Tips & Facts

Admin Soft Skills: Organizing Effective Meetings

In order for any group or project to be successful, the ability to organize effective meetings is vital. This holds especially true for jail administrators, because sheriffs and staff alike rely on them for guidance and leadership. When you are responsible for the welfare of correctional officers and inmates, getting everyone on the same page is paramount.

That doesn’t mean your discussions have to be meticulously planned months in advance, and it certainly doesn’t mean they have to be long, drawn-out affairs, but there are a couple of key objectives to consider before you call any meeting “complete.”

Optimizing your Meetings

When organizing a timeline for a meeting, there’s an important rule to keep in mind: not too little, not too much. Turns out Goldilocks may have been onto something, as it is wise to find a time frame that is “just right” for whatever subject matter you wish to cover. While it’s important to make sure no content is left behind, so is brevity. By making sure the meeting is not too long but also not too short, a leader can ensure that they don’t lose their group’s attention.

In order to accomplish this, preparation is key. A good way to start planning a meeting is to create a checklist of topics you wish to cover. According to the Harvard Business Review, “Using the checklist and the principles behind it will ensure that you’ve covered all your bases—and that you won’t be wasting anyone’s time (including your own).” For jail administrators, centering a meeting around a single purpose (like contraband reduction) is a great way to stay on track.

Questions and Anwsers

Is there is a genuine need for this meeting? That’s always the first question on everyone’s mind, so you better have a good rebuttal. If a correctional facility’s communication systems are effective, messages can be delivered via traditional channels like email. However, if a facility has weak communication practices, jail administrators may need to host a meeting just to implement the proper strategies. A meeting about how to conduct future meetings, in essence—and nothing on Earth is less productive.

After the purpose of your meeting is established, you need to introduce your call-to-action. A call-to-action can be a command—check this inmate’s cell, move that detainee here—but that doesn’t always work in every situation. Sometimes, it’s much more effective for the group to arrive at a conclusion naturally. Telling subordinates what to do may be easy in the short term, but if you want them invested in your big ideas, everyone needs to reach the same conclusions together, as a result of dialogue.

Give and take, pros and cons, questions and answers; that’s what a great meeting is made of. Most of the time, the people working under you will provide excellent insights and think of things you never considered, which is why you hired them in the first place. By the time everyone stands up from the meeting, the group should have arrived at the same idea, even if they took different routes to get there.

A Simpler Solution

Generally, there are no non-important roles in a jail, but according to the US Department of Justice, “the [jail] administrator has the most critical role in implementing the direct supervision principles, fully integrating them into operations and sustaining them over time.” It can be a nightmare to update inmates and faculty on procedures and regulations, but it doesn’t have to be. Face-to-face meetings are effective because they congregate a target audience in one area to relay the same message to everyone. They can be even more effective when combined with informational material spread throughout the workplace, like flyers or digital signage.

By preparing a specific plan, formulating a checklist prior to the meeting, and leaving plenty of room for dialogue, jail administrators are can see positive results when it comes to getting their point across. Organization and structure are important parts of any institution, and face-to-face, sit-down meetings are the golden ticket when it comes to implementing these elements. Although meetings have been largely stigmatized for being inefficient, they are still one of the most effective organizational tools available, if they’re used with prudence.

Tips & Facts

Admin Soft Skills: Public Speaking

Can you recall the last time you gave a speech or got up in front of a crowd to make an announcement? While these moments are usually accompanied by feelings of anxiety, nervousness or fear, we’ve all been in a situation where we’ve had to participate in some form of public speaking.

For some, this sought-after skill comes as naturally as breathing, but for the rest of us speech-giving is a terrifying task. As daunting as this endeavor may be, there are a few tricks of the trade that can improve your skills. These tips will ensure a smoother delivery and explain why public speaking is such a vital skill to possess, particularly for Jail Administrators.

Empathy and Engagement

We’ve all heard it before: “Just imagine the crowd in their underwear, and you’ll be fine!” That is a bunch of bologna. Not only does this strategy leave you wide open for a burst of nervous laughter, it often distracts you from the main points or purposes you’re trying to convey to the audience. Who wouldn’t be distracted by a small crowd of nudists?

The really important thing is to understand and empathize with your audience. In doing so, the specific message you are trying to send will be concise and coherent, and will really resonate with the crowd. Empathizing with your audience grabs their attention and makes your speech more engaging.

For jail administrators, public speaking is an important skill to master. Whether you are informing inmates of policy and rules, updating staff on new schedules or regulations, or delivering reports and statistics to your sheriff, good communication skills will pay dividends in the long-run. These skills are so necessary that the State of Washington jail administrator requirements literally spells-out how important effective oral and written communication skills are.

Since it is the jail administrator’s job to manage the systems, procedures and policies that govern facility operations, these individuals often play a key role within their sheriff’s executive team. As a member of this executive team, it is vital that jail administrators voice their concerns and priorities in organizational meetings. According to the U.S. Department of Justice’s Sheriff’s Guide to Effective Jail Operations, “Three keys to establishing a collaborative climate are:

  1. Clear roles and responsibilities
  2. Strong lines of communication
  3. Positive relationships

Preparation is Paramount

The phrase “practice makes perfect” isn’t a proverb for nothing. While absolute “perfection” may be an unattainable goal, putting in ample time to prepare for your speech will ultimately optimize delivery. According to Arina Nikitina’s book on Successful Public Speaking, “the outcome of a speech is largely predetermined by the weeks of preparation undertaken.”

Ample preparation is crucial for jail administrators preparing to give a speech in front of subordinates. People are generally hostile and unreceptive towards figures of authority, but by establishing credibility through preparation, administrators can make a greator impact on their audience. In order to establish authority, speakers need to take time to think like their audience does. What do they like and dislike, how will they respond to a given statement, how can an idea be made more palatable; these are the questions a speaker should ask themselves during the preparation phase.

Preparing a speech beforehand and really understanding your target audience will aid tremendously in getting your message across. This proves especially useful when it comes to clarifying complicated rules and regulations. Over time, the rules you routinely preach may begin to fall on deaf ears. Ensuring that your message is delivered in a prepared and candid way will inspire your audience to listen. To ensure your speech is eloquent and direct, follow these steps during your preparation phase:

  1. Form a goal for the speech
  2. Choose a target audience
  3. Choose the most efficient delivery method
  4. Give your speech a test-run

Public Speaking on the Job

Efficient communication is necessary to establish any rule or regulation. Even with new technologies like CIDNET’s electronic mail app, the best way to send a clear message is still face-to-face. It requires zero technology and is a learned skill that anybody can acquire with adequate time and practice. Jail administrators have their own goals when it comes to facility operations, but in order to work towards those objectives, jail staff have to understand the priorities of their superiors.

The ability to speak eloquently in front of a group is an extremely beneficial and lifelong skill, but few can say they actively practice it. The fact is that all professionals would benefit from better public speaking skills, and jail administrators have more opportunities than most to utilize them on the job.

Tips & Facts

The Top 3 Ways Inmates Keep In Contact With Family Members

It’s easy to take family for granted. In most cases, our wishes to be connected are granted at the simple touch of a button, whether we’re a world away from our family or connecting with a childhood friend we last saw 20 years ago. Have you had a rough week at work and need some positive words of encouragement? Your family members are only a phone call or Facebook message away.

Consistent communication constitutes a vital part of our everyday life, and for obvious reasons. Humans are social animals, by nature. Consider what it would be like to lose contact with your far-off loved ones. Many inmates living in correctional facilities face this isolation, and their families feel it too. Unfortunately, budgetary restrictions and a lack of resources end up separating families all across this nation. Although maintaining and improving inmate communication methods remains a struggle, the research cited below demonstrates the importance of consistent communication for those in correctional facilities.

Costly Calls

The most common and widely adopted avenue for inmate communication is the use of inmate phones. Given that this mode of communication is easily monitored and offers rapid accessibility in regards to reaching family members, it seems like a no-brainer that this is the most popular option. However, unless you’ve had to phone a relative or friend in prison, you may not be aware of the high costs that tag along with these phone calls. This cost not only discourages attempting single, one-off calls, it also creates barriers for family members trying to maintain consistent contact with incarcerated loved ones. In a research study called the Community Justice Project, a group of Minnesota prisoners explained the importance of phone calls. One member explained how important phone calls are, stating: “Hearing that voice that says they love you is your lifeline.” Despite the price restrictions that come with inmate phone calls, it’s a service many rely upon to communicate with their loved ones.

You’ve Got Mail

Two other common, more cost-efficient methods of inmate communication are inmate mail and email. The majority of correctional facilities allow written correspondence in the form of physical mail. The cost of the stamp, envelope, and paper associated with physical mail and the almost nonexistent cost to send an email are minuscule compared to the costs of phoning family members. Other added benefits of written correspondence in prison facilities is the potential they have in correcting behavior in a positive aspect. In fact, many researchers studying imprisonment believe that written communication between inmates and free citizens holds immense potential. According to the Crime Museum, “[Written correspondence] is thought to provide a link between their current and former lives and will give them a desire to get out as quickly as possible and never return.” The only downside here is that few jail administrators have established inmate email services, even though these services are just as secure as traditional postage.

In the Flesh

While in-person visitation with friends and family members is less popular than phone calls or physical mail, it holds many advantages from a rehabilitation standpoint. Not only does the inmate get to hear the voices of their loved ones, but they also get to see their faces as well. Many correctional facilities accommodate in-person visitation, but only in tight moderation. Other agencies have fairly subjective rules, and leaving administration of this privilege to the discretion of individual officers. For example, Washington State Penitentiary discourages “excessive emotion” but enforcement of that rule is left up to the on-duty staff.

A new trend that many prisons and jails are adopting is video visitations, or speaking to your incarcerated loved ones through a video chat, like Skype. There are many advantages to this, such as less concern with contraband coming in, leading to fewer strip searches. Further, jails also profit by adopting this method. According to National Public Radio (NPR), “If families do a video visit at the jail, it’s free, but if they do it from their home computer, it can cost $1 per minute.” Although this comes with many added benefits, the one very important thing that is lost here is the physical touch and presence of family members and loved ones, an irreplaceable virtue. These trade-offs should encourage jail administrators to offer both options as complimentary services for the public, instead of only offering in-person or video visitation.

Communication is Key

When it comes to maintaining relationships for incarcerated people, consistency is indispensable. From both a rehabilitation and behavioral standpoint, correctional facilities could see vast positive impacts in implementing these communication methods. In fact, according to a 1972 study, Explorations in Inmate-Family Relationships, the central finding of the research revealed a “strong and consistent positive relationship that exists between parole success and maintaining strong family ties while in prison.” The Campaign for Prison Phone Justice also touches on the importance of consistent communication, noting: “Research has demonstrated that regular communication between prisoners and their loved ones reduces recidivism and promotes successful re-entry.” Just as in any relationship, communication is key. While many correctional facilities have done a fine job at implementing different modes of communication, it is paramount that we take advantage of every options. The benefits of phone calls, mail, and visitations of all types shouldn’t be under-estimated, because better communication is a win-win for all.

Tips & Facts

Video Visitations Reliant upon Adobe Flash will be Obsolete by 2020

As the end-of-life date for Adobe Flash creeps nearer and nearer (December 2020[1]), jail administrators across the country should be preparing for the transition. Flash is a browser plug-in used by several of the more substantial video visitation providers to stream audio and video to inmate family and friends who connect remotely from personal devices. Video visitation providers that currently use Flash will need to provide an alternative by the time Adobe stops issuing security patches in 2020.

In fact, much of the tech world has already taken steps to move away from the Adobe Flash plug-in. Microsoft’s Edge and Internet Explorer browsers will disable Flash by default in 2018.[2] But that’s nothing compared to Apple’s mobile products and browsers, which have focused on HTML5, CSS, and JavaScript as Flash-alternatives since 2010.[3]

Suffice it to say that the writing is on the wall for Adobe Flash. The era of insecure browser plug-ins is coming to a close. It’s a great time to be online, but folks who are less technically inclined may still be wondering: “Why is Adobe discontinuing Flash?”

The answer is software vulnerabilities.

Historical Software Vulnerabilities of Adobe Flash

Journalist Aatif Sulleyman summarizes Flash’s main problem very well: “[Flash] has become less and less useful over the years, but is constantly being exploited by cybercriminals, who keep finding security holes that they can use to attack users.”[4]

Diminishing returns and added security problems? It’s no wonder companies like Apple and Microsoft are distancing their customers from the product. And these security vulnerabilities are no joke. There have been more than 600 critical vulnerabilities documented to-date, 57 of which appeared in the last year.[5,6,7]

In fact, let’s take a second to talk about 2017, the year of the Bad Rabbit. “One of the more notable social engineering-enabled attacks of 2017 was Bad Rabbit. The international ransomware attack began with legitimate but compromised sites that requested a fake Adobe Flash update that contained the malware,” according to a Skybox Security white paper.[8]

Skybox Security isn’t the only cybersecurity company researching Flash. Recorded Future–an internet company specializing in real-time threat analysis–identified the top vulnerabilities used by exploit kits in 2015 after analyzing sources from criminal forums, .onion sites, and social media. Adobe Flash Player vulnerabilities dominated the list with thousands of references.[9]

Adobe Flash is listed eight times on Recorded Future's Top Vulnerabilities Used by Exploit Kits Bar Graph.

Continuing Problems

By now, it should be evident that the Adobe Flash web plug-in has been brutalized by cybercriminals over the course of its lifespan. Why video visitation providers would knowingly use this technology to connect with otherwise highly secure incarceration facilities is unfathomable. And don’t believe for a second that Flash’s security problems are a thing of the past; as of the time of this writing, the most recent critical Adobe Flash vulnerability was fixed on February 6, 2018.[10]

It’s impressive that some video visitation providers STILL rely on Flash to handle their services, let alone that they ever adopted the plug-in in the first place. Hopefully, Adobe’s 2020 deadline will force providers to take their client’s security seriously.

Who Still Uses Adobe Flash?

As of the time of this writing, video visitation giants Securus,[11] Telmate,[12] and Homewav[13] all use the Adobe Flash Player. If that concerns you, contact your video visitation solutions provider with additional questions.

Linked References

  1. Flash & The Future of Interactive Content.
  2. The End of an Era – Next Steps for Adobe Flash.
  3. Steve Jobs: Thoughts on Flash.
  4. Adobe Flash Player Users Urged to Disable Software After it Lets Criminals Infect Computers.
  5. Adversarial Detection of Flash Malware: Limitations and Open Issues.
  6. Adobe Flash Player Security Vulnerabilities.
  7. How Flash Vulnerabilities Expose You To Attacks.
  8. Vulnerability and Threat Trends Report 2018.
  9. Gone in a Flash: Top 10 Vulnerabilities Used by Exploit Kits.
  10. Security Advisory for Flash Player.
  11. Securus Terms and Conditions.
  12. Telmate Visit Test.
  13. Homewav Device Compatibility.