Teambuilding Attitude Conflict Transformation [TACT] Training and Neuroscience

New book by John Shuford

Mid 21st Century Criminal Justice: Transforming Work Culture

Much has been written about the problems within our criminal justice system, both law enforcement and corrections, but never before has that been presented along with the causes of those problems and specific strategies to correct them. This unique and remarkable book, based on Shuford’s 30 years of experience, is a must read for criminal justice policy makers, leadership, supervisors as well as educators in preparing students for careers in criminal justice. This content packed text will lead the reader from research based consequences of criminal justice employee stress through an analysis of neurological and cultural variables that contribute to that stress to comprehensive yet precisely designed strategies for change and how to apply them. It is a practical guide for criminal justice leadership, training academies; and educators will find it an invaluable supplemental text for advanced policing and corrections courses and criminal justice administration and management courses. It is about time that the criminal justice field had such a resource to carry it into the 21st century.

This book should be included in any curriculum in Criminal Justice Studies. It describes dysfunctional culture within the prison system and documents the damage this culture inflicts on the health of prison employees. More importantly, it provides a vision for a more healthy culture of prison administration, and draws on the author’s three decades of experience providing workshops in prisons to lay out a path for culture change and transformation of the prison system. It is a valuable resource for those preparing for criminal justice work, for current supervisors and other criminal justice employees, and for policy makers.

Vernie Davis

Professor Emeritus of Cultural Anthropology and Peace & Conflict Studies and Former Director Conflict Resolution Resource Center, Guilford College

The psychological and physical health needs of Criminal Justice staff beyond the necessary but not sufficient “going home safe at the end of the shift” is finally receiving the attention it deserves. Agency training catalogues, selection and promotion processes, and employee cultures are under the wellness microscope in many locations. If you work in one of those jurisdictions or would like to pave the way for such an initiative, this text is a must. In this content packed text, the reader will be led from research-based consequences of criminal justice employee stress through an analysis of both the neurological and cultural variables that contribute to that stress to a comprehensive yet precisely designed strategy for change, which John has developed during his 30-year career. You will find powerful descriptions of not just what strategies to use, but how to apply them, and what behavioral and psychological principles they address.

Gregory Morton, M.Sc

Administrator of Staff Training and Professional Development (Retd.), Oregon Department of Corrections

Awesome work, law enforcement leaders and BLET instructors should read. What is clear, we must train today’s generation of employees differently. This book highlights the need for law enforcement training in effective communication and interpersonal skills, which are crucial in today’s climate. The tried-and-true para-military instruction has its place, but there is a difference between training soldiers and officers. The military is focused on killing the enemy, but in law enforcement there is no enemy, just one human engaging with another human. The theme of human engaging type training presented in this book will benefit law enforcement into the next century. John supports that need to change as we prepare our future officers and leaders of law enforcement.

B.J. Council

Deputy Police Chief (Ret), Owner, You & Five-O, LLC, Durham NC

It is excellent, right on target! A practical guide for leadership with some very real and true real world examples that can be understood at any level. Changing the work culture is so very important, equally as important as improving pay and benefits that many seem to be continually focused on as the only need.…..but without the culture improvements agencies will continue to struggle with turnover and the poor health and life expectancy of staff despite pay improvements.

Tim Moose

Chief Deputy Secretary , NC Department of Public Safety, Adult Correction & Juvenile Justice

Mid-21st Century Criminal Justice: Transforming the Work Culture is an essential read for both law enforcement and correctional executives if they want to implement proven strategies to retain talented staff. For educators, it is also a useful supplemental text for an advanced policing or corrections course or a criminal justice administration and management course. Shuford first focuses on why traditional work cultures in policing and corrections are problematic and then provides tangible and actionable solutions to reform work culture to improve morale. A supplemental text that incorporates practical application is a welcome addition for courses that examine management, administration, and leadership in policing and correctional contexts. 

Dr. Heidi S. Bonner

Director, Criminal Justice Department, East Carolina University

This book provides a comprehensive look at the systemic problems inherent in law enforcement agencies. What I found unique and remarkable is that the book also offers ways to change the culture to make it work more effectively.

As a trauma therapist, I know how important it is to address the psychological issues that emerge with  staff who are in a constant state of stress. There are programs that deal with the trauma experienced by the inmates; however little has been done concerning staff.

I have worked with John doing trauma related activities in a prison and I have seen how effective John’s experiential program has been.  To truly understand the necessary changes needed in the system, one must understand trauma. This book provides the history of trauma, how it remains in the cells of one’s body and the impact of trauma on not just a person, but the family and community outside of the job. It is easy to talk about what is wrong, harder to give examples of how the system can be improved.

John Shuford’s book would be helpful as a resource to criminal justice students, supervisory staff in law enforcement and those working with the impact of trauma. It is filled with examples and provides a realistic guide in ways to deal with the trauma of working in a nonsupportive, outdated system. 

Elinor H. Brody MSS, LCSW

Australian Interview with John on Trauma From the Front Line

John was interviewed by Bruce Perham on his podcast program “Trauma From the Front Line” which is a podcast series directed at correctional officers and frontline responders to provide them with access to a wide range of psychologists working in the trauma fields, key stakeholders in the emergency sector and individuals willing to share their experiences of trauma in the delivering of their frontline occupations. The focus is educational and the goal is to encourage people to be proactive in managing their own mental health and for people who need help to find the pathway to achieving it.

In order to understand the process by which the Immersive-Experiential© methodology impacts attitude, it may be helpful to explain how the brain works [as we understand it today] and how attitudes are developed. An external [or internal] event or stimulus occurs and the brain first processes it subconsciously in the amygdala, our fight-flight-freeze center, which determines if there is danger. If there is danger, the amygdala initiates a very quick response. If there is no immediate danger, the amygdala then sends this emotionally coded information to the hippocampus where it is compared to other recent experiences putting the event or stimulus into context. This process takes half a second to accomplish. Now the emotionally coded information which has been compared with other more recent experiences is sent to the neocortex where rational thought can be applied and a response is formulated. 

Thus, “information processed subconsciously at enormous speed, is compared to patterns already existing in the brain derived from previous experiences. On this basis, the emotional brain decides whether what is happening now is threatening or non-threatening. Only after this filtering process has occurred is information sent ‘up’, if necessary, into consciousness . . . It is the emotions that propel the higher cortex towards deciding on appropriate reaction to a particular situation. We become conscious of a feeling of anxiety, distrust, anger or attraction, and the higher neocortex then has the choice of ratifying or questioning it. That is when thoughts come into play.” [Human Givens by Joe Griffin and Ivan Tyrrell, 2013 page 238] The process by which this all takes place is called “pattern matching,” is emotionally based, and takes less than half a second. This is how attitudes are developed, through experiential learning, not conscious thought. Conscious thought can impact attitudes when experience supports it.

When a person does not feel safe and must be constantly “on guard,” the hippocampus is less able to function properly and the communication between the amygdala and hippocampus diminishes. When this happens, the amygdala becomes the organ of response and the rational mind’s involvement is greatly reduced. This is especially true for a trauma pattern where it can literally get trapped in the amygdala and not be brought to the conscious mind at all. With complex trauma, the neuropathways to the amygdala are so over used, the amygdala increases in physical size and the hippocampus actually decreases in size making its response slower and less effective in setting context and transmitting that to the neocortex. The end result can be PTSD. To reverse this process, the neuropathways to the hippocampus must be strengthened, and this is accomplished when the person feels safe and has less need for the amygdala response.

What all this means is that in order to help people change their attitudes and behaviors, they must feel safe. Otherwise, they will not be open to new experiences and ideas, which may conflict with their existing beliefs. When they don’t feel safe they will be focused on their physical environment and the threats that exist and are therefore unable to step back and observe themselves in the environment. Without the capacity to step back and observe, their selfawareness is greatly limited and everything negative that happens to them is someone else’s fault. They cannot take personal responsibility for their actions or thoughts. It is as though they are experiencing tunnel vision.

The first diagram below shows the normal processing of a non-stressful event. The second diagram illustrates a response to a traumatic or stressful event. The neuropathways are stronger to the amygdala. With complex trauma or when repeated stress occurs, the hippocampus and neocortex actually shrink in size along with the neuropathways to those organs and those organs become less able to process information effectively, which is the case with PTSD.

This is the reason successful therapeutic programs begin with developing a relationship where the participants feel safe and can trust, so the amygdala is not engaged. The National Institute of Corrections, in its publication on Cognitive Behavioral Treatment [CBT], states that in order for CBT to be effective, a positive relationship must be developed between the staff leading the program and the inmates participating in it. They say this can take many sessions to accomplish. Also, when a program is punitive in nature, as is the case with the “interdependent compliance” model where everyone gets penalized for one person’s unacceptable behavior, the outcomes are not good. Laws and structure will make people conform, but connection and community [feeling safe, accepted and respected] will empower people to transform. Probably the strongest benefit of the Immersive-Experiential© training design is that a high level of trust and safety is established within a matter of a few hours, not days.

This same process occurs with staff development trainings. [See Corrections Today, Jan/Feb, 2020 article on “Revisioning Staff Training”] If participants do not feel safe, valued and respected or feel bored, they will not be open to new ideas, skills and attitudes. The immersiveexperiential© training methodology begins with establishing those conditions that promote learning and when you add fun to the training, the learning process is energized even more. Participants are literally transformed by the training. Comments like, “This training was life altering. Best I have ever had with the state,” and “Not only equipped me to be a better manager, but also a better person” are common.