Most correctional officers receive a lot of training before starting their careers, but knowledge and skills have a way of degrading over time. Corrections is also a constantly evolving environment, with new risks being introduced each year. To stay safe, remain up to date and limit liability, correctional officers need to keep training.
In-person instructor-led classes are a great opportunity to learn about new case law and legal standards affecting officers and inmates as well as to brush up on basics. But in-person training is expensive, so facilities should supplement in-person sessions with online learning to reduce costs and provide a way for correctional officers to train frequently.
Regardless of the method, training should be realistic and relevant—directly addressing the issues correctional officers face every day. Following are five essential corrections training topics from CorrectionsOne Academy.
#1: Contraband Control
Combating contraband requires constant vigilance. Inmates and their relatives have proven immensely creative in their tactics to smuggle in drugs, cell phones and other forbidden items—going so far as to use drones to drop contraband to inmates. Controlling contraband extends to the processing of inmate mail and rules for inmate visitation. Training on inmate manipulation and policies governing inmate and staff contact are also essential. Inmates target weak staff, staff with shaky ethics and unknowing civilians, which can lead to compromised staff who can be the source of contraband.
Contraband control training should include:
- Recognizing and responding to signs of withdrawal and overdose
- How mental illness is impacted by drug and alcohol use
- How to identify, search for and document all forms of contraband
- The importance of thorough screening and searching
- Strategies for recognizing and resisting inmate manipulation
- New technologies that can help facilities fight cellphone smuggling
#2: Mental Illness & Suicide Prevention in Jails
Nearly 15% of male inmates and 30% of female inmates have a serious mental health condition, such as schizophrenia, major depression or bipolar disorder. And every year since 2000, suicide has been the leading cause of death in local jails. A sound understanding of mental illness, warning signs of inmate suicide and how to prevent inmate self-harm is essential for every correctional officer.
Such training should include:
- Recognizing the signs of a suicidal inmate
- Proper procedures for reporting inmates who may be suicidal or experiencing mental health issue
- How to use inmate screening and classification to identify inmates with mental illness or other disabilities
- How the Americans with Disabilities Act applies to jails
- Techniques for handling and interacting with inmates with mental illness
- Identification and understanding of mental disorders and various classes of psychiatric medications
A sound understanding of mental illness, warning signs of suicide and how to prevent inmate self-harm is essential for every correctional officer.
#3: Officer Mental Health
Correctional officers are so focused on inmate safety and health, they rarely take the time to focus on their own mental health, despite the fact that some studies show officers may experience depression and suicidal ideation at higher levels than the general public. Corrections can be an enormously stressful career—one that requires officers to interact with inmates who may challenge them daily, many of whom are constantly testing officers. Officers see inmates at their worst, and it’s easy for burnout, stress and depression to creep in when faced with recidivism and staffing shortages.
Fortunately, correctional leaders can help their staff prepare for the stresses of the job by recognizing when they need assistance and providing resources to help them process traumatic incidents. Behavioral health interventions have proven successful for many first responders. Correctional officers should train frequently on the following topics:
- Managing stress and anxiety and promoting resiliency
- Post-traumatic stress
- The importance of sleep
- Recognizing and preventing burnout
- Suicide prevention
#4: The Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA)
It’s not uncommon for correctional personnel, even leadership, to regard PREA compliance as voluntary. This attitude stems from the fact that there are few current legal sanctions for noncompliance. But failure to comply with PREA standards designed to protect inmates and staff from exploitation, harassment and sexual abuse poses a significant risk to officers and facilities.
PREA training for staff is a necessity and should include:
- The importance of addressing sexual safety in jails and the possible impacts of failing to comply
- Preparing for a PREA audit
- Protecting LGBTQ and transgender inmates
- The necessity of training contractors, volunteers and other personnel
- Common PREA facility trouble spots
#5: Staff and Inmate Contact
The jail environment requires inmates and correctional officers to interact in ways that can test the boundaries of a professional relationship. Inmates and officers are often in close contact and inmates have plenty of time to devise ways to test correctional staff. In addition, emotions can run high in jail facilities and inmates and correctional staff can easily find themselves caught up emotionally with one another.
For this reason, correctional officers must train constantly on the proper policies and procedures for inmate and staff contact. This training should cover:
- How to take control of inmate housing units in a professional manner
- Ethical behavior for correctional officers
- The importance of maintaining boundaries and controlling one’s ego
- How inmates target and manipulate staff and safeguards and methods to resist the inmate manipulator
- Warning signs a correctional officer may be compromised
The challenge in corrections is not in identifying topics to train on, it’s prioritizing time and resources to cover the many subjects that can lead to high-risk situations for correctional officers. Hitting these five topics is a great place to start.
Looking for resources to provide such training? CorrectionsOne Academy offers full-length courses for many of these topics.