Creating a Model Correctional Officer Training Academy

Creating a Model Correctional
Officer Training Academy:
Implications from a National Survey
Alexander L. Burton, Jennifer L. Lux, Francis T. Cullen, William T. Miller
University of Cincinnati
Velmer S. Burton, Jr.
University of Arkansas at Little Rock
which eventually led to more than 2.4 million
offenders being incarcerated on any given day
in the United States, has justifiably earned
considerable policy analysis (Petersilia &
Cullen, 2015). With the increased inmate population, scholars have also focused in detail
on the taxing conditions inside American
prisons that negatively affect the health, safety,
and future criminality of the incarcerated
(Cullen, Jonson, & Stohr, 2014; Simon, 2014).
Equally important, however, is the plight
of those who, day in and day out, must not
only survive inside prison walls but engage
in the daunting occupational task of managing this inmate nationcorrectional officers.
Although research on correctional officers
has expanded (see, e.g., Johnson, Rocheleau,
& Martin, 2017; Steiner & Meade, 2014), one
area has received relatively little attention:
the extent and nature of the job training that
officers receive. By contrast, information on
police training is more common (see, e.g.,
Reaves, 2009).
In this context, this project was undertaken
to assess the current status of correctional
officer training through a national survey of
state departments of correction. This assessment is then used to suggest what a model
training program delivered by a Correctional
Officer Training Academy might entail. The
larger purpose of this study is to call attention to the need to take stock of the training
prison guards receive and to develop ideas on
how such training may be improved upon in
the future. In particular, the potential role of
officers in providing treatment is considered
(see Toch & Klofas, 1982).
The issue of training takes on importance when it is realized that approximately
428,870 people hold the title of correctional
officer/prison guard in America (Bureau of
Labor Statistics, 2017). The number of correctional officers a state employs generally
depends on the size of the inmate population
housed in its jails and prisons. The states with
the greatest numbers of correctional officers
include Texas, California, Florida, New York,
and Pennsylvania (Bureau of Labor Statistics,
2016). For all states, there are minimum
qualifications for education level and age. To
be qualified to become a correctional officer
at a state-level institution, an applicant must
have at minimum a high school diploma or
its equivalent and be at least 18 years of age
(Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2017).
The Role of the
Correctional Officer
The primary role of a correctional officer in
a jail or prison is to maintain security and
safety by monitoring and guarding inmates
(Osborne, 2014). This role, however, is multidimensional, encompassing much more than
managing inmates. Correctional officers must
complete daily custodial tasks (e.g., guard cell
blocks), aid in offender programming, and
work with special populations (e.g., mentally
ill offenders, drug offenders, elderly offenders)
(Johnson & Price, 1981; Scott, 2006). To meet
these diverse job responsibilities, correctional
officers must be equipped with a spectrum of
skills. For example, they must be able to work
with people from different cultures and ethnic backgrounds, lead and supervise others,
and make quick decisions in a stressful environment (Office of Personnel Management,
As a prelude to an assessment of training
nationwide, this section will describe the various duties and responsibilities that comprise
the correctional officer role. This role can be
categorized into four primary functions: (1)
the management of inmates, (2) how officers maintain security and safety, (3) aiding
offender rehabilitation, and (4) managing
special populations in prisons.
Inmate Management
Much of a correctional officers work is characterized by a caretaking role (Scott, 2006).
According to Scott (2006), the caretaking
role of a correctional officer involves a set of
routine, often tedious, tasks that must be carried out daily. Such tasks include locking and
unlocking cell doors; checking the functionality of locks, bars, and cells; conducting security
roll calls; taking requests from prisoners; doing
laundry; and sometimes making meals for
inmates. Correctional officers are also responsible for assisting in the booking and receiving
of new inmates, transporting inmates from
court to jail or prison, and making sure their
respective cell block meets state-mandated
safety and security standards (Bureau of Labor
Statistics, 2017). To maintain general security,
correctional officers must pay careful attention
to the whereabouts of all inmates within their
26 FEDERAL PROBATION Volume 81 Number 1
June 2018
cell block. This responsibility involves tasks
such as taking head counts, watching surveillance camera footage, and conducting security
walkthroughs (Scott, 2006).
Officer Safety and Security
Correctional officers have the duty of keeping themselves, inmates, and other staff in
the institution safe (Dvoskin & Spiers, 2004;
Ferdik, Smith, & Applegate, 2014; Osborne,
2014). To achieve safety, officers regularly
check cells for contraband (e.g., makeshift
knives, drugs), ensure locks and cell bars
are not jammed or weakened, and maintain
sanitary living conditions for the inmates.
Further, officers regularly inspect mail coming in and out of the prison and check visitors
for illegal substances or contraband (Bureau
of Labor Statistics, 2017; U.S. Department
of Justice, 2003). A study conducted by the
U.S. Department of Justice (2003) found
that inmates visitors and the mail were the
primary ways in which drugs enter correctional institutions. Thus, correctional officers
must remain cognizant of visitors and the
mail received by the institution to ensure
safety and security. Additionally, officers are
often required to practice responses to emergency situations. For example, mock riots
and escapee scenarios are exercises that are
regularly practiced to protect prison staff and
inmates as well as maintain public safety (U.S.
Department of Justice, 1992).
In some situations, officers must confront
disruptive inmates who violate the institutions
rules. Officers must write reports and document all details of these altercations. Officers
have the authority to discipline inmates who
commit infractions by transferring them to
other cells, suspending privileges, and/or
assigning disciplinary duties (U.S. Department
of Justice, 1992). When officers notice significant behavioral changes in inmates, they may
increase the level of supervision toward those
inmates and keep records of their behaviors.
This is done in an attempt to prevent more
serious events from occurring, such as an
assault on a staff member or other inmates
(U.S. Department of Justice, 1992).
Notably, an inherent risk of working in a
correctional institution is the possibility of
becoming a victim of assault or other crime
(Konda, Tiesman, Reichard, & Hartley, 2013).
Examining statistics of assaults on correctional
officers, Lahm (2009) found that most assaults
on correctional officers are very personal (i.e.,
not random), and that prison violence can
be attributed to overcrowding, lack of inmate
programs, and longer mandatory sentences
for inmates. Regarding non-fatal injuries
experienced by correctional officers, Konda
and colleagues (2013) found that transportation, , and
overexertion were responsible for most of the
non-fatal injuries in their sample.
Similar to Lahm (2009), Konda and colleagues (2013) found that being a correctional
officer remains a dangerous profession in the
United States. In 2011, work-related injuries/
illness that required correctional officers to
miss at least one day of work occurred at a rate
of 544 per 10,000 full-time employees. This
ratio is more than four times greater than that
of all other workers from other professions
who missed a day of work due to work-related
injuries/illness (117 per 10,000) (Konda et
al., 2013). If we focus only on assaults and
violence, correctional officers are injured by
assaults and violent acts at a rate of 254 per
10,000 full-time employees. In contrast, the
average rate for all other occupations in the
United States is roughly 7 per 10,000 full-time
employees (Konda et al., 2013). The only
profession with higher rates of violent assaults
and on-the-job injuries is law enforcement
(Gordon, Proulx, & Grant, 2013).
Officers must also confront the fears of
victimization by inmates, which can have
adverse effects on officers (Gordon & Baker,
2017). Fear of victimization has been found to
increase job stress and to reduce both officers
organizational commitment and their overall
job satisfaction (Cullen, Link, Wolfe, & Frank,
1985). Taxman and Gordon (2009) reported
that such fear is associated with the race of the
officer and the security level of the institution
in which they are employed. Officers fear of
victimization may also influence how they
work with inmates, leading them to interact
negatively with inmates and take a more
defensive approach in non-confrontational
encounters (Gordon & Baker, 2017). Fear
could also inhibit officers from meeting their
responsibilities related to human services,
such as modeling prosocial behavior or being
a caretaker for inmates (Johnson & Price,
1981; Scott, 2006).
Correctional Officers Role
in Rehabilitation
Correctional officers can potentially play
a meaningful role in the rehabilitation of
inmates (Johnson et al., 2017; Schaefer, 2018).
Teske and Williamson (1979), for example, found that correctional officers tended
to believe they were the most important
individuals during inmates rehabilitation process. By monitoring inmates behaviors daily
and using progressive sanctions and rewards,
correctional officers could aid in offender
behavioral change while outside the bounds
of treatment groups and counseling sessions.
Because correctional officers spend the bulk
of their time with inmates, opportunities
emerge for the two groups to form relationships. Through these relationships, the officer
may better understand the risks and needs of
inmates and be in a position to advise inmates
of the treatment and programs available to
them within their institution.
In many states, correctional officers serve
as liaisons between the institution and the
community to help released inmates integrate into treatment centers, halfway houses,
employment, and ultimately back into the
community (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2017).
In addition, officers may assist inmates with
registering for GED or college courses, identifying employment opportunities, scheduling
counseling appointments, and/or matching
them to appropriate treatment and services
provided by their institution (Bureau of Labor
Statistics, 2017).
In sum, officers may serve as important
figures in inmates lives. To some inmates, correctional officers may be seen as role models,
helping them cope with many of the hardships of life behind bars. As Johnson and Price
(1981) suggest, the correctional officer may
shepherd inmates through periods of serious
and potentially disabling stress.
Working with Special Populations
The inmate population in U.S. prisons is heterogeneous (Berg & DeLisi, 2006). Inmates
differ racially and ethnically, in age, in cognitive abilities and challenges, and in risks and
needs. Accordingly, the U.S. prison population
is composed of large numbers of mentally ill,
elderly, and gang-affiliated inmates (Crawley,
2006). In addition, some inmates enter prison
with serious and infectious diseases that
require special accommodations (Potter &
Rosky, 2014).
Correctional officers are confronted with
the task of managing such special populations. For example, according to Dvoskin and
Spiers (2004), officers use specific strategies to
work with mentally ill inmates, such as psychotherapy. An officer may attend an inmates
consultation with a mental health staff member, identify special housing and behavioral
programs to facilitate the inmates success
while in the institution, and/or submit reports
28 FEDERAL PROBATION Volume 82 Number 1
to doctors to have psychotropic medications
prescribed (see Dvoskin & Spiers, 2004).
Elderly inmates are another special population that officers must manage, being
cognizant of age-specific needs and problems.
Thus, the elderly have different nutritional
requirements than younger inmates and have
body temperatures that regulate and react
differently than those of younger inmates
(Cummings, 1999). They may also have diseases that could cause them to act out (e.g.,
Alzheimers) and suffer from brittle bones,
slower reaction times, and poor eyesight
and hearing (Cummings, 1999). These issues
take on added salience given that 10 percent
of the state prison population is 55 years or
older, a result of the 200 percent growth in
this populations incarceration between 1993
and 2013 (Carson & Sabol, 2016). Some
estimates conclude that by the year 2030,
one in three inmates will be 50 years or older
(Allen, Latessa, & Ponder, 2016). Thus, correctional officers need to be trained to effectively
work with and manage larger elderly inmate
Prisons can also be breeding grounds
for illnesses and infectious diseases, given
inmates proximity to one another, shared
hygiene spaces (e.g., showers and restrooms),
and the continuous influx of offenders into the
institution who may suffer from poor health
prior to incarceration (Massoglia, 2008).
When managing inmates with infectious diseases, correctional officers must ensure that
all health and safety standards within their
institutions are met. In addition, officers are
required to submit health, safety, and sanitation reports to the appropriate departments
on a regular basis (U.S. Department of Justice,
1992). By doing so, diseases are less likely to
spread, and inmates can receive the medications they need to treat such diseases.
Coping with a Challenging Job
Working as a correctional officer not only
may be dangerous but also may elicit negative affective responses. Correctional officers
are regularly depicted as being in stressful
roles (Armstrong et al., 2015; Cullen et al.,
1985; Griffin, Hogan, Lambert, Tucker, &
Baker, 2010). Role ambiguity and conflict,
including the difficulty of balancing custodial and human services expectations, are
linked to correctional officer stress (Cullen et
al., 1985; Hepburn & Albonetti, 1980). Role
conflict has been related to officers job dissatisfaction, interpretion of their jobs as being
dangerous, alienation from the organization,
and heightened levels of work and life stress
(Grossi, Keil, & Vito, 1996; Hepburn &
Albonetti, 1980; Lambert et al., 2009).
Prison crowding is another factor associated with correctional officer stress, a
relevant consideration given that many state
prisons operate 200 percent to 300 percent
above recommended maximum occupancies
(Carson, 2014). Research has found that in
overcrowded institutions, correctional officers report elevated levels of stress, concerns
about their own safety, and an impaired
ability to perform their job the way that they
would prefer (Martin, Lichtenstein, Jenkot, &
Forde, 2012). Crowding may also negatively
affect officers ability to effectively manage the
inmates in their institution, a factor that could
compromise their ability to maintain safety
and securityprimary functions of their jobs
(Steiner & Wooldredge, 2008).
Notably, job burnout has been linked
to employment as a correctional officer.
Bourbonnais, Malenfant, Vzina, Jauvin, and
Brisson (2005), for example, found burnout among correctional officers to be nearly
twice as high as that of employees in other
professions. As noted, prison work in general
can be dissatisfying (Cullen, Link, Cullen,
Wolfe, 1989; Leip & Stinchcomb, 2016). Some
research suggests that educational attainment
may increase job dissatisfaction, because
officers believe they are not afforded the
opportunity to use the skills and knowledge
acquired in their schooling (Grossi et al., 1996;
Lindquist & Whitehead, 1986). Other factors
associated with increased job dissatisfaction
include longevity of employment at a single
institution, low salaries, variable shift times
and hours, and working during understaffed
shifts (Marshia, LaPlante, Allen, & Metcalf,
2005; Swenson, Waseleski, & Hartl, 2008).
Finally, correctional officers may experience heightened mental and physical health
risks. Research reports that the risk of suicide
among correctional officers is 39 percent
higher than that of the general U.S. labor force
(Stack & Tsoudis, 1997); in addition, officers
experience high rates of depressive behaviors and symptoms (Obidoa, Reeves, Warren,
Reisine, & Cherniack, 2011) as well as the
likelihood of contracting physical illnesses,
including hypertension, stomach ulcers, and
alcoholism (Cheek & Miller, 1982). Recent
research has documented that officers also
have high levels of post-traumatic stress syndrome (Violanti, 2017).
The Need for Training
The concerns and challenges mentioned
above point to the growing importance of
correctional officers need for comprehensive
training programs. To help cope effectively
with job demands, it is vital that training
programs prepare officers for what they will
experience within the prison. Thus, correctional officers should be trained and equipped
with the necessary skill sets to manage inmates
effectively, keep their institution safe and
orderly, deliver rehabilitation and treatment
services, and work with and manage special
inmate populations. Among the few studies
that exist, previous research suggests that
correctional officers who receive quality job
training tend to report higher levels of job
satisfaction and organizational commitment
(Armstrong, Atkin-Plunk, & Wells, 2015).
Quality job training has also been linked to
officers having positive sentiments toward
their jobs and less feelings of job burnout
(Lambert, Paoline, & Hogan, 2006).
To develop a portrait of the training received
by newly hired correctional officers in the
United States, a national survey sponsored
by the University of Cincinnati Corrections
Institute (UCCI) was administered between
2016 and 2017. Directors of departments of
corrections training academies from all 50
states were contacted by email and asked to
participate in the study. The directors were
surveyed due to their knowledge about their
states correctional officer training programs,
including knowledge of the curricula and
procedures. Thus, given their positions, we
assumed that they would be best positioned to
serve as their states representative and able to
describe the training provided by their individual states. The responses thus are presented
as data pertaining to states training activities.
Potential respondents were provided with
a link to an online survey through Qualtrics,
a web-based survey tool used to conduct
survey research, evaluations, and other datacollection activities. Respondents were also
given the option to complete the survey in
paper form or by telephone. Training academy
directors who failed to respond to the initial
email were subsequently contacted by phone,
twice if necessary. Altogether, 44 out of 50
state training academy directors responded
to the survey, yielding a response rate of 88
percent (32 by Qualtrics, 11 by paper, and one
by telephone).
June 2018
A 66-question survey was developed to identify specific methods and topics that each
state incorporates into their training programs
for newly hired correctional officers. The
Correctional Officer Training Questionnaire
was divided into two general sections: (1)
general information about characteristics
of correctional officer training (e.g., facility
characteristics, training characteristics, and
recruiting tactics) and (2) training content,
including the topics and subject areas in which
new correctional officers receive training (e.g.,
inmate management, officer safety, security,
and practical skills, history and development
of corrections, ethics, and professionalism,
criminal justice systems, laws, rights, and
investigations, and special populations and
special topics).
General Training Characteristics
We assessed five types of general training characteristics: (1) location of training, (2) training
hours, (3) training methods, (4) continuing
in-service training, and (5) the recruitment
process. The measures used to probe these
areas are described below. When appropriate,
reference is made to tables where response
categories are listed (though the tables are not
presented until the Results sections).
First, we asked directors whether their
state has a training academy to train newly
hired correctional officers. Respondents were
prompted to check yes or no. If no was
selected, respondents were directed to write
in the location of the training and the agency
responsible for conducting the training.
Second, the survey measured the length of
correctional officer training through several
questions. Directors were instructed to report
how many hours of training newly hired
correctional officers were required to attend.
They were asked to report the number of basic
training hours and the number of hours designated for on-the-job training (see Table 1).
Third, training methods refer to the techniques and materials used to instruct new
correctional officers. The respondents were
requested to report all the ways in which
course materials are conveyed (e.g., instructional videos, role plays, PowerPoint lectures).
They were also asked if correctional officers
were required to complete any job shadowing
or pass written examinations prior to independent employment (see Table 2).
Fourth, the survey examined whether
departments were committed to the continuous quality improvement of staff and training
protocols. To do this, we asked respondents to
report the number of months that had passed
since their state had updated their training
curriculum. We also asked whether officers
were required to attend annual in-service
training or booster sessions. If the respondent
answered yes, he or she was prompted to identify how many days this training period lasted.
Fifth, we assessed the process used to recruit
new officers. Recruitment refers to the methods state correctional departments use to fill
openings in correctional officer positions. The
respondents were asked to select all of the
recruiting methods they use from a list provided
in the questionnaire. Examples of recruiting
strategies listed on the survey included job fairs,
retired military personnel networks, and referrals from current staff (see Table 4).
Training Content
Respondents were surveyed regarding
which subjects new correctional officers
are trained in across five general areas: (1)
inmate management; (2) officer safety, security, and practical skills; (3) the history and
development of corrections, ethics, and professionalism; (4) criminal justice systems,
laws, rights, and investigations; and (5) special
populations and special topics. Under each
subject area, several corresponding topics
were listed. Respondents were thus prompted
to select yes or no to indicate whether new
correctional officers receive training in one or
more of those topics. Selecting yes confirmed
that their state provides training on that topic
area and selecting no confirmed their state
does not provide training on that topic area.
For the special topics and special population
subsection, respondents were requested to
indicate how many hours of training officers
receive on that particular topic area if they
provide training on that topic. Respondents
were also encouraged to identify any topic
areas for which new correctional officers
received training that were not listed within
the five subjects. A brief description of each
subject matter and the topic areas within those
subjects is provided below.
The first subject focused on inmate management and asked respondents to indicate
whether new correctional officers are trained
on topics related to tracking, processing, and
supervising inmates. Topic areas included, for
example, booking/receiving, security and count
procedures, and inmate transport (see Table 5).
The second subject, officer safety, security,
and practical skills, asked respondents whether
new correctional officers are trained on topics
related to enforcing order in the facility in
order to protect themselves and the inmates.
For instance, topic areas within this subject
included use of force, riot control, and cell
extractions (see Table 6).
The third subject focused on the history
and development of corrections, ethics, and
professionalism. Respondents were instructed
to indicate whether new correctional officers
are trained on topics related, for example,
to the history of laws and development of
corrections, professionalism, and the role of
correctional officers (see Table 7).
The fourth subject, criminal justice systems, laws, rights, and investigation, included
topic areas related to the constitutional and
civil rights of inmates and the role of the
criminal justice system. Additional topic areas
within this subject focused on the Prison Rape
Elimination Act (PREA) and whether new
correctional officers are trained in the preparation and presentation of testimony for and
against inmates (see Table 8).
Finally, the fifth subject, special populations and special topics, focused on whether
new correctional officers receive training
related to supervising and managing diverse
inmate groups (e.g., sex offenders, security
threat groups, mentally ill offenders). The
subject also included special topic areas to
determine whether new correctional officers receive training in rehabilitation,
cognitive-behavioral intervention, and/or the
risk-need-responsivity model (see Table 9).
To better assess training efforts within this
subject, respondents were asked to report the
number of hours of training officers receive on
each topic area relevant to programming (i.e.,
treatment) and the number of hours of training officers receive on each topic area relevant
to the management (i.e., control/supervision)
of each type of specialized population/topic
(see Table 10).
Based on the responses of training academy
directors, data are presented on the number
and percentage of states that provide training
in the various topics and areas. The results are
divided into two areas: (1) the characteristics
of where, how long, and by what method the
training occurs and (2) the content of the
training that is delivered.
30 FEDERAL PROBATION Volume 82 Number 1
General Training Characteristics
Training Location
Forty-one of the 44 four responding states
indicated they have training academies for
correctional officer training. Three states
indicated that they do not have a separate correctional training academy. In these instances,
new correctional officer training takes place
at the institution to which new officers as
initially assigned.
Training Hours and Methods
The survey results also revealed that the total
number of required training hours for new
correctional officers varies considerably across
the United States (see Table 1). Specifically,
one state indicated that it requires less than
100 hours of basic training for new correctional officers. A slightly larger group (11
states) indicated that they require between 100
and 199 hours of basic training, followed by 20
states that indicated they require between 200
and 299 hours of basic training. Twelve states
reported that they require over 300 hours of
basic training for new correctional officers.
Too few states reported the number of hours
in that they
provide for newly hired correctional officers,
so we are unable report those results.
Hours of Basic Training at Academies
Training Hours Frequency
99 Hours 1
100 199 Hours 11
200 299 Hours 20
The state directors were also asked about 300 + Hours 12
the methods used by academies to train officers. As shown in Table 2, a large majority
of states use a variety of training methods,
including videos, study guides, lesson plans,
PowerPoints, role playing, case studies, and
skill exercises. The partial exception was
workbooks, but even here 29 of 44 states
reported their use.
Tools used for training newly
hired correctional officers
Training Utilities Frequency Yes Percentage Yes
videos 43 97.7
Study guides 38 86.4
Lesson plans 42 95.5
PowerPoints 44 100
Role plays 42 95.5
Case studies 43 97.7
Workbooks 29 65.9
Skills Exercises 42 95.5
Training Curriculum Details
Training directors were asked to report the
number of months that had passed since their
states training curriculum had been updated.
The answer was an average of 10 months.
Further, respondents were asked if officers
are required to attend annual in-service training or booster sessions. To this inquiry, 43
states reported that correctional officers were
required to attend annual in-service training.
The average length of time reported for this
training was 39 hours a year. This training had
to be completed for officers to maintain good
standing at their institution.
States were also queried about the requirements officers must satisfy prior to full
employment status. One question asked if
officers in the state were required to shadow
a current staff member and, if yes, the amount
of time that shadow period lasted. Table 3
reveals that a substantial number of states (n
= 36) reported that new officers must shadow
a current staff member before they can begin
their job independently. The average length
of time for that shadow period was reported
to be 44 days. In addition, states were asked if
officers were required to pass a written exam
at the conclusion of the training program. As
shown in Table 3, all but one state surveyed
(n = 43) had this requirement. Passing scores
ranged from 70 percent to 80 percent.
Prerequisites to independent employment status
requirements Frequency Yes Percentage Yes Mean days (SD)
Mean score
Must job-shadow current staff* 36 83.7 43.91 days
Pass written exam 43 97.7 73.84 (4.48)
Note: * indicates that percentages were based on 43 cases
States reported that officers are recruited in a
variety of ways. Table 4 reveals, for example,
that all but one state (n = 43) use job fairs
to recruit new officers. Referrals from current staff members was another common
recruiting method, a practice found in 41
states. Additionally, 36 states reported using
multimedia recruiting materials (e.g., online
advertisements, video brochures), while
another 35 states indicated they recruit on
college campuses. The majority of states also
indicated that they recruit retired military
personnel and/or rely on their partnerships
with job services or other recruiting agencies
to recruit new correctional officers (n = 32
and n = 31, respectively). The least common
recruiting method reported by states were
advertisements in either out-of-state publications (n = 22) or local publications (n = 29).
Methods used by states to
recruit new officers
Strategy Frequency Yes Percentage Yes
Retired military
32 72.7
campuses 35 79.5
materials 36 81.8
in local
29 65.9
in out-of-state
22 50.0
with job
services or
other recruiting
31 70.5
Referrals from
current staff 41 93.2
Job fairs 43 97.7
Training Content: Subjects
and Topic Areas
Inmate Management
Correctional officers receive training for many
duties that are involved with the management
of inmates. As seen in Table 5, every state in
the sample reported that officers are trained
in security and count procedures and on the
topic of inmate discipline and grievances.
Additionally, a large number of states reported
June 2018
that they train officers in the areas of inmate
transport and inmate supervision (n = 41 and
n = 43, respectively). Inmate hygiene and facility sanitation concerns are addressed in the
training programs of about two-thirds of the
states surveyed. Of the items in this training
topic area, the topic in which the fewest number of states provide training is the booking
and receiving of inmates. About one-third (n
= 16) of states reported that they train officers
in this job task.
Training in inmate management
Training Area Frequency Yes Percentage Yes
receiving 16 36.4
and court
42 95.5
supervision 43 97.7
Inmate hygiene
and facility
30 68.2
programs and
37 84.1
discipline and
44 100
Inmate transport 41 93.2
Officer Safety, Security, and Practical
A substantial number of states reported that
they train officers in safety, security, and
practical skills. As seen in Table 6, for example,
all states surveyed indicated that they train
officers in basic safety and security procedures,
use of force, area, cell, and body searches, and
inmate discipline and grievances. In addition, 42 states provide training for addressing
contraband, and 39 states provide firearms
training. The training area receiving the least
attention in this domain was peace officer
standards and training (POST); 34 states do
not provide training in this topic. Another
area of training that showed some inconsistency was the task of cell extractions, with only
30 states providing such training for newly
hired correctional officers.
Training in officer security
and practical skills
Skill Area Frequency Yes Percentage Yes
Basic officer
safety and
44 100
Use of force 44 100
Riot control 27 61.4
Contraband* 42 97.7
Area, cell, and
body searches 44 100
Cell extractions 30 68.2
Firearm training 39 88.6
Peace officer
training 10 22.7
Note: * indicates that percentages were based
on 43 cases
History and Development
of Corrections, Ethics, and
Table 7 reveals that most states train correctional officers in the areas of ethics,
professionalism, and the role of being a correctional officer. Specifically, 42 states reported
that officers receive training in professionalism, and 43 states train officers in ethics.
Additionally, 36 states train officers on the
role of a correctional officers job in the prison
system. Also, Table 7 indicates that nearly onethird of the states surveyed (n = 16) do not
train officers in the history of corrections and
about law and administrative investigations
against staff and inmates (n = 15).
Training in the history and development of
corrections, ethics, and professionalism
Training Area Frequency Yes Percentage Yes
History of
laws and the
development of
28 63.6
Role of
36 81.8
Professionalism 42 95.5
Ethics 43 97.7
investigations 29 65.9
Criminal Justice Systems, Laws, Rights,
and Investigations
The current study reveals that states train correctional officers in criminal justice systems,
laws, rights, and investigations. As seen in
Table 8, all states surveyed reported that they
are compliant and train officers in the aspects
of the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA),
which is a federally mandated requirement for
all correctional institutions. Additionally, 36 of
the 44 states in the sample reported that officers are trained in the following areas: the civil
and constitutional rights of inmates, and law
enforcement, courts, and correctional departments roles and responsibilities. In addition,
slightly more than one-third (n = 16) of the
states reported that they do not train officers
in the topics of inmate investigations, and
roughly half of the states surveyed (n = 19)
reported that they do not train correctional
officers in the area of preparing testimony for
and against inmates.
Training in criminal justice systems,
laws, rights, and investigations
Training Area Frequency Yes Percentage Yes
36 81.8
rights of
41 93.2
Civil rights of
inmates 35 79.5
Prison Rape
Elimination Act
44 100
of inmates in
28 63.6
of testimony
for and against
inmates in
19 44.2
Note: * indicates that percentages were based
on 43 cases
Special Populations and Special Topics
Importantly, substantial variation exists in
both the number of states that train officers
in special populations and special topics and
in the number of hours that are reserved for
this type of training. Also, some topics and
populations are included by some states training programs, whereas this does not occur in
As shown in Table 9, 41 states reported
that they train officers in how to work with
mentally ill offenders. Two other areas that
39 states designate training hours for include
security threat groups (i.e., gangs) and suicidal
inmates. Special populations and topics that
received the least amount of training delegations were the overseeing of sex offenders (n
= 26 do not train in) and elderly offenders (n
32 FEDERAL PROBATION Volume 82 Number 1
= 20 do not train in). Of further note, training
in the
in less than two-fifths of the states surveyed.
Training in special populations and special topics
Special Population/Topic Frequency Yes Percentage Yes
Sex offenders 17 39.5
LGBTQ offenders 31 72.1
Security threat groups (i.e., gangs) 39 90.7
Mentally ill offenders* 41 95.3
Elderly offenders* 20 46.5
Suicidal offenders* 40 93.0
Domestic and sexual assault and stalking* 17 39.5
Rehabilitation in corrections* 25 58.1
Cognitive behavioral interventions* 19 55.8
Risk-Needs-Responsivity (RNR) model* 16 37.2
Note: * indicates that percentages were based on 43 cases
Table 10 depicts the average number of
training hours designated for training officers
in special populations and special topics. The
special topic training receiving the most attention was rehabilitation in corrections, which
received an average of 3.83 hours. The special
population topic that received the least amount
of training hours was managing elderly offenders, with an average of 1.67 hours.
Hours trained in special populations
and special topics (if trained)
Special Population/
Mean (SD) Hours
Trained in Area
Sex offenders 1.70 (0.81)
LGBTQ offenders 2.15 (1.89)
Security threat
groups (i.e., gangs) 3.61 (2.31)
Mentally ill offenders 7.52 (8.88)
Elderly offenders 1.67 (0.75)
Suicidal offenders 3.58 (3.58)
Domestic and sexual
assault and stalking 2.90 (2.08)
Rehabilitation in
corrections 3.83 (5.78)
Cognitive behavioral
interventions 2.77 (2.61)
Risk-NeedsResponsivity (RNR)
2.00 (1.15)
This subsection of the survey had the most
variation in the number of hours trained
in each topic area. For example, one state
reported that it trains officers in the area of
rehabilitation for 24 hours, whereas the average number of training hours for all states in
this sample was 3.83 hours. Additionally, one
state reported that it trains officers in the use
of cognitive-behavioral interventions for 20
hours, while the average for all other responding states was 2.77 hours.
Given the challenges and multidimensional
facets of the correctional officer role, officers
would benefit from systematic training across
a variety of areas. To date, little research is
available on the training that officers receive
once hired. To help fill the void in the literature, this investigation was undertaken to
document existing training procedures for
newly hired correctional officers across the
United States.
Recommendations for state departments of
corrections, including the content that should
be trained in, the duration of training procedures, and characteristics of training that may
benefit programs across the United States, are
presented below. Building on these findings,
a blueprint is prepared of what a model correctional officer training academy program
might entail. The intent is to improve upon
current correctional officer training and to create strong, evidence-based academies that will
equip officers with the skills needed to manage
(if not reform) the prisoners they supervise.
The Current Status of
Training Across States
The current study indicates that differences
exist among state training programs for correctional officers. Thus, while training for
some topic areas was found in the majority of
states, other training topics were found in only
several states. Both common and uncommon
areas of training are discussed in this section.
Commonly Trained Topics
Training topics and content that were commonly reported by training directors were
primarily in the areas of inmate management, custodial tasks, and security skills. For
example, all states generally train officers in
contraband, cell and body searches, use of
force, and firearms basics. Also, nearly all
states train officers in the security counting
procedures of inmates, inmate supervision
practices, inmate discipline and grievances,
and the prison programs and services offered
to inmates within their institution.
Much of the variation in training across
states appeared in content areas that do not
directly deal with inmate management and
security functions. However, the survey did
uncover some content areas, other than those
included in the inmate management and security sections, for which most states provide
training. For example, professionalism was a
topic that a majority of states train officers in.
This finding is somewhat expected, given that
the professionalization of corrections has been
a common theme in contemporary criminal
justice practices (Lutze, 2016). Likewise, most
states train officers in the civil and constitutional rights of inmates, most likely as a means
to lessen or avoid liability in state and federal
litigation claims (Cornelius, 2001; Piehl &
Schlanger, 2004).
In the special population and special topics domain of the survey, states primarily
reported training officers in only a few of the
special populations and topics that were listed
in the survey. These were for security threat
groups, mentally ill inmates, and suicidal
inmates. Security threat groups refer to gangs
or other groups of inmates that threaten the
security of the institution; in-prison gangs can
affect the safety of the institution, placing both
staff and other inmates at risk of victimization.
For example, Carlson (2001) estimated that 20
percent of assaults against correctional officers
in prisons may be gang-related. Most of the
states surveyed reported training in this topic
area. These groups often require special methods and tactics of management. Additionally,
these gang groups are large enough to cause
concern for correctional staff, with nearly 25
percent of inmates in adult facilities admitting
to being in an in-prison gang (Knox, 2000).
Training provided for managing mentally
ill inmates and suicidal inmates was common across states. This finding may be due
to the large numbers of mentally ill inmates
found in U.S. prisons and the civil rights
protections provided for this population in
legislation (Human Rights Watch, 2016; Piehl
June 2018
& Schlanger, 2004). Some researchers have
postulated that corrections institutions have
largely replaced mental hospitals in the United
States (Torrey, Kennard, Eslinger, Lamb, &
Pavle, 2010), an idea that gains notoriety
given that there are now three times as many
mentally ill persons housed in state prisons as
in mental hospitals. Accordingly, it is expected
that officers receive training in this area,
because the implications of mental illness in
prison may be fatal. For example, one study
found those who are mentally ill are more
likely to commit suicide in prison (Torrey et
al., 2010) and pose greater threats to correctional officers safety (Galanek, 2015).
Another training topic that is a part of all
state training programs is the Prison Rape
Elimination Act (PREA). This act was passed
into law in 2003 to protect prison inmates
from becoming the victims of sexual assaults
while in prison (U.S. Department of Justice,
2012). The law requires that all staff members
in a correctional facility or agency who come
into contact with inmates be trained in PREA,
which calls for employees working within correctional agencies to be provided training in
topics such as rape detection protocols (U.S.
Department of Justice, 2012).
Uncommonly Trained Areas
A correctional officers role extends beyond
his or her basic safety, security, and custodial
tasks (Schaefer, 2018). However, the roles that
do not fall under security and custodial roles
are not always addressed by state training programs. Though statutes list one of the goals of
state correctional departments as achieving the
rehabilitation of inmates (Burton, Dunaway, &
Kopache, 1993; Kelley, Mueller & Hemmens,
2004), topic and content areas associated with
the human service and therapeutic roles of
correctional officers are largely absent in many
states training curricula. For example, about
half of the training directors reported that
their officers are not trained in rehabilitative
tasks, and two-thirds of states do not mention
the Risk-Needs-Responsivity (RNR) model
in their training. The RNR model has been
successful in the rehabilitation of offenders
in many settings (Bonta & Andrews, 2017).
Thus, this model surely has a place in correctional officer training programs, and sufficient
statutory language in state legal codes exists
to support the training (Burton et al., 1993;
Johnson, Dunaway, Burton, Marquart, &
Cuvelier, 1994; Kelley et al., 2004).
Given that the RNR model is not part of
their training curricula, it is unsurprising that
many states do not train officers in the use of
cognitive-behavioral interventions. According
to the training directors surveyed, only about
half of the states train officers in the use
of cognitive-behavioral interventions. These
types of interventions have consistently been
shown to lower recidivism rates and effectively change antisocial behaviors (Bonta &
Andrews, 2017). If officers were trained in
cognitive-behavioral interventions, perhaps
they would better understand mechanisms to
change the negative behaviors of inmates into
prosocial behaviors.
Another area that lacks training in state
departments is the management of special
populations that are found within the prison
population. For example, most states do not
train officers in how to manage and work with
elderly offenders. Studies have shown that the
number of elderly inmates incarcerated is at an
all-time high (10 percent of the entire prison
population) and is expected to dramatically
increase in the future (Carson, 2016).
Another special population that does not
receive much attention in training programs
is sex offenders. Research has indicated that
sex offenders are often victimized at higher
rates than other inmates and often need special accommodations (Labrecque, 2016). If
officers received training in how to manage
these special populations, they might better
understand the risks and challenges that these
populations face in prison. It may be that
states are using the mandated PREA training
in lieu of a formalized sex offender training.
The distinction between the two trainings is
that the PREA is focused on preventing sexual
victimization, while training officers in how to
manage sex offenders covers other topics such
as how sex offenders think and act.
A Model Training Academy
Based on the current national survey, it is
possible to identify best practices that, if
combined, might provide a foundation for
developing a model Correctional Officer
Training Academy.
Expanding the Amount of Training
Correctional officers should graduate from
training academies with the skills and knowledge to perform their job in the safest and
most effective manner. With that in mind,
training programs must account for the many
dimensions and roles of a correctional officers
work. Thus, to cover all of the content needed
to perform the tasks for which an officer is
responsible, we recommend a minimum of 300
hours of basic training. To date, slightly less
than half of the states surveyed have training
academy programs lasting between 200-299
basic training hours. In fact, only about onequarter of states went beyond 300 training
hours. Training officers a minimum of 300
hours may better allow for all the topics and
content areas associated with correctional officer work to be covered at the training academy.
Continuation of Training
Similar to training in other professions (e.g.,
physicians, social workers), the continuation
of training should be required for all correctional officers. Nearly all states in the sample
reported that officers are required to attend
annual training. Such continuing education is
imperative, because research is ongoing and
could serve to inform new and more effective
training practices. Also, the completion of an
examination after training is essential to certify whether trainees retained the knowledge
from the initial training program. Another
training program characteristic should be for
cadets to shadow an experienced officer
before starting shifts alone. Such shadowing
will allow the officers to learn from somebody
who has experience working with inmates and
working in the prison environment.
Inmate Custody and Management:
Skills and Expertise
Given that it is the primary function of
their job, correctional officers should receive
extensive training in maintaining safety and
security through guarding inmates (Osborne,
2014). Thus, all officers should receive training in inmate management tasks and basic
security and safety skills. As noted, this would
involve institutional security procedures, use
of force, searches, controlling contraband, cell
extractions, firearms training, and so on.
Beyond such practical and often physical
skills, officers need to be schooled in two areas
of softer knowledge. The first area is understanding the legal and constitutional rights of
inmates and how these legal considerations
must guide correctional officer behavior.
The second area is learning how to manage
inmates in a way that increases the officers
legitimacy and evokes inmate compliance
rather than opposition. Research suggests that
inconsistent and gratuitously harsh treatment
of inmates can increase inmates misconduct and erode institutional stability (Steiner
& Meade, 2014). Although research on the
effectiveness of managerial styles is far from
definitive, scholars increasingly suggest that
34 FEDERAL PROBATION Volume 82 Number 1
the use of procedural justice in interactions
with offenders produces perceptions of legitimacy and compliance (Steiner & Meade, 2014;
Wooldredge & Steiner, 2016). Accordingly,
training correctional officers in effective managerial styles rooted in behavioral science
research is essential.
Understanding Special Populations
Correctional officers would benefit from
understanding the risks and needs of the different populations of inmates that they guard.
Thus, training officers in topics such as sex
offenders, gangs, elderly inmates, suicidal
inmates, mentally ill inmates, and drug-abusing inmates would likely benefit both those
types of inmates and the officers. This training
could help officers better accommodate the
needs of inmates and allow officers potentially
to play a role in the rehabilitation of these
special populations.
Guiding the Rehabilitative Role of
Correctional Officers
Correctional officers are in a position to play
prominent roles in offender rehabilitation
(Johnson et al., 2017; Teske & Williamson,
1979). Officers spend more time with offenders than any other correctional staff. Previous
research has discovered that correctional officers support offender rehabilitation (Burton,
Ju, Dunaway, & Wolfe, 1991; Cullen, Lutze,
Link, & Wolfe, 1989; Gatotoh, Omulema,
& Nassiuma, 2011; Wade-Olsen, 2016).
However, when examining state departments
training programs, training hours designated
for rehabilitative functions and therapeutic
roles of officers are often sparse. Due to the
position of officers and opportunities to aid
in rehabilitation, training academies should
include extensive training in rehabilitative
tasks and skills. This training should be based
on evidence-based treatment models conducive to the behavioral change of offenders
(e.g., RNR, Effective Practices in Community
Supervision [EPICS]) (see Bonta & Andrews,
2017). An example of a training model that
has demonstrated success in corrections is
EPICS. A brief discussion about how this
model could be implemented by correctional
officers will follow.
Probation officers across the United States
are being trained in the Effective Practices in
Community Supervision model. The goal of
the EPICS model is to instruct community
supervision officers on how to use core correctional practices in face-to-face interactions
and also how to use the principles of effective
intervention in practice (Smith, Schweitzer,
Labrecque, & Latessa, 2012). The EPICS
model trains community corrections officers
to follow a structured approach in their interactions with offenders (Smith et al., 2012).
Officers trained in EPICS are instructed to
focus on higher-risk offenders, to address
offenders criminogenic needs, and to use
social learning and cognitive-behavioral techniques in their interactions with offenders
(Smith et al., 2012).
EPICS training could lead officers to interact more effectively with inmates. For example,
in offender encounters, officers could seek to
model prosocial behaviors. They could also
use interactions with inmates as teaching
moments, correcting thinking errors and talking with wayward inmates about alternative
options for handling emotionally charged situations. As suggested, effective training might
have the added benefit of improving inmates
perceptions of officers legitimacy, thus reducing conflict and increasing compliance (see
Steiner & Wooldredge, 2015).
Promoting Officer Wellness
The most immediate need is to train officers
in the health risks posed by inmates, such as
dealing with threats and actual incidents of
physical victimization (Boudoukha, Altintas,
Rusinek, Fantini-Houwel, & Hautekeete, 2013)
and avoiding infectious diseases (e.g., AIDS,
hepatitis). But training must be expanded to
educate officers in how to cope with the psychological challenges of their work, including
stress, job dissatisfaction, burnout, post-traumatic stress, alienation, suicidal ideation, and
depression. In addition, research now exists
to capably inform the inculcation of effective
coping strategies. This line of inquiry remains
an area for further development for staff who
work with confined populations (Keinan &
Malach-Pines, 2007).
Building Officer Professionalism
Research shows that correctional officers do
not see themselves as hacks whose skills are
limited to custody and monitoring a punitive
regimen (Johnson et al., 2017). More positively, guarding offenders should be seen as a
human services profession. The hallmark of
any profession is the commitment to a strong
code of ethics and to task expertise (Latessa,
Cullen, & Gendreau, 2002). A model training
academy would seek to instill this dual commitment among officers and serve to lessen
the gap between research and practice by providing a channel by which trainees can learn
evidence-based practices and procedures.
Achieving this goal, however, will face
a major challenge. At present, a knowledge
gap exists between training goals and how to
achieve those goals. Two strategies might be
profitably employed to address this lack of
knowledge. First, correctional officers should
be seen not only as recipients of training but
also as sources of insights about effective
training. Officers should be interviewed initially and systematically to learn more about
their perceived training needs and about their
ideas on best practices with inmates. Second,
criminologists need to focus their research
not only on uncovering what is wrong with
prisons but also on how to develop practical programs, managerial approaches, and
training protocols to create safer and more
reformative institutions. This research should
start by evaluating the effectiveness of current training approaches and then use this
information to develop principles of effective
training. Both the keepers and the kept merit
our ongoing efforts to equip correctional officers with the understanding and expertise to
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