Correctional staff training: the views of experts worldwide

Read this edition’s article on staff training and development.

Corrections administrators must today, more than ever, commit to investing in the training of their correctional officers.

Peter Severin, President, International Corrections and Prisons Association​

Peter Severin

President, International Corrections and Prisons Association
In contemporary corrections, correctional officers are increasingly more prisoner managers rather than passive observers of prisoners and responders to security-related incidents with predominant responsibility for static security and safety. The officer’s role has proactively developed, which is very positive. But with such role changes comes the need to adjust staff training and also focus on staff well-being. While basic officer skills are important and need to remain part of the study curriculum, there is an increasingly more important need to include communication skills, case-management, dealing with difficult behaviours in a focussed and de-escalating way and self-management techniques in modern training programs for correctional officers.
 
It has been long established that only around 30% of a correctional officer’s role relates to rational, procedural aspects of their responsibilities, whilst 70% relate to non-rational actions such as forging and supporting pro-social relationships, providing guidance and advice to prisoners to assist with them with developing better self-awareness. This non-rational role is essential for rehabilitation and constructive targeted engagement. However, at present, most training programs are heavily targeted towards rational and procedural aspects of the role and this needs to be addressed in the future.
 
In particular, pre-service training is essential for officers to become competent in their roles, but importantly it needs to aim to build confidence. This training also must focus on officers being aware of matters that could adversely impact their own well-being due to the work’s often stressful nature and how to manage such situations.
 
The old stereotype of officers being tough and not needing to look after their own well-being has long proven to be obsolete and wrong – an ongoing training focus on resilience and well-being is essential in today’s contemporary corrections.
 

Corrections administrators must today, more than ever, commit to investing in the training of their correctional officers. This will contribute to achieving better outcomes and will ensure a well-equipped and effective workforce.

We support penitentiary schools in updating their curriculum, modernizing their training materials towards e-Learning or translating in local languages existing material such as the UNODC e-Learning on Nelson Mandela Rules.
The ICRC is also interested in the great potential of virtual reality as a vector for learning and to change behaviours.

Peter Maurer, President of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC)

Peter Maurer

President of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC)
Contributing to the training and development of prison staff is one of the key components of ICRC’s efforts toward improving detention systems.
 

Complimentary to its monitoring activities and broader dialogue on detention issues with detaining authorities, the ICRC supports them in many ways including through ad hoc training to detention managers and staff on creative solving of humanitarian issues it observes during its visits.

In several instances we support penitentiary schools in updating their curriculum, modernizing their training materials towards e-Learning or translating in local languages existing material such as the UNODC e-Learning on Nelson Mandela Rules.
 
The ICRC is also interested in the great potential of virtual reality as a vector for learning and to change behaviours.
 
We have been using VR to develop powerful and innovative training tools in various areas related to our work. Within the framework of detention, the ICRC started in 2017 to use VR technology as an advocacy tool with the judiciary to sensitize them by visualizing the consequences of overcrowding and how their judicial decisions could have a positive impact.
 
Building on an early development of a virtual prison and training videos at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, we further developed a Virtual Prison Multiplayer simulation. It is designed as a training tool, allowing coaching and mentoring sessions for professionals involved in detention work, including ICRC delegates, staff of Red Cross and Red Crescent national societies, national preventive mechanisms, penitentiary schools and academies.
 
Trainees are able to conduct a full detention visit in a close-to-real prison environment whereby they assess conditions of detention and the treatment of detainees and are able to interact with role-played detainees and prison staff.
 
In order to address the digital and connectivity gaps and reach out a larger audience, we are preparing web-based versions that will enable prison staff to benefit from an immersive 2D experience in a detention environment.
 

In addition, we are looking at developing additional VR products covering issues such as specific vulnerabilities, the management of the food chain, overcrowding and the provision of health care in detention.

More and more correctional organizations are realizing that they need to go beyond training in administrative skills.

James Bonta, Ph.D. (Clinical Psychology), Co-author of “The Psychology of Criminal Conduct” (RNR model), Canada

James Bonta

Ph.D. (Clinical Psychology), Co-author of “The Psychology of Criminal Conduct” (RNR model), Canada

Probation/parole officers spend a lot of time on administrative tasks and enforcement, looking to see if clients follow the probation conditions. We see that officers don’t follow the RNR model principles without having had specific training. The positive side is that with proper training they can follow those principles and do it well. The first step is to recognize that if staff can follow our model (RNR) more closely, it can make a difference in community safety.

The best example I have to date about an organization following this kind of three-step approach is in the province of British Columbia, where we implemented STICS. STICS is a training program to teach probation officers how to follow the risk principle, address criminogenic needs, and change criminal thinking to more pro-social thinking. You can’t learn how to do cognitive restructuring after going to one training. Any workshop may energize people, and they learn something. Still, they need to continue their professional development to improve their skills. I see a positive increase in attention to training probation officers in “What Works”.

So, more and more correctional organizations are realizing that they need to go beyond training in administrative skills and train their staff in skills that actually make a difference. The huge challenge is large scale implementation. In implementing new training programs, the difficulty is fidelity: staying true to the program’s intent. And that also will involve resources. It requires ongoing monitoring and not losing sight of what you want to do.

We prioritise the investment in our staff to be the great changers in the day-to-day work in the prison units.

Leandro Lima, Secretary of State for Prison and Socio-Educational Administration, Santa Catarina, Brazil

Leandro lima

Secretary of State for Prison and Socio-Educational Administration, Santa Catarina, Brazil
Staff training and development is a pillar that sustains the prison system. Our Academy is the great transformer of human potential, and it is our most significant investment. Education strengthens the role of our agents and the team’s commitment to the activity, thus benefiting the entire system.
 
We are increasingly bringing the academic world closer to the professional one with this initiative. We recently launched SAPScience, an internal program that offers 650 postgraduate, masters and PhD studies vacancies. The endeavour is fully funded by the State and the program is exclusively for our Department employees. There was such an interest that we will have a second edition of the project, with even more vacancies.
 
We prioritise the investment in our staff to be the great changers in the day-to-day work in the prison units. The system is increasingly open and transparent, so we have fewer and fewer cases of corruption and violence.

Training, both initial and continuous, is essential to ensure that prison staff carry out their duties correctly.

Ángel Luis Ortiz, Secretary General of Penitentiary Institutions, Spain

Ángel Luis Ortiz

Secretary General of Penitentiary Institutions, Spain
Our roadmap involves improving prison officers’ training. We are also working to improve the working conditions of our professionals. Training, both initial and continuous, is essential to ensure that prison staff carry out their duties correctly.
 

Spain has some renovated facilities, however it has lacked a training centre up to the same standards of quality as those facilities, until now. That’s why this year we have decided to create the Penitentiary Studies Centre. Over the next few years, the necessary reforms will be made to put it into operation.

For now, work has already begun in that city in collaboration with the University of Castilla-La Mancha and classes are being taught in the city campus.
 

This initial training for those aiming to work in Penitentiary Institutions consists of two phases: a theoretical course at the Study Centre and a practical programme in prisons. Furthermore, nearly 6,000 people are receiving continuous training each year in face-to-face, online as well as decentralised in prison institutions.

As a staff member within the Swedish Prison and Probation Service, you need to believe in every individual's ability to make positive changes in their life.

Martin Holmgren, Director-General, Swedish Prison and Probation Service

Martin Holmgren

Director-General, Swedish Prison and Probation Service
One of the most important factors for a successful prison and probation service is well-educated staff members with good attitudes and a solid commitment to their work.
 
We highly prioritise staff recruitment, training and retention. To become a prison officer, you need to have passed high school. As a probation officer, you need a university degree. As a staff member within the Swedish Prison and Probation Service, you need to believe in every individual’s ability to make positive changes in their life. You also need to enjoy working with people in a security-based and structured environment.
 
We offer employees extensive internal training focused on practical skills, security and understanding the factors behind criminal behaviour.
 

In terms of continuous training, we provide off- and on-site training for all practical aspects of work. We also run an e-training curriculum to maintain staff competence levels, and we provide further training for the implementation of new tools and methods.

The development of our workforce is one of my highest priorities and is critical to us delivering 'Hōkai Rangi'.

Jeremy Lightfoot, Chief Executive, 'Ara Poutama Aotearoa' - Department of Corrections, New Zealand

Jeremy Lightfoot

Chief Executive, Ara Poutama Aotearoa – Department of Corrections, New Zealand
Wellbeing is at the heart of our ongoing strategy. “Kotahi anō te kaupapa: ko te oranga o te iwi” – There is only one purpose to our work: the wellness and wellbeing of people. If our staff are not well, we can’t make a positive difference for those we manage and care for.

So, the development of our workforce is one of my highest priorities and is critical to us delivering Hōkai Rangi. And that’s why we are investing in long-term workforce capability uplift through ongoing training and skills development.
 
It is essential to support our workforce to do some of the country’s hardest jobs. We need to have the right supports in place, by ensuring that our staff, particularly those at the frontline, have the skills and capability they need to do their jobs. Thus, we’re focused on delivering appropriate and engaging training for staff.
 

We’ve done a lot of foundational work to put in place these supports for staff, but we have a lot more to do over the next few years.

We recognise training as an essential component in modern corrections and best practices. Our Training College serves as our Centre of Excellence.

Raphael T. Hamunyela, Commissioner-General, Namibian Correctional Service

Raphael T. Hamunyela

Commissioner-General, Namibian Correctional Service
We recognise training as an essential component in modern corrections and best practices. For this reason, we have a Human Resources Development and Training Directorate, of which the Lucius Sumbwanyambe Mahoto Correctional Service (LSMCS) Training College is the most fundamental part. Our Training College serves as the Centre of Excellence for the Namibian Correctional Service.

 It is one of the most modern designed training institutions in Africa and an enormous pride for our Department and the Ministry. The primary function of NCS’s Human Resources Development and Training Directorate is to strategise and develop policy to ensure the capacity development of staff.

It coordinates and monitors the various training courses as per the Departmental training programme and manages officers on tertiary studies and other courses. So far, the LSMCS Training College has delivered around thirty Correctional Basic Training courses. The aim is to prepare correctional officers to work within a high-risk environment. At the same time, they need interpersonal skills and fitness to deal with situations.
 
In collaboration with the African Correctional Services Association (ACSA), there are plans to turn the college into an African Correctional Service Academy. The Academy will deliver courses to Africa’s various levels of correctional/prison/penitentiary staff from middle management to senior and executive levels. Moreover, it would issue accredited qualifications.

The European Union, the Swedish Prison and Probation Service, UNICEF, and UNFPA have played an essential role in our support over the years.

Ahmed Najmaddin Ahmed, Jurist and Director-General of Social Reform, Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs, Kurdistan Region, Iraq

Ahmed Najmaddin Ahmed

Jurist and Director-General of Social Reform, Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs, Kurdistan Region, Iraq
As a correctional institution, we lack prior experience dealing with specific issues. Regarding staff training and development, we have managed to launch several courses, seminars and training workshops for our employees in order to improve their work.
 
Moreover, we could participate in many conferences and training courses and workshops, both regionally and internationally. The European Union, the Swedish Prison and Probation Service, UNICEF, and UNFPA have played an essential role in our support over the years.
 

In addition, the UNODC conducted workshops in Erbil in November-December 2021, which have increased our hope and aspirations. And those workshops certainly enhanced our staff’s skills. This initiative was a great start. And, as we advance, we will do our best with UNODC to continually bring about positive change. We are primarily focused on the framework of International Law and the UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners.

Regarding professional development, the more we expose ourselves to different systems, the more we will gain insight into different approaches.

Douglas Dretke, Executive Director, Correctional Management Institute of Texas (CMIT), Sam Houston State University, USA

Douglas Dretke

Executive Director, Correctional Management Institute of Texas (CMIT), Sam Houston State University, USA
CMIT develops and delivers professional education and issue-specific training programs and conferences for criminal justice professionals who serve across the vast spectrum of Corrections. In addition, we work very closely with different advisory groups. We bring in top tier professionals representing the different components of our corrections profession to look at the critical issues that need to be a part of each program. We also bring in expertise from across our state or the country to be part of the pool of our faculty.
 
Our training programs are evidence-based, and this is the main element that shows us that what we are doing can make a difference. Our main goal is to take the participants in our programs out of status quo leadership and move them towards transformative leadership.
 

Our focus is to provide the leadership development that could have a very positive impact upon correctional agencies, and communities. As we build training programs to the many different countries that the US Department of State works in, we work very closely with the countries, agencies, and state departments to take our curriculum and make it very specific to their needs.
Our approach focuses on correctional leadership concepts, practices, best practices, and what our research informs us about maximizing outcomes.

Regarding professional development, the more we expose ourselves to different systems, the more we will gain insight into different approaches. And these can help with the many challenges we face within corrections and criminal justice.

We should focus on hiring officers who believe people can change. We should be less focused on technical skills and more on interpersonal skills. Then we can train and develop their professional skills around change-oriented interventions. For this reason, training is key to success.

Brian Lovins, President of the Board of Directors, American Probation and Parole Association (APPA), USA

Brian Lovins

President of the Board of Directors, American Probation and Parole Association (APPA), USA
Staff training and development is a critical component. Somewhere around 100,000-125,000 probation and parole officers in the United States of America would all be left to their own devices and operate in their silos if it wasn’t for training and development.
 
We should focus on hiring officers who believe people can change. We should be less focused on technical skills and more on interpersonal skills. Then we can train and develop their professional skills around change-oriented interventions. For this reason, training is key to success.
 
I’m glad that we’re starting to see more around change-oriented approaches, long-term support, learning teams, and creating spaces where people can grow their skills.
 
We can’t train community corrections staff in a vacuum. Staff training and development will not be effective unless you have an organization around learning and curiosity. What I’ve seen, in most of our settings, is a top-down hierarchical model that often fails to implement evidence-based practices effectively. If we want to do a better job and have consistent positive and supportive interventions, we’ve got to rethink how we train and develop community corrections staff.
 
We are starting to shift how we train people, in part because of the pandemic. With increased virtual connections, we see greater accessibility, allowing for much more interaction, feedback, and real-time coaching than we’ve historically done.
 

We (APPA) provide training and learning opportunities to around 2,300 probation and parole officers. During COVID, we went virtual, which expanded the reach of our events, allowing some first-time participants from across the country and world to attend our virtual institute. In addition, we provide technical assistance and ongoing training opportunities to individual officers and agencies alike.
And, with a focus on networking, we started an online platform that allows people to interact and connect — learning from the great work they are doing across the world.

Like / Share:
More stories
Doug Dretke
Leadership training as the foundation for correctional management excellence