By Lynne Woodruff, Kane County (IL) Sheriff’s Office (ret.)
I recently read an article in a corrections-related magazine that contained the phrase, “Grow your profession.” That really stuck with me, because it isn’t the prevailing attitude among correctional officers.
I remember the lack of initiative some of my former coworkers had regarding their career development. “They never train me,” was a common refrain, blaming the administration for not providing continuing education opportunities. Certainly, jail administrators should provide consistent, topical correctional officer training. But tight budgets and competing priorities push some of the obligation back on individual officers to identify training needs and pursue educational opportunities. When my coworkers complained about not receiving training, my response was always, “Did you ask for the training?” Most of the time their answer was no.
In corrections we do a fairly good job of training probationary officers on agency policies and procedures as well as in specialized areas such as use of force. But we’re not as accomplished at responding to changes in the custody environment and engaging our officers in ongoing education and professional development. I firmly believe you must take responsibility for your own development and seek out opportunities for improving your professional self. Grow your profession!
And here’s a question for the administrators: Do you have a policy on continuing education and professional development? Even a simple statement of the agency’s support for correctional officer training can help encourage officers to identify training needs and pursue continuing education.
There are so many resources available to corrections professionals that I could write a book; however, I will list only a few, many of which I have taken advantage.
1. When it comes to trade groups, there are the two obvious choices: the American Correctional Association and the American Jail Association. Both offer excellent, varied training opportunities such as online training, seminars/conferences and certifications. They publish magazines stocked with useful information, which are sent to you when you become a member. Or your agency can purchase an organizational membership and get several copies of the magazines for the staff. ACA and AJA hold conferences open to non-members, too. If you’re not already involved with these groups, I recommend checking out what they offer.
2. The National Institute of Corrections is an incredibly useful resource I used several years ago during research for my master’s thesis. The NIC’s library contains a wealth of corrections/jail information, the vast majority of which is free. This information includes papers, articles and booklets on various topics. The group also offers training webinars and seminars.
3. You may also want to consider industry groups with a more specific focus. During my career I was a member of National Association of Women Law Enforcement Executives (NAWLEE) and the International Association of Women Police (IAWP). NAWLEE is a great resource for connecting with other women in executive positions at law enforcement agencies around the country; IAWP was established in 1915 as a way for women in law enforcement to connect. Their annual conferences are held in the U.S. and abroad so the opportunity is there to learn firsthand about policing in other countries. Both NAWLEE and IAWP offer substantial training at their conferences and provide good networking opportunities. Other special interest groups include the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Officers and the Hispanic Police Officers Association. There are also numerous faith-based law enforcement groups.
4. Universities and community colleges also offer opportunities for you to invest in yourself. Many offer certification programs, which are less intensive than a full degree program. Your interest does not need to be in criminal justice; it can be in management, leadership, public administration, alcohol and drug abuse counseling, behavioral health, teaching adult learners, even a foreign language. If your agency has tuition reimbursement, take advantage of it.
There are numerous other organizations and resources you may know of at the national, state or local level. Look into what they offer.
The bottom line is that YOU are responsible for your career development. Don’t use THEM as an excuse not to improve.
Lexipol’s Custody Policy Manual and Daily Training Bulletin Service provides essential policies that can support a professional environment, including policies that guide correctional officer professional development and training. Contact us today to find out more.
LYNNE WOODRUFF retired from the Kane County (IL) Sheriff’s Office with 24 years of service. She was the first female promoted to Sergeant at the Kane County jail (1995) and the first female promoted to Lieutenant in the Sheriff’s Office (2002). Lynne earned a BA in Management and Leadership at Judson College and a Master’s degree in Law Enforcement and Justice Administration at Western Illinois University. Currently, she is a Management Services Representative for Lexipol; before moving into this position, she served as Training Coordinator and also as an independent contractor for Lexipol’s Training and Implementation Services teams.