THE CORRECTIONAL OFFICER STOCKHOLM SYNDROME: MANAGEMENT IMPLICATIONS

Kevin M. Gilmartin, Ph.D. and Russell M. Davis, M.A.

Published by: --National Institute of Corrections--
First Annual Symposium on Now Generation Jails

 

In the decades prior to World War II a work ethic existed which was characterized by the 'Average American Neighborhood.' The husband worked, the wife was a housewife, all the neighbors knew each other, the family belonged to a church and relatives lived down the street or a few blocks away.  The job was a place to earn money to buy the house with the white picket fence or send the oldest son to college.  American society was less mobile and more stable.  The average worker was able to gain a sense of identity from belonging to various social support groups.

Over the past few decades the employment role has shifted importance to the average American worker.  The role of employment to meet the purely economic needs of the worker has given way to an increased importance of the work role to meet social and emotional needs.(1)  A sense of rootedness in the community has been lost for the average American as neighborhoods disappear.  People tend to identify themselves more with the place and role of their employment than the place or neighborhood of their residence.  Management philosophies have been expanded to meet the increased expectations and needs of employees at the workplace.(2)  Peter Drucker, in his overview of management philosophies, reflects the shift by stating, 'The shift in the structure and character of work has created a demand that work produce more than purely economic benefits.  To make a living is no longer enough, work has also to make a life."(3)

Management in the corrections field has not by any means been spared the effects of the change in importance of the work place.  If anything, correctional administrators must be more keenly sensitive to the increased importance of what takes place at the workplace and its emotion-behavioral consequences.  These emotional-behavioral consequences in manufacturing or other industry are often a loss in productivity.  In a corrections setting, however, the consequences could often be a breach in security or a life-threatening situation.  Heavy emotional demands through stress are placed daily on the corrections officer.

In decades past, the management philosophy of 'keep your personal life out of the Institution' has been employed.  That philosophy was based on the underlying premise that the correctional officer had a personal life; another life away from the work place that had a sense of identity, a sense of neighborhood where he/she could talk to the person next door.  The white picket fence street, where every neighbor knew each other, and people went to work only to earn money, is a thing of the past and doesn't exist in the life of many members of the workforce.

The average correctional officer today is reflective of today's American society, a highly mobile society that for more than two decades has been experiencing radical changes in the family structure.  The geographic mobility in American society has spread the extended family of brothers, sisters, parents, aunts, and uncles over an entire continent.  As the sunbelt population explosion continues, a correctional officer might find his/her support system of an extended family spread over several thousand miles.

At the same time geographic mobility is spreading the extended family, divorce is breaking down the nuclear family.  As the more traditional support systems deteriorate, church membership declines.  The correctional officer who runs into a crisis at work or at home, and could seek support from family, neighbors, or church members a decade ago, must now seek support from the only viable support system; his/her place of work.  What if correctional managers are not sensitive to these significant changes in the importance of the work place?

A correctional officer, like any other person can be expected to experience crisis in her/his life.  Strong arguments can be made that the very nature of the "pressure cooker" atmosphere that many correctional officers work under makes them a higher than average risk for stress related crisis.(6)  If we define a crisis as: "a subjective reaction to a stressful life experience, so affecting the individual that her/his ability to cope is severely impaired", we see ability to cope as the significant determinant.   One's ability to cope is directly related to the extent of emotional support systems available to the individual.  As the traditional support systems break down and work becomes more important, we find the correctional officer, who is experiencing a crisis, must decide where to turn for support.

One of the foundations of the New Generation Jail concept is Maslow's hierarchy of needs.  The physical design and management systems for a direct supervision jail are designed to fulfill the safety and security needs, as well as, basic biological needs of the inmates.  If we conceptualize the officer along Maslow's hierarchy of needs ranging from basic biological survival to self-actualization needs, we see the officer may enter the institution with a higher number of unmet needs than did his predecessors of a decade or two ago.(7)

Just as successful management of a new generation jail is dependent on a thorough understanding of the needs of the inmate, a successful manager must consider that corrections officers also have needs.  The needs unmet by the disappearing traditional support systems will be met at the workplace either by competent management, peer camaraderie, or by manipulation of inmates.

The future will see a dramatic increase in the application of the podular/direct supervision jail concept.  Each new facility will be similar in some respects but at the same time, unique in design, management, and staffing features.  One characteristic of new generation jails is constant; success is fully dependent on enlightened management that fully understands human behavior and the importance of meeting people's needs.  Officer safety and integrity can be potentially compromised by less than competent management perception and practices.

As the concrete and steel control of the older, linear intermittent supervision institution gives way to the behavioral, interpersonal relationship controls of the now generation facility, a specific syndrome of security comprise potentially may develop.

In a traditional facility the separation, by bars, of inmates and staff allows each to maintain a degree of anonymity.  The interpersonal relationships between officer and inmate which are utilized in the podular/direct supervision facilities permit emotional transference between both parties to take place.  This transference actually decreases the likelihood an inmate will strike out and assault an unknown officer.  Now, unlike the past, the officer is a person with a history of behavioral interaction with the inmate.  The particular officers pod management style has developed for him/her a track record of interaction with the inmates.  This officer is a real person to the inmates not an unknown symbol of authority.  Consequently, many of the deviant behavior patterns of acting out that typified older institutions have disappeared as behavioral management of the new generation facility replaces the brutality and steel controls of older institutions.

This emotional transference, however, is a two way street.  The inmate also becomes a "real person" to the officer.  This behavioral-interpersonal style of interacting alleviates many of the traditional problems of inmate-officer interaction.  Indifference, brutality and hostility give way to more rational behavior.  A cooperative joint effort of both inmate and officer to have a supra-ordinate goal, running the pod, is the result.

Social psychology has demonstrated the behavioral effects of dividing people by bars with differential roles of officer and inmate.  Each participant responds to his individual needs most often at the expense of the other.  Hostility quickly increases and brutality may surface. (8)  The Zimbardo/Stanford studies demonstrate this phenomenon.  However, one even more basic social psychology phenomenon of supra-ordinate goals has been demonstrated for decades.  If two previously antagonistic groups are placed in a close proximity and are required to accomplish a similar task cooperatively, the previously held differential roles and antagonism break down.  Joint cooperation takes place and a new singular role identity forms. This has been clearly demonstrated for decades since the classic Sheriff studies on supra-ordinate goals.(9)  This phenomenon has substantial relevance for the direct supervision jail.

What if management retains a management style of distant authoritarianism and places these high-needs unfulfilled officers into correctional settings with increased recognition of the Inmate as a person?  Since an officer in crisis may  longer have an effective support group outside the job, he/she will generally turn to his/her peer officer for support; the peer officer they used to walk the floor with in a traditional facility, the peer officer they interacted with as their paths crossed during rounds.  However, in a podular/direct supervision facility there are significant differences that may have an adverse impact on support.  The officer may still see his/her "buddy" at briefings before shift and after shift, and maybe even on a brief break if she/he gets off the pod.  However, eight to ten hours a day her/his interpersonal interaction is with the inmate population; both locked behind the same doors, both living in the same area, both feeling the same feelings of isolation and frustration, if support services or management is not responsive to their needs.  The inmates hopefully do not become the officer's peer group. But they can quickly become his/her reference group for many of the day-to-day events that impact both the officer and the inmate's life.

It seems now that not only have the traditional support systems of neighborhood, family, and church disappeared as a place for the officer to turn to have his/her needs met, but their fellow officers are locked away, unreachable in another pod.  The two remaining alternatives for having needs validated for the officer become first line management or the inmates.  Insensitive or incompetent supervision, that alienates an officer and does not attempt to meet whatever need is currently present, in effect pushes the officer towards security violations with the inmates.  When the officer states "we", and he/she is referring to the inmates and themselves on the pod, one has experienced semantic evidence of emotional transference taking place.

This transference is itself worth exploring.  Why do hostages find their emotional loyalties shifting from the rescuers to the hostage taker as the period of confinement together increases?  The answer is a phenomenon known as "emotional transference". (10) What we observe are people in close proximity, with the same supra-ordinate goals, jointly cooperating and merging short term emotional and rational belief systems.  First identified in Stockholm, Sweden, in 1971 after a foiled bank robbery which generated into a hostage siege, the phenomenon has been labeled the "Stockholm Syndrome".  The hostages shifted loyalties and began advocating for the hostage takers.  These processes of shifting loyalties have been described in psychological literature for decades and have direct bearing in correctional management techniques.

There are several variables that force the development of the Stockholm Syndrome.  Finding oneself in an isolated situation with distance from the individuals you previously perceived as meeting your needs, appears central to all theoretical formulations of the syndrome. If  the isolated individual feels potential jeopardy or a risk from the parties with whom or by whom he is being held, the syndrome accelerates its development.

In the correctional setting, one would be naive to believe that the Stockholm Syndrome does not potentially take place between inmates and a correctional officer, all of whom, have been confined in a limited area for a long time.  It would be equally naive, however, to believe that the syndrome would manifest itself as quickly and as drastically as it would in a police hostage siege situation.  In the correctional setting, one can expect the phenomenon to begin more at the semantic level with the "we" referring to the officer himself and inmates he/she manages.                                                                       

From a semantic level, one would predict that the shift and development in the Stockholm Syndrome would proceed to a minor behavioral level where the officer would begin engaging  in a minor rule infraction to make things easier for "his/her people".  These minor rule infractions would begin at the level of acts of omission and proceed to acts of commission.

The "minor" acts of omission would be demonstrated by a laxity in enforcement of security measures. Searches for makeshift weapons and other contraband would not remain intense as the interpersonal level of comfort between officer and inmate grows.  The belief  "my people would not do that" can falsely grow in naive correctional officers who feel comfortable working in close proximity to a singular group of inmates.

At the level of acts of commission, these minor rule infractions, such as bringing extra food, sugar, coffee, candy or other items onto the pod, would not be perceived by the correctional officer as contraband or rule violations, but rather as attempting to use management philosophies to keep things running smoothly on the pod.

The third stage of the syndrome development would be what Hacker in his classic work on hostages calls the "poor devil" syndrome.(12)   "It is here where the victim-hostage begins feeling sorry for the "poor devil".  A correctional officer in close proximity to an inmate in the jail setting who "feels sorry" for an inmate, who possibly will receive a lengthy prison sentence or even a death sentence, may be experiencing more than just casual reflection on a lengthy prison term.  The Stockholm Syndrome has developed to the extent that hostages have thrown themselves in front of the hostage taker only to be killed by rescuing police bullets intended for the hostage-taker.(13)  Equally as intense in a correctional setting, the Stockholm Syndrome has accounted for loyal and competent correctional officers actively conspiring to engage in escape attempts.

The present authors have extracted twelve cases of the Stockholm syndrome over a three year period.  All cases are from one correctional setting where officers demonstrated emotional loyalties to inmates ranging from intimate sexual contact with an inmate while on duty to a successful conspiracy to assist in an escape from a maximum security institution.  The uniqueness of each of these cases is that they are not merely instances of corruption for monetary gain or compromise out of mare intimidation by inmates; genuine ideological shift of loyalties to the inmates had taken place.  In the case studies, pre-employment psychological test evaluations were available to be reviewed including Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventories, psychologist's notes, and extensive background information.  No meaningful singular profile or diagnostic category could be extracted from this data.  Each officer had a satisfactory to outstanding career prior to the acts of compromise which resulted in termination, and, in some cases, criminal prosecution.

It appears a lifestyle profile of the officers would be more informative than formal testing in attempting to understand who might be the high-risk officer to develop the Stockholm Syndrome.  Each officer had a career in law enforcement-corrections where he/she highly identified with their position as officer.  This position was highly important to each individual and met many emotional needs that were not completed in other aspects of their lives.  This exaggerated importance of the officer role led to an over-identification with the job and a narrow, rigid view of the people depending the officer interacted with and often the perception of people appeared to be a function of whatever label was placed on these people.  This narrow, rigid, labeling view of people lets the correctional officer perceive all inmates in one distasteful category until one or a small group of inmates does not fit into the officer’s pigeon holed perceptual set and exceptions begin to be made.

The over-identification with the role of officer was central, in each case, to the compromised officer’s self-concept.  These individuals, who tended to over identify with their job as officers, were quite popular with their follow officers, but all tended to be uninvolved in meaningful emotional relationships in their private lives. The only married officer of the group at the time of security compromise was experiencing severe marital disruption.

In each case, the officers were able to function adequately until assigned a position in the facility which required close proximity daily to either a single inmate or a small, specific group of inmates.  It appears that  this daily close proximity to a single inmate group led to the development of the "poor devil syndrome".  The officers began believing that the inmate was a "victim" and began feeling sorry for him.  One officer stated, 'I just wanted to keep seeing him because I realized he might get the death sentence and I left so bad about it.”  The "high-risk" officer profile starts as one who has a highly unfulfilling private life, and uses the rigid identity of being an officer as an important veneer to an incomplete self-concept.

The syndrome seems to crystallize and become specific to one inmate when this high risk officer is placed in close proximity to an inmate who is at risk, or who has already received, a lengthy prison term or possible death sentence.  The high-risk inmate, therefore, is also in many cases the high-publicity inmate who is in prison typically for violent, and on many occasions, potentially heinous crimes.  This makes the formation and liaison between inmate and correctional officer even more baffling to those who attempt to understand it without sensitivity to the issues currently being discussed. In each of the cases studied, the compromised officer stated that publicity had a role in his/her actions.  One officer stated the inmate "wasn't anything like what the newspapers said he was like."  This attitude represents a form of cognitive dissonance where the officer felt the inmate was "different from the rest of the inmates" and rigid stereotyping broke down in favor of preferential treatment.(14)

The syndrome-profile can be seen to this point in a needs-unfulfilled officer whose job many times is the only meaningful interaction in his/her life.  This officer comes into contact with a high-publicity, usually highly manipulative inmate.  The officer begins spending excessive periods of time with a small group of inmates and begins minor behavioral infractions on behalf of these particular inmates.

The cardinal feature of each case, however, that initiated the Stockholm syndrome was a personal crisis in the officer's life immediately prior to the time of compromise.  These crises often went unnoticed by coworkers or management at the institution.  In several cases, officers were punitively reprimanded by management for behavior stemming from these crises.  These actions only forced the officer closer to the only viable support system available - the inmates.  This support system of inmates became the only place in each officer's life where the term "we" had a genuine meaning.

This behavioral model presents a scenario which has significant implications to management in new generation jails.  The very principles and dynamics which make the new generation jail work also support the development of the Stockholm Syndrome.  Management misperception and insensitivity may be the cardinal feature of the Correctional Stockholm Syndrome in each case identified.  Taking an unfulfilled officer, who is currently experiencing a personal crisis that either goes undetected or is even punitively handled, and placing that officer in close proximity daily to a small group of inmates, can be expected to foster the development of the Stockholm Syndrome.

The Federal system, as well as Contra Costa County, California, shared a characteristic which is not shared by many of the newer direct supervision jails.  In both systems, an officer who was having trouble functioning in a direct-supervision jail could transfer to another assignment for a relief period or on a permanent basis.  In the Federal system, officers could transfer to other traditional type institutions.  In Contra Costa County the officers could transfer to law enforcement duties in the field.

In other new facilities, such as Ladmer County, Colorado, Multhnomah County, Oregon, and Pima County, Arizona, the flexibility for transfer is not available.  The law enforcement and corrections sections of these departments are separate job classifications with separate career paths.  Within the institutions, 70-90 percent of the corrections officers work in direct-supervision pods and the remainder in control rooms, escort, or other support services.  The ability to find an alternate assignment to increase the proximity with other officers and minimize contact with inmates is extremely limited.

The result of these significant differences may have an adverse impact on the application of direct supervision in facilities with similar characteristics.  The Correctional Officer Stockholm Syndrome should by no means deter an agency from adopting the new generation jail concept.  When all aspects are considered, the new generation concept is by far the best method of design and management of jails today.

What, then, can management do, and who are the high risk managers?  The first thing management must do if it attempts to develop a viable program for preventing the development of the Correctional Officer Stockholm Syndrome is to become introspective and not extrapunitive.  Management must accept responsibility that the solution to avoiding the Stockholm Syndrome lies in proactive management strategies, not punitive reactionary discipline against the officer, when clear symptoms of the syndrome are identified.  A proactive approach must address the central issues of the Stockholm Syndrome: isolation, and vulnerability felt by the officer.(15)   Management cannot let an isolated  correctional officer feel like his/her needs are not being met.  Whether these needs are for extra toilet articles for his/her pod or for a sympathetic ear after a stressful day. The officer must not be left to feel that "he/she is in the same boat as the inmates." (l6)

Management must strive to develop group identifies and loyalties to the organization as a whole.  Strategies, such as requiring officers to take meal breaks away from the pod or work unit and eating with fellow officers, should not be seen as merely a break or benefit for the officers but as genuine security measures that have preventive value.  Scheduling should be developed for breaks other than mealtime where officers can relax with fellow officers and rekindle peer officer camaraderie.  Many managers might view this "down time" as officers just "wasting time".  These operationally-oriented managers could prove extremely short sighted if the appreciation of officers' camaraderie is missed.  The result would be the "we" syndrome, where officers might be more concerned about whether "their pod" passes inspection, than if the departmental bowling team was getting together.

The proactive manager, in avoiding the Stockholm Syndrome, has constructive debriefings after shifts so that officers are not required to have makeshift debriefings at the local pub.  Although these "choir practices can have minimally constructive benefits to the establishment of peer camaraderie, they can prove to be fertile ground to the development of abusive drinking patterns that can jeopardize home life stability and only further remove a remaining support system from the officer's life.

Management, in taking a preventive-proactive approach, would need to see that autocratic authoritarian communication patterns must decrease in proportion to the degree of close proximity inmate-officer contact.  An autocratic style must give way to a participatory bent in management.  In order to avoid the 'loyalty slippage" of the Stockholm Syndrome, the central issues of isolation and distance from peer support felt by correctional officers would need to be directly addressed.  Many of the management philosophies exposed by Peters and Waterman and their volume, In Search of Excellence, would lend themselves directly to a correctional institution's attempts to create a need fulfilling work environment for the officer.(17)

Each manager in a correctional facility must ask themselves: : 'If I'm not meeting the needs of my officers and not listening to them, who is?"  The answer can be quite frightening.  Correctional officers cannot be made to feel that they are victims or left to feel that they are in the same boat as the inmates. Correctional management has lagged behind law enforcement management in the area of utilizing the behavioral sciences or psychological services for officers experiencing job related difficulties.(18)   Large correctional institutions are mandated by correctional standards to provide services to inmates, yet officers are left in the institution with minimal, if any, concern for job-related difficulties affecting their lives.  As the new generation of correctional facilities takes over in the profession of corrections, providing officer services and management sensitivities to officer's needs must be viewed as genuine security concerns, not extraneous fringe benefits.                                      

The new generation jail concept is rapidly gaining popularity and will continue to flourish in the future.  The podular/direct-supervision concept has been endorsed by the American Correctional Association, the American Institute of Architecture and National Institute of Corrections.(19)   It has been, and will continue to be, widely accepted by the public when "packaged and sold",  utilizing a rational, reasonable approach.

There is simply no room today for the autocratic authoritarian manager.  The correctional officer represents a vast untapped resource for effectively managing inmates.  If management is to be successful, it must strive to be "enlightened management."  Managers must become thoroughly familiar with the psychological and sociological principles of human behavior, which govern the actions of staff, as well as inmates.  The needs of staff, as well as, inmates must be fulfilled.  The corrections profession is evolving rapidly.  Management can guide this evolution and grow or be left in the dust.  The challenge is clear. 

References:

1.   Filipowicz, Christine, A., 'The Troubled Employee: Whose Responsibility?' The Personnel Administrator, 1979, 24(6), pp. 17-23.

2.   Peters, T.J. and Waterman, R.H., In Search of Excellence, Harper and Row, New York, 1984.

3.   Druckner, Peter F., Management Tasks, Responsibilities, Practices, New York, Harper and Row, 1974.

4.   United States Health, Education and Welfare Department, Special Task Force, Work in America, Cambridge, MIT Press, 1973, p. 83.

5.   Kroes, William H., Society's Victim--The Policeman, Charles Thomas Publisher, Springfield, 1972.

6.   Bard, Morton, The Function of the Police in Crisis Intervention and Conflict Management, U.S. Department of Justice, Criminal Justice Associates, Inc., 1975.

7.   Maslow, Abraham, Motivation and Personality, 2nd Ed., New York, Harper and Row, 1970.

B.   Zimbardo, Phillip G., 'Pathology of Imprisonment", Society, April 1972.

9.   Sherif, Muzafer, Social Interaction: Processes and Products, Chicago, Aldine, 1967.

 10.   Hassel, Conrad.  'The Hostage Situation*, The Police Chief, September 1965.

11.    Scholssberg, Harvey, Psycholgist with a Gun, Coward, McCann, and F. Geoghegan, New York, 1971.

12.   Hacker, Frederick, -Crusaders, Criminals, and Crazies, Norton and Company, New York, 1976. 

13.   Lewinski, William J., An Alternative Explanation for the Stockholm Syndrome, Unpublished Masters

Thesis, University of Arizona, 1980.                                      

14.   Festinger, Leon, A Theory of Cognitive Dissonance, Evanston, Ill.  Row.  Peterson, and Company, 1957.

15.   Ochberg, G., "The Victim of Terrorism: Psychiatric Considerations", Terrorism, Vol. 1, No. 2, 1979, pp. 147-168.

16.   Schuler, Randall, S., "Effective Use of Communication to Minimize Employee Stressm, The Personnel Administrator, 1979, Vol. 24, No. 6, pp. 40-49.

17.   Peters, T.J. and Waterman, R.J., Ibid.

18.   Reiser, Martin, Police Psychology: Collected Papers, LEHI Publishing Company,     Los Angeles,1982.

19.   Nelson, W.R., and Mike O'froole, Now Generation Jails, Library Specialist, Inc., December 1983. 

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