Working In Corrections
Correction officer, guard and detention officer are the few titles given to the men and women that assist in keeping detained and convicted criminals behind bars. Though most think this is an easy life there are great risks involved as with any law enforcement career. No you don't sit around for eight to twelve hours reading books, talking on the phone or surfing the Internet.
Let me first introduce you to the proccessing of becoming a Corrections officer.
- You decide to apply at a county jail or a state prison
- You get the interview, depending on which facility you applied at this could be a first interview or a second interview
- Also depending on which facility and state your trying to work at, you may have to take a COBAT (Corrections officer basic ability test). If taken prior to applying for a position you have 2 years from the date you took the test to use it
- Some facilities require you to run an obstacle course. This course can be anything from climbing steps, crawling under poles, jumping fences and pulling a weighted dummy from point A to point B.
The next interview process is a questionnaire done by Captains, Sergeants or other officers from the facility your trying to start work in. These questions can range from a "What if" situation to a "Tell us about your self and why you want to be in corrections?"
- You have finally gotten a letter offering employment, now you have to go in for a drug test and sometimes blood work.
- Now depending on the facilities employment requirements, you may have a psychological exam. This is usually done in two parts, the written exam and then an actual talk to a psychiatric
If you've made it thru all the requirements as well as a background check, you should get a formal offer of employment. This does not mean you are a Certified Corrections Officer. Most facilities will place you under other experienced officers for a week or so for you to get a feel of what you will be doing after you attend training and pass the final exam. Usual this training is done thru a college so you'll have to wait until the next classes start, at which time you will be on a shift under the direct supervision of a certified officer.
The Basic Corrections Certification Classes
These classes are done in a classroom environments for the most part. You will take 552 hour basic corrections academy classes to include:
- Criminal justice legal 1 and 2
- Criminal justice communications
- Emergency preparedness
- Interpersonal skills 1 and 2
- Firearms training
- Defensive tactics
- First aid
- Correctional operations
After completing and passing these classes you will have to take a state exam, which you must pay for. After passing the exam you are now a "Certified Corrections Officer" and will be placed under a trainer at the facility you are working at. Usually this training is one week to two weeks sometimes a month, it all depends on which facility your at.
Being a Corrections Officer (based upon personal experience)
Remember, the inmates/detainees do not know you, yes they have seen you walking around in the company of other officers. Your training officer has introduced you. The inmates/detainees know you are fresh meat, and they will try you to see how far they can push you. This is where you have to make your rules and enforce them. Upon being assigned to new areas I would call a "pod" or "dorm" meeting, and have my list of can and can not do's. During this meeting introduce yourself and remind them of the facility rules and a few of your own rules if needed. Be strait forward with the inmates and watch your wording. Usually a straight forward attitude will work wonders.You want to earn respect, they give you respect usually you won't have to many problems.
I have seen some officers enter a new dorm with a "gun ho" attitude. In my opinion this is a dangerous officer and a danger to the facility. As a Correction Officer you are not there to punish, the punishment for inmates are that they are in prison/jail doing their time as set by a judge, as an officer you are there to make sure the inmates/detainees are following the rules set by the facility and to insure their safety as well as the safety of others. The only time an inmate must be punished is if they break the rules. These punishments can vary. Some examples are:
- Taking away a certain privilege (T.V., going outside, phone call)
- Locking the inmate in there cell for a period of time, sometimes 2hrs to 24 hours
Every institutions has certain rules that if broken result in more severe forms of punishment. A few examples are:
- Unauthorized contraband
Usually inmates that break these rules will be taken from their dorm or pod and locked into a confinement cell to await a hearing. You as an officer must write a report detailing the infringement that warrants for confinement. Depending on the situation, for example two inmates fighting, this can be a criminal misdemeanor that will require reporting and a court date.
If an inmate or two are having problems pulling them out of the area and counsel with them. This can usually straighten out what's going on making your shift easier. I have noticed most of the time just talking to an individual helps to keep any potential infractions to a minimum.
As an officer you make most of the calls on your assigned area. This can be anything from what is watched on T.V. to locking down a dorm/pod for an hour due to a search.
As I mentioned before, the inmates/detainees are still people. They have feelings and problems just like everyone else and in most cases they will try to manipulate you. Especially if your a new officer. They want to see what they can get away with,
- Turning up the T.V. loud
- Asking for extra food, blankets, ect.
- Asking to make a phone call
Those are just some of the things inmates will try to get and they know they are not allowed to do these things. Most of the time they will try to use what I call the "pity" plea. "My child, husband/wife is in the hospital, I really need to call and make sure every thing's OK." A situation such as this can be handled yourself, depending on what your supervisor is like. My supervisors allowed me to make a call on certain situations. I'd get the hospital information and call the hospital identifying who I was and why I was calling. If the person in question was admitted I'd allow the inmate to make a 5 minute free call to whom they needed to speak with. If in doubt about what to do calling a supervisor is best. In some institutions a supervisor should be notified and depending on the rules, they make the call.
Remember most of the time your supervisor or other officers are there to help you. If you can not figure out what to do or have a question about the way a situation should be handled don't be afraid to ask. I was lucky to have great supervisors and other fellow officers, any time I needed to ask anything one phone call or radio call and they would give me advise. Even more experienced officers need advise sometimes.
The risks involved
There are several risks involved being an officer. Your exposed to several different individuals. Some are incarcerated for minor offences
- Drug charges
- Prostitution (yes both male and females)
Others for more serious crimes
All inmates/detainees are classified depending on the crime they are in the facility for and the mental/medical state they are in.
- High risk
And every one of them can become a risk to other inmates and officers. Most are ideal inmates, they follow the rules and don't cause any problems. But several factors can contribute to a sudden outburst.
- Jane Doe is a perfect inmate, does what she is told to do and follows the rules. Jane Doe is awaiting trial for selling cocaine and prostitution. During a medical check up Jane Doe finds out she has HIV. Jane Doe is placed under 24 hour observation in the medical unit until she can talk to a counselor. Jane Doe is placed back in an open population dorm. A few days later Jane Doe goes to her court hearing and is sentenced to 15 years. Jane Doe is returned to the dorm, seeming depressed, where she goes into her cell. The officer at the time is given a few details about the court hearing. A few hours later a new officer is assigned to the dorm when an inmate alerts the officer that something is wrong with Jane Doe. The officer enters Jane Doe's cell and sees that Jane Doe has hung herself with sheets.
Yes this does happen. But the inmate can behave a different way.
- John Doe is awaiting trial for being an accessory to murder. His lawyer tells him everything will work out and he will only be looking at spending 2 year at most in prison. John Doe goes to court and is sentenced to 50 years. John Doe turns around while in court and hits his lawyer. The officers assigned as court security attempt to restrain John Doe.
These are just a few examples of how a seemingly calm inmate can turn to a violent inmate, either against themselves or others.
As an officer you are at risk to being exposed to many types of viruses and diseases.
- Hepatitis B
- Hepatitis C
You have to take precautions at all times. Wearing gloves to handle inmate, wearing a scrub mask when dealing with a potential T.B. inmate and washing your hands. For Hepatitis B they do offer a three series vaccine shot, I strongly recommend getting this and its usually paid for by the facility. This is one of those jobs where if you take a shower before work, you will want to take a shower after work.
Use of Forces
As I'm sure you have heard of officers being attacked while working. This can and does happen and usually without provocations. Your doing a check on the inmates in the dorm, one runs out with a piece of metal (a shank) and tries to stab you with it. Or an inmate just comes out of the blue and tries to strike at you.
You get called to assist with a violent inmate so medical can give them a shot to calm him down. Usually a Sargent or Lieutenant will be the one in control of a situation such as this. When arriving on the scene you are told your role in the use of force, this can be holding the legs or applying handcuffs. The inmate is extremely violent and begins to fight officers trying to restrain him, you get kicked in the face breaking your nose.
Use of Forces follow a matrix. At the bottom you can view a photo of the matrix used by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.
Usually the situation can be defused just by simply communicating with the inmate. The use of deadly force is only a last resort and that is when the lives of yourself or others are in the equation. Any confrontation requires you to think fast to minimize risk factors to yourself and others. If it requires immediate back up or assistance from other officer, most radios that you carry have a button that is an automatic call for help. This is known as a "man down" button in some cases and will alert the main command center that an officer needs assistance NOW. This is only used when you have no other options such as backing out of the area to a safe place. Pressing this button will alert all officers and all officers able to respond will respond.
If a situation can be handled without force, the better, and the less paper work needs to be filed. Usually just the presence of an officer walking around doing their routine checks and talking with the inmates is enough.
I worked in Corrections for almost 10 years. In my years working for Corrections I have only had 4 actual fights in my assigned area's. Any other uses of force were done while trying to restrain an inmate for medical reasons. And only 1 time have I had to result to use of force due to an inmate trying to attack me (I thank the officer and Sargent that assisted me at that time) quick thinking on all our parts allowed none of use to be hurt.
The personal and mental aspects of being a Corrections Officer
Being a corrections officer deals a lot of mental stress, this stress can reflect in your personal life and your professional life. I'll give some examples
- Your married, have a child and you work the midnight shift, for 8 to 12 hours. You get off work go home spend some time with your spouse and child before sleeping for 3 hours. You have to be at an appointment for your child and your spouse has to work. There is no one else who can take your child for the appointment and your spouse gets off work an hour before you have to return to work. You are use to this routine, getting 3 to 4 hours of sleep a day, or so you think. At work your tired and not focused, your thinking about what your missing with your child/spouse and how you'll make it up on your day off. This keeps going on for a few months. You've lost weight and your drinking a lot on your days off.
- Your going thru a divorce. Your trying to keep your personal life out of your work, but the divorce is not pretty and your soon to be ex-spouse is trying to get you for everything you own. Your moody at work and taking it out on other officers and inmates.
All of these are what psychologist call "stress factors". The majority of the time you won't even know your under a lot of stress or getting depressed, even though all the signs point to it. If something is going on in your personal life, it is best to talk to someone and get help. These stress factors can and will affect your work and in some cases make it dangerous. Most of the time your supervisor is a good person to talk to. They can arrange for you to be placed in a less stressful area or allow you to get a few days off so you don't have to worry about work.
The majority of the time other officers don't know what your going thru. They see you as just being moody and brush it off. They don't know that when you get home your drinking more alcohol than you use to, or that your now yelling at your spouse of 5 years. If you have a good supervisor they will notice the changes, even though they don't seem to notice. Usually they want you to come to them in private to talk.
Most institutions have a contract with a mental health facility, and they allow officers free counseling 4 times a year. This contract is in place for you as an officer to talk to someone. In my opinion a psychiatric counseling session should be mandatory at least once a year, the same way drug tests are done. Most individuals will not take the first step in countering stress and will allow it to build until they can't take it anymore. Once it builds to a point, your work and your personal life start to suffer.
I'd like to thank the Sergeants, Lieutenants and Captain that helped me thru a very stressful time in my life. Without them stepping in I honestly don't know what would of happen to me. They are there for you to talk to and most will go out of their way to help you.
For those who are looking at starting a career in any law enforcement profession. Think of all that a career like this entitles. There will be risks involved, physical and mental. No matter how well you think your prepared there is always that chance for something to go wrong. Talk to others that have worked in law enforcement fields, get an honesty opinion. Yes the money is decent so are the benefits and the retirement is good. But you have to have a certain mind set to be able to last in these fields.