Correctional facilities are stressful places. Correctional officers (COs) must deal with the worst society has to offer on a daily basis and face one of the highest rates of nonfatal workplace-related injuries in the nation. Though pay rates have improved in recent years, they still lag behind the national average.
These things contribute to high turnover and chronic understaffing — and stressed COs. Excessive stress can be detrimental to professional performance and personal lives. And of course mistakes inside a prison can have dire consequences.
For example, a key left unattended can be quickly and quietly swiped by a passing inmate. Depending on what that key goes to, that inmate could have easy access to a cell, a medicine cabinet, or any other number of mission-critical assets that can be used against a CO.
Managing stress can improve your staff's effectiveness and prevent mistakes, helping to make your COs happier, healthier, and safer.
So what can be done to prevent mistakes and reduce stress? Here are some tips.
One of the simplest ways to make life easier for COs and prevent mistakes is to take a look at your current operating procedures. Many of your processes were probably set in stone years ago and haven’t changed much since. Are you certain those processes are the most efficient way for your COs to do their job today? There are tools available to help you automate certain tasks, giving your COs a break and making your facility more secure.
One area you can automate is securing and checking out keys or assets like radios. Using pegboards or cabinets with paper access logs can lead to big headaches when the logs aren’t being completed correctly every time. Consider using an electronic key and asset control system that automatically logs every time a CO accesses a key or an asset secured in a connected locker, preventing mistakes and giving supervisors a quick and easy way to run audits and know exactly who has items.
If you do introduce a new tool for improving operations, be sure you keep staff trained to get the most out of it, which brings us to the next tip.
Offer Targeted Training
Training plays a critical role in everything that happens at a correctional facility, but unfortunately the immediate need for guards has sometimes led to extended training falling to the wayside as COs are rushed into duty. Training must continue after orientation, especially if new policies and procedures are introduced.
If you bring a new tool into your facility, be sure the vendor offers a way to keep staff trained on the system. You also need buy-in from your supervisors, who will make sure the tools are being used correctly and in a secure manner. Failing to use a system’s features, such as alerts when keys or assets aren’t returned in time, can still leave you in a dangerous spot if a key were to go missing.
If you aren’t addressing your staff’s needs, including training on new processes, you’re simply setting yourself up for more turnover.
Promote Staff Wellness
Hollywood’s depiction of COs is often that of a tough and burly man who doesn’t back down from anything. While your COs are certainly tough for dealing with what they do day in and day out, they are still human. Stress and pressure can get to them as much as anybody else in any other line of work.
If possible, offer further training courses on managing stress and de-escalating problems with other people, including inmates and fellow staff members. The more effectively people can work together, the more efficient your facility will be. Also consider coordinating discounts with local gyms or health spas to promote a healthy and well staff.
Correctional facilities can be a tough place to be every day, but you should keep an eye toward make life easier for your COs. Tools that work for them and not against them, proper training, and a focus on improving general wellness can equip your COs for a safer and more enriching job experience.
Read our whitepaper “How Key Control Helps Corrections Staff Cope” for more information on improving your guards’ lives inside.