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  • Writer's pictureCAICR

Conflict Resolution in a Canadian Cell Block

In this week’s newsletter, trainer Sabina Smith shares a story of how Insight Policing skills showed up in an unexpected way -- ultimately turning conflict in a Canadian cell block into cooperation.


In my capacity as a bylaw enforcement officer in British Columbia, I often use Insight Policing skills to engage conflict in the moment during difficult, front-line encounters with members of the public.

Getting curious about feelings of threat and decisions to defend has become almost automatic for me, to the point where I use these skills in all aspects of my life. This summer they showed up during a shift I picked up as a custodial guard in the cell block of a local jail.

I started my shift at 4pm. I sat down at the guard station and surveyed the CCTV in front of me. I could see all the cells, and the one person who was in custody.

About 10 minutes into my shift, I noticed something strange—the person in custody was filling a cup with water and dumping it outside the cell through the bottom window latch, creating an ever-growing puddle on the hallway floor.

Of course, this was blatant rule violation, but I also recognized it as conflict behavior.

With that in mind, I walked over to the front of the cell to get to the bottom of it. I started by verifying with the person what I had seen.

“I see that you’re filling your cup with water and dumping it on the floor outside your cell,” I said.

“Yup!” the person quickly replied.

Instead of giving him an order to stop dumping the water all over the floor, I got curious about his decision and the underlying threat motivating it.

So, I asked, “What’s making you want to do that?”

The person was surprised by my question and answered that he came into custody not having eaten.

“Oh,” I verified again. “You’re throwing water because you’re hungry?”

“Yes, I’m starving.” At that, I reminded him that there are other ways to make requests for food, and then got him something to eat. He stopped throwing water, and the disturbance was over.

I could easily have given this person an order to stop pouring water outside the cell. I could have turned off the water supply altogether. But neither of these approaches would have resolved the inmate’s defiance as efficiently as getting curious, because neither would have revealed the root cause of his misbehavior.

This was one more instance in my career where using curiosity as my first response to conflict behavior stopped the situation from escalating and turned conflict into cooperation.

How do IP skills show up in your day to day? Share your stories with us and remember to stay curious!


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