure all inmates are alive and not ill 
  • We do investigations 
  • We handle crimes committed in our jail
  • Medical emergencies 
  • We deal with assaults and contraband. 

Fiona - 
Does media get it right when they show a jail setting? 

Harriet - 
One thing that the media usually shows or implies is that inmates are housed behind bars. This is the old school way of jail. Since about the '90s, jails use a different style of jailing. Direct supervision is one of the terms where inmates are in a 2-man cell but when they come out for their recreation time, they are all around the deputy station where we work, type, sit, eat, etc.

Fiona - 
Can you give us an example of an "out of the blue" event a "holy cow" moment?

Harriet - 
I don't get the "holy cow" feeling during an event. If it is a really stressful situation, I sometimes feel the “holy cow” after the adrenaline wears off. Every day we have to deal with so much that you get used to just subconsciously changing your hat and diving in.

I recently had an inmate who was banging his forehead on the metal bed. He has mental issues and apparently the psychiatric medications weren't controlling this problem. You do your best to negotiate and try to get through to an inmate in crisis. This inmate did listen thankfully and stopped inflicting self harm. You learn the gift of gab in this job. We call it verbal judo, and it is fulfilling when you are able to talk someone down from a violent state.

Training kicks in (and we get a lot of it) and you get to be creative when handling situations. You try to become a problem solver in so many ways. I guess the only holy cow moment I can think of is fighting with inmates who are trying to harm you and you're attempting to gain control and restrain them as its happening.

Another holy moly moment could be something like this: an inmate who is severely mentally ill and hearing voices and does not recognize pain. He continually bangs his leg on the metal stool in his cell until there is blood everywhere just so he can get a trip to the hospital for better food or for a field trip.

Fiona - 
I'd say that would be a "holy cow" moment for sure. You're a woman working in a men's jail. What training helps you play your role successfully? And what's it like to be a woman in that position?

Harriet - 
I am very grateful for my experience as one of the only females on the Emergency Response Team. We are basically the SWAT team of the jail; highly trained. 

We respond to natural disasters or dangerous incidents including riots, cell extractions, any disturbances too dangerous for normal staff to handle. This has taught me much about the importance of training, preparation, the importance of teamwork, and has made me better at my job. I remain more calm and handle situations differently now.

I spent a majority of my career with men. I have done a few stints at the women's facility, and it's very different. While there are few of us women in the job per ratio of employees, I am proud that I work equally with my counterparts. 

I did have to prove myself as a female - that I could do the job; not all women in this line of work can. I worked hard to be as close to equal as I can be. I will never be as strong as the big guys I work with, but I can do the job just as well, just differently. 

I don't think about being a female. I just go to work and do my job. I think sometimes I may be able to handle an inmate more easily because of the respect some inmates have for their mothers and grandmothers who raised them. But at times, I can have an issue with inmates. It is apparent when one of the inmates has an issue with women or especially as female authority. It is quite fascinating actually to observe inmates. Many have mental health issues, many come from horrible dysfunction.

I will say an annoying part of being female amongst men is the gawking, but you get used to it. Some of these inmates have been locked up for years. Aside from the nurses and few female officers, they don't see women. I guess it's human nature. Usually once the inmates know me, it stops.

Fiona - 
Can you describe a modern jail set up? How the inmates day goes, what's available to them for passing time? Work?

Harriet - 
I can't speak fluidly for day-shift (I've never worked days). However, I do know on day-shift they:

  • Courts get pulled once in morning, once in the afternoon and inmates are transported to the courthouse.
  • Lunch is served 10am
  • Dinner at 3pm.
  • Staff usually relieves each other a half hour to the start of shift allowing us time to brief the oncoming team on what happened during the previous shift.

As for jail life, it is monotonous and very routine. Jail life runs on a set schedule.... in the midst of everything that goes wrong and fires that need to be put out and reports that need to be written and investigations that need to be handled. The job teaches you to be a multi-tasker master. Some shifts can have down time and some may feel like 12 hours is not enough.
  • Courts get pulled once in morning, once in the evening and transport to court. 
  • Lunch is served 10am 
  • Dinner at 3pm. 
  • My facility works days 6am-6pm, nights 6pm-6am. 
  • We usually relieve each other in the half hour window prior to 6pm allowing us time to brief on what happened during the previous shift.

At the beginning of shift, we:

  • Do Count and Inspection. We advise inmates over their cell intercoms (which can be activated from either end) to
  • Be awake and out of bed
  • Fully dressed
  • Have their armbands on (which have their picture, name and identification number)
  • Their property bins opened for inspection (rubbermaid style blue bins issued at time of getting dressed in and housed)
  • Nothing affixed to their walls (sometimes hang family pics or a calendar)
  • Have their beds made
  • Standing on the wall.
  • As we go by, we are checking their welfare, their property, as well as the walls and windows of their cells to inspect for damage and attempts to break out.
  • We need to check for hoarding of bread and fruit to ensure they are not making pruno (jailhouse alcohol).
  • We do more thorough searches for contraband, drugs, weapons at other times.
  • We have visiting and pill call (nurse comes to housing unit for medication) and the finger-stick nurse (checks diabetic levels/gives insulin, if necessary) within the first few hours of shift and the last few hours.
  • We have to conduct recreation where inmates come out of their cells in which inmates have the ability to: spend time outside on the recreation yard, watch TV, make telephone calls, shower, etc.
  • We have to finish before midnight because judges require inmates to have proper rest when attending court.
  • We have workers that go to the kitchen and they are housed separately.
  • We feed breakfast at 4am.
  • On a general housing unit, recreation is twice daily, once on day, once night. Time out of their cells could range from 45 minutes to 2 hours on average.
  • They can receive items off Commissary (Canteen is prison lingo) where they can purchase:
  • Hygiene products
  • Envelopes and stamps and writing paper,
  • Food
  • Some inmates stay busy with a self-made schedule for their down time.
  • Family can purchase books and magazines from the publisher so many read. They share their books with each other too.
  • Some have a workout regimen inside their cells
Fiona - 
What would you like writers to know before they write that character or scene about a jail and a corrections officer?

Harriet - 
As for writers, I guess I would say it would be nice to see correctional officers written in a positive light. There is such a negative stigma in the media, with law enforcement in general. People tend to forget we are normal people too, working a very hard job. We have personal lives, families, a life outside of the job. We work long hours and weekends and holidays. We miss family functions many times. You learn in this way of life to celebrate on days before or after the actual event. We spend more time at work locked up in jail then we are home, or so it feels. For writers, things to think about...

Imagine going to work every day where people hate you, want to harm you, attack you, con you. Imagine having to do this career in a negative, dank, monotonous environment. Imagine having to have two identities in a way: a superhero wearing every hat imaginable to switching it all off and coming home to being a husband, father, wife mother. Imagine always having to watch your back since it is unknown if you will run into an inmate on the street that you had a problem with inside. Imagine trying to balance family or personal life and errands when you're working graveyards and finding time to sleep. Imagine having to be responsible for the health, safety and welfare of 100 inmates at a time (in prison, maybe more per officers' responsibility).

Fiona -
Thank you so much for sharing that. At the bottom of this article Harriet has include a handy glossary for us. First, Harriet has a true crimes book out.

Amazon Link

Preying on middle-aged Native women in Vancouver's Skid Row district, Gilbert Paul Jordan's insatiable taste for drunken sex led to at least ten cold blooded killings. 
Unlike any others in the known history of serial homicide, Jordan used alcohol to murder his victims. All of these young women were found dead with blood-levels many times over the safe range. The driving force behind Jordan's evil was his egocentric desires that led him on a fifty year criminal record path causing havoc along the way. Delving into Jordan's crimes, alcoholism and mental illnesses, his life tells a story all his own, and it is no wonder why, Gilbert Paul Jordan became one of Canada's most notorious serial killers.

GLOSSARY of some handy jailhouse lingo - 

•Snitch: rat. give information/talk to staff.

•Shank: handmade knife

•Kite: small note, usually with very small handwriting passed from inmate to inmate for communication purposes, usually gang related.

•On the wire: talking on telephone or through cell vents

•PC: Protective Custody; housing unit or in terms of what type of inmate one is

•Write up: jail reports written; can be disciplinary

•The Joint: prison; we say “on the joint run” if some is leaving on bus in morning

•Hole: solitary confinement, disciplinary housing

•Mule: someone moving contraband

•Boot: new CO (corrections officer)

•Jailhouse lawyer: an inmate who knows legal stuff or has received some form of training/class, maybe in prison

•Schooled: taught the jail way of life

As always, a big thank you ThrillWriters and readers for stopping by. Thank you, too, for your support. When you buy my books, you make it possible for me to continue to bring you helpful articles and keep ThrillWriting free and accessible to all.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Forensic Psychiatry: Information for Writers An Interview with Olga Miret


Today, I would like to introduce you to Olga Núñez Miret. Olga will you take a moment to tell us about you, explain your fabulous academic background, and what you do for a living?

Olga - 
Thanks so much for having me here as a guest, Fiona. When I was 12 years old or so, I decided I wanted to study Medicine and be a doctor. I went to Medical School at the University of Barcelona (6 years) and obtained a degree that there is called LMS (Licentiate in Medicine and Surgery). I left Barcelona and came to the UK where I carried on my studies to become a psychiatrist. 

I worked as a junior doctor in Psychiatry for a few years and then felt it was time to try something a bit different and went back to University. I studied a BA in American Literature at the University of Sussex (in Brighton). It included a year in the US (I spent it at Mount Holyoke College, a beautiful campus and great courses). I carried on my studies and completed a PhD on American Film (although the title of my PhD is 'The films of David Mamet' the university didn't have a Film Department at the time.)

I went back to work in Psychiatry and got the Membership of the Royal College of Psychiatrists. Whilst working full-time in forensic psychiatry, I became quite interested in the workings of the Criminal Justice System and completed a Masters (MSc) in Criminology and Criminal Justice.I have worked in a variety of specialties in psychiatry: general psychiatry, old-age, substance misuse, but since 2004 I've been working as forensic psychiatrist. I work for the NHS (National Health Service) although I have worked in the private sector in the past.

Fiona - 
...and of course you also write. Your newest book came out in January Escaping Psychiatry. I want to get back to your writing in just a moment. But can you please explain to the readers the difference between forensic psychiatry and forensic psychology?

Olga -
I am a psychiatrist, and we are doctors who then specialize in psychiatry. We have to study medicine first and then spend several years working as psychiatrists. There can be confusion between psychology and psychiatry, although psychologists study psychology, and in England have nothing to do (in general, I know in the US this could change) with prescribing medication or providing specific diagnosis, although they do assessments and provide therapy. As a forensic psychiatrists, our work is not terribly different from other psychiatrists.

Both professions look after people who suffer from mental illnesses. As a forensic psychiatrist most of my cases have been involved with the criminal justice system. They have committed crimes, and in most cases, the courts, instead of sending them to prison, feel that they need to receive treatment in a hospital.

Sometimes we also look after people who have not been charged with any crimes, but are felt to be too risky for standard psychiatric services.

So you're interviewing and making determinations in a hospital setting?

Olga - 
I work in a low-secure unit. Here in the UK (I'm not that familiar with the set-up in the US), we have three types of secure facilities: high (places like Rampton Hospital), medium and low. Normally, if somebody has committed a serious crime, like murder, and it's felt that they might be a serious and immediate risk to others, they would go to High Secure hospital. Once they've received treatment, and it's felt that they are not a major risk to others, they would move to a medium secure facility. Where I work, we aim to discharge people to the community. I mostly work in the hospital setting, but part of our work is also about seeing people in prison to provide reports to the courts, to guide them with regards to the mental health difficulties of prisoners (and help them decide if the prisoner needs to be in a hospital or not).

Fiona - 
In parts of  the US, suicide is considered a criminal act - would people exhibiting suicidal ideation come under your expertise?

Olga - 
They might do. Here suicide is not criminalized, although assisting to suicide is. They would come under our area if they were in prison and are found to be at risk, especially if they required expert treatment. It is more common to see people with suicidal ideation in general psychiatry, but it happens.

Fiona -
Can you give me a general idea of how your diagnosis statistically breakdown? In criminal psych do you see mostly individuals who experience schizophrenia, depressive and anxiety disorders that can be medicated and treated through various therapies or do you find many of your clients to be dealing with personality disorders narcissism, and the like?

Olga - 
In the hospital where I work, our criteria is that people we admit (it's a male only unit) must have a diagnosis of mental illness, not solely personality disorder. The great majority of our patients suffer from psychosis, mostly schizophrenia  (Blog Link) or schizo-affective disorder. We have had some patients diagnosed with bipolar disorder, and some with psychotic depression. (Blog Link) Substance misuse problems are very high within our population. In general, in the prison population, personality disorders, particularly for men antisocial, feature very highly, and one of the problems is how difficult they are to treat. There have been attempts and units specifically created for it (like the DSPD, Dangerous and Severe Personality Disorder unit in Rampton Hospital, where patients would have been diagnosed with at least 2 different types of personality disorders), both in hospitals and prisons, but in general the outcomes aren't very good.

It is a bit of a chicken and an egg situation, as criminality scores highly as one of the criteria for diagnosing somebody with antisocial personality disorder. Psychopathy is not a specific psychiatric diagnosis, but people who score highly in psychopathy ratings (like PCLR, Hare Psychopathy Check List, Revised) are likely to re-offend and be violent again.

Fiona -
Would your training and expertise allow you to be proficient if say if a detective sought you out and said, "We have this terrible case we need to figure out who could be involved in this series of attacks." Could you develop a picture for them like: I think he's uneducated male, about 45 years old, with no familial ties except for a deep and disturbing attachment to his mother...

Olga -
No. We don't really do profiling. We do assessments of risk of the people who are under our care using specific rating scales, but even with that, psychiatrist are only marginally more accurate in assessing risk than other people.There are certain symptoms we know are more likely to result in crimes - command hallucinations, paranoia, and definitely substance use, both drugs and alcohol. As mentioned, somebody who scores highly in psychopathy rating scale is more likely to be violent and aggressive, but these people would be unknown until they get caught.

Fiona - 
Are you ever called into court to explain the psychology of your client and offer expertise as to whether you believe they would be a repeat offender, or escalate in criminal activity?

Olga -
If one of our patients (or somebody we have seen for a report) goes to court, we would provide a report to court. Our area of expertise is mental health, so we would comment on their mental state, on our opinion about their likelihood to respond to treatment, etc. Normally, a probation officer (now called Offender Management Officer) would asses the person and provide a report. They look at their statistics and use a rating system to provide a likelihood of repeated offending. It tends to be fairly accurate.On the other hand we get patients that because they have committed a serious crime and are seen as dangerous, end up detained and with a 'restriction order'. That means that the Ministry of Justice keeps track of them, and they cannot be discharge without their agreement. We are asked to provide reports regarding their response to treatment and likelihood that they might destabilize mentally and be violent again.

Fiona -
Olga, with your background if you wanted to become a profiler could you do that?

Olga - 
I'm not sure there are profilers as such here. With regards to looking into something like forensic psychology, even doing something like a masters in Psychology requires having a degree in psychology and being a member of the Psychological Society.I have worked with forensic psychologists and none of them were profilers either.

Fiona - 
The reason I ask is that I have read books where a detective is frustrated and frightened for his community and has sought out the help of a forensic psychiatrist who has rallied to save the day. Is this possible? Probable? Or would they need to have received specialized training to be effective in helping the law enforcement community.

Olga - 
I don't think what we see on the TV and movies is false. But these would be people who apart from studying psychology or psychiatry would have been specifically trained and would need to have a good understanding of the whole process. It is not part of the standard training. As forensic psychiatrists, we can comment on the mental health of people who are suspected or have committed a crime, but we would not be called to try and analyse a crime-scene, for example.

Fiona - 
Thank you so much for that clarification.

Olga - 
We can provide a formulation of how somebody's behavior might be related to previous experiences, to their mental state, to their life, but that would not be the same as the profiles we see in 'Criminal Minds' for example

Fiona - 
Olga your native language is Spanish, when you are doing your creative work, coming up with plots for your writing do you tend to do that in English or Spanish?

Olga - 
It varies. Normally these days in English, as I am surrounded by it. But I was recently visiting my parents and wrote a short story there in Spanish.

Fiona - 
And your books seem very different. Can you give us a quick peek at The Man Who Never Was?

Amazon Link

Olga - 
The Man Who Never Was started as a 45 pages story quite a few years back (I was 16 or 17) when I was reading plenty of books in the Magic Realism genre. I had the idea for a novel where the main character, Jesús, is born so ugly that everybody expects him to be bad or special in some way. Funnily enough everybody around him is pretty unique, but he... is a fairly nice guy. It is a family saga with bizarre goings on. Mystery, politics, cinema, banks, child prodigy...

Amazon Link

My next book published (I have quite a few unpublished) is 'Twin Evils?' that is a novella. I've described it as YA although quite a few people have told me that it also reads as an adult book. 

Fiona - 

Your next book - Click Me Happy - gives readers the choice between three possible outcomes - and it's a romance... That's quite a shift don't you think?

Amazon Link

Olga - 
The three endings thing was because some people had queried the ending of  The Man Who Never Was, and I decided to give them a choice there. I'm usually more of an open ending author, but I knew people would expect a happy ending for a romance.

Fiona - 
So now you're back to dark writing. Tell us about your newest - Congratulations, by the way! Is this the perfect marriage of your two interests - writing and psychiatry?

Olga - 
I wrote the first story of  Escaping Psychiatry called 'Cannon Fodder' many years back (1998 or 99), and I
showed it to some people (including the teacher at a short story writing course I was attending), and they liked it, but it was too short for a novel and too long for a short story. They suggested I write a couple of other stories with the same protagonist, Mary, a psychiatrist, and writer, and publish them together. I did that eventually and after publishing them initially as novellas I've now published them in a single volume with an epilogue. Mary is a psychiatrist who'd like to dedicate herself to writing, but for one reason or another she keeps getting dragged into dealing with cases that require her expertise as psychiatrist.She gets involved in cases dealing with abuse, religion, police corruption, murders, serial killers... A bit of all.

Amazon Link
Fiona -
Yipes! I see I'm over my hour - so sorry! I was having so much fun - let me ask you the question I ask everyone in my interviews - can you please tell me about your favorite scar?

Olga - 
I'm not sure it would count as a scar, but one of  the most spectacular things I remember seeing, when I was still a medical student, was a woman of a certain age (probably early sixties) with a young child in one hand, and in the other holding one of these big mixers (the ones that are a single implement that you hold by hand) stacked on her breast (on top of her clothes. She was wearing a house dress). She explained that she was preparing some food, had taking the mixer out of the bowl and her grandson make a gesture to touch the blades and she instinctively moved it towards her pressing the button. Although it looked very impressive, luckily she'd stopped pressing the button as it touched her and there were only two small cuts. But you should have seen it!

Fiona - 
Thank you so much for spending time with us today. I wish you the very best of luck in all you pursue. 

Thank you so much for stopping by. And thank you for your support. When you buy my books, you make it possible for me to continue to bring you helpful articles and keep ThrillWriting free and accessible to all.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Book review: Making Crime Pay

eigen werkImage via WikipediaMaking Crime Pay, the Writers’ Guide to Criminal Law, Evidence, and Procedure
By Andrea Campbell

Available at Amazon new for $27.50 used from $0.14

Rating: Recommended

I admit that I bought my copy, used on Amazon, for ten cents. I more than got my ten cents worth. I read this book because it was listed as a resource book on the “
Sisters in Crime” website. I have had a course in law, and almost all of my clients were under my care by court order, so I already had a fair acquaintance with the legal system. I would have appreciated having this book back then, for quick reference and better understanding of the process.

This book is divided into three parts:

Part 1 - Criminal law is explained. What is the difference between a
federal crime and a misdemeanor? Crimes are defined as well as defenses, justifications and excuses.

Part 2 -
Criminal procedure - this includes the rights of the accused, search, seizure and arrests.

Part 3 - A Walk Though the
Criminal Justice System - this covers arrest procedures, charging, and booking. There is a chapter on juvenile justice and how that differs from the adult system.

Sprinkled throughout are historic points - which could be a boon to a historic novelist. Also, there are “Writers’ Tips.” These tips help the writer to pick out an interesting twist that could develop the plot line in a new way. There are “FYI” inserts that are like a heads-up to bring an aspect forward that a writer needs to take into consideration when writing a scene. Campbell includes photos of various documents used in the criminal process such as a
search warrant. There is an index, which helps to make looking up a detail easier.

Not a great read for entertinment value. The writing is clear and makes the concepts understandable with straight forward language. I mostly pulled it from my purse to read while waiting for various appointments. Little nibbles were satisfying.

An overall read will give a writer a base from which to launch a plot line. Having this book on the shelf to check on a vocabulary word or resolve a processing question is a handy resource.

I hope this was helpful. If you have anything to add - or if you know a great book that I should look at - please feel free to leave a comment below.
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