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Rules for a reason

A little more than a week ago, a Shadyside man was sentenced to 30 days in jail and two years of probation for giving someone tobacco.

That may seem incredible, but we believe the judge’s decision was appropriate and important. William Runyan’s actions may seem harmless on the surface, but the devil is in the details. It turns out that Runyan was working as a corrections officer at the Belmont County Jail when he felt sorry for an inmate and gave him tobacco in an effort to make him feel better.

“It was a stupid one-time decision … ,” Runyan told Western Division Court Judge Eric Costine after he pleaded no contest to a dereliction of duty charge. “I was trying to help the inmate out that was on lockdown and because he was threatening to bash his head off the wall … until somebody come and let him out.”

While it may seem admirable that Runyan was sympathetic to the man’s plight and wanted to calm him down, it also seems obvious that the inmate was trying to manipulate Runyan to get what he wanted. It worked, and Costine recognized that.

“You’re a corrections officer,” he told Runyan.“You know that there are rules, and you know how inmates can try to twist people … and lie to corrections officers to get things accomplished. You start feeling sorry for inmates, and there’s all sorts of problems that can occur. That’s a good way to lose control of a corrections situation.”

Costine is right about that, too.

Providing tobacco may seem harmless enough, aside from the fact that tobacco is known to cause helath problems such as cancer and cardiovascular disease. But how does a guard then say “no” when an inmate in apparent distress asks for alcohol or an illicit drug to which they may be addicted? Once those things are introduced to a corrections setting, how many inmates will get their hands on them, and what unexpected dangers could other guards face not realizing that they may be supervising inmates who are under the influence?

And what if a guard gives in and helps an inmate communicate with someone outside the facility in an unauthorized way? What nefarious plans might be hatched, and how many people might be put in harm’s way as a result? Making special allowances for any inmate is clearly a dangerous practice that could have disastrous consequences.

Rules exist for a reason. Runyan should have followed them. Because he did not, he will spend time in the very jail where he was working when the incident occurred. He also has lost his job there. That is an appropriate price to pay.

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