Wednesday, May 22, 2019

CO Training Doesn't End After Orientation

Prison guard tower
Correctional officers (COs) face dangerous situations every day. The 428,000 COs tasked with overseeing 2.3 million incarcerated individuals in this country are well aware of the stresses and risks of the job.

Let's break down the numbers. Correctional institutions have a higher rate of nonfatal workplace-related injuries (7.9 per 100 full-time workers) than ferrous metal foundries (7.4), sawmills (5.9), coal mines (3.7), and forestry and logging operations (3.1). In fact, the national average across all sectors is 3.1 — less than half of what COs face every day.

It would stand to reason that occupations with a high amount of risk, such as being a CO, would warrant a high amount of training. After all, commercial pilots, law enforcement patrol officers, and military soldiers receive extensive training before going out into the world and being entrusted with others' lives.

Unfortunately, that's not always the case for COs. Prisons and jails across the country are filled to the brim with inmates, while a shortage of COs is leaving gaps that are being filled by tired and overworked COs or, in a move that's becoming more common, inexperienced support staff. In some states and facilities, new COs are rushed through a basic orientation class then thrown to the wolves.

The realities of your staffing needs might prevent you from providing COs with much more than orientation before they're sent inside, but that doesn't mean training should stop there. It's more important than ever to maintain routine training — even if it's revisiting basic security processes like key management — for new and experienced COs alike.

Here are some areas where routine training is critical:

Defusing Dangerous Situations


Your COs will inevitably face dangerous situations that could escalate into fights, attacks, or riots. Sometimes it's better to be the brains in the situation than the brawn. Training on how to defuse dangerous situations helps COs keep the peace. A course on crisis intervention, for example, helped Deputy Warden Robert Montoya stay calm while negotiating with inmates during the New Mexico State Penitentiary riot in 1980.

Surviving When the Worst Happens


Physical attacks are going to happen, and COs need to be prepared for how to react. Hand-to-hand combat is probably part of your basic training program for COs, but it's an area that should get frequent refreshing. The ability to escape an attack and de-escalate the situation should be muscle memory. This skill is especially important for the support staff filling shortage gaps since inmates will anticipate they can take advantage of staff members' inexperience.

Catching Smuggled Contraband


From weapons and drugs to food and cell phones, there are any number of things your facility considers contraband, and keeping those items out is a growing challenge. Outsiders — and even insiders — are always searching for and evolving ways to get contraband inside. Routine training should cover the latest methods for smuggling contraband, such as drones, and reinforce the consequences for COs who are caught involved in smuggling.

Maintaining Security Processes


All it takes is one little slipup to give an inmate a chance to escape or instigate problems. Consider a scenario where a cell key is lost by a rookie CO. How soon would your key management officer know the key is missing? How much time and money would you waste rekeying cells because the CO was careless or wasn't held accountable? From making sure gates are closed to practicing sound key management, all security processes should get routine training refreshers.

Even if your COs get extensive training before their first day on the job, it's still important to reinforce these areas. COs must do their job right day in and day out, and even one mistake can lead to an attack or escape attempt. What do you do to make sure your COs always follow procedures?