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What is your website doing for you?

Editor's note: This article is part of a CorrectionsOne Special Report on the 2009 ACA Summer Conference. You can check out the whole report by clicking here.

By Luke Whyte

Doug Dretke, executive director of the Correctional Management Institute of Texas, began his presentation at the ACA summer conference workshop with a powerful fact:

“In Texas, only three years ago, we had a shortage of over 4,000 corrections officers. Some facilities were operating at as low as 60 percent.”

That’s a massive shortage. Unfortunately, Texas is far from alone in its predicament. Across the nation, facilities are struggling to recruit correctional professionals of all types, despite the fact that the criminal justice system continues to grow.

The question is, why?

The revenge of the nerds
During the session entitled “Making corrections a career magnet for a new generation,” Dretke, along with Prof. Calvin R. Edwards and former ACA President Chuck Kehoe, proposed that the incentives offered by a career in corrections just don’t meet the desires of today’s emerging workforce — the 16-24 year olds we call Generation Y.

Over the next couple weeks, CorrectionsOne will approach this issue from a variety of angles. For now, however, we will focus on one simple and often over-looked fact:

Where do members of Generation Y go to learn about everything from careers and casserole recipes to the hottest spot to buy their next pair of flip flops?

It’s not the phone book or the library. It’s the Internet — and only the Internet.

What this mean is that if something doesn’t pop up when they type it into Google, they probably won’t know it exists.

So the question becomes: What does your website say about you?

Give them what they want, digitally
During the workshop, Dretke stressed that it’s not only important to have a website, but also that the website’s recruitment message appeals to Generation Y.

“For a lot of us who grew up in the boomer age, our job was our career,” Dretke said.

The average member of Generation Y, on the other hand, will go through six career changes in their lifetime.

“Rarely do they enter a job looking for a career.” Dretke said. “They’re looking for a job and they expect to change it.”

In general, today’s young job seekers tend to be less concerned with landing a good job and more concerned with landing a good life. A website recruitment message should offer this.

“We no longer want guards, we want correctional professionals,” says a spokesperson in the recruitment video on the Wyoming Dept of Corrections’ website. Bravo, Wyoming, this gets right to the point.

An institution’s Web site recruitment message should reflect back upon what those potential applicants value. Generation Y employees are attracted to slogans that offer opportunities to give back to society, to extend their education, to balance life and work, as well as flexibility and choice over issues like security and dependability.

Shedding light on the subject
Most young people have no idea what really goes on in a correctional facility, imagining them to be dark and depressing places. A Web site is critical to improving this poor image.

Web sites should include videos that emphasize training, interviews, and exciting opportunities. Create a virtual tour of the facility like the one on the Florida Dept. of Corrections Web site and include bright and interesting photos.

The Maryland Dept. of Corrections does a great job of all this. Their website includes a series of videos under titles like “Endless Opportunity,” “Take Pride,” “More than a Job,” and “Correctional Professional” that frame a career in corrections into an exciting and rewarding opportunity.

Can it be done in your underwear?
A frequently overlooked advantage of the web, pointed out by Dretke, is that you can do and learn a lot of things without ever leaving the house. Many members of Generation Y have grown accustomed to this and it pays to take advantage of it.

The Department of Illinois makes all its forms and applications for employment available on their Web site so that candidates can download, print, and fill them out without ever putting on a pair of pants and leaving the bedroom.

Better still, why not take the next step and make it so that applications can be completed and submitted completely online? Further, make your institution available to potential employees through the Web site. Set up a special “careers” e-mail address and make sure someone checks it regularly so that questions can be quickly answered through the site.

Improve the design
One of the biggest challenges faced by corrections departments is creating an edgy and appealing website. Here are a few things to keep in mind while you rebuild your web presence.

1) More often than not, less is more: Keep your site clean and minimalist. The more stuff on a page, the more confusing it becomes;
2) Show, don’t tell: When possible, use videos, images, and graphics to convey a message instead of text. When text is necessary, keep it clean and to the point;
3) Keep it easy: Make sure to use consistent navigation bars and a consistent color scheme that appears on every page. This way, visitors will never get lost;
4) Nobody likes to scroll: Ideally, all important information should be clearly presented on each page without any scrolling involved;
5) Focus on the big picture: It is smart to display your most important content clearly and keep it accessible from the homepage. It should take a prospective employee no more than a couple seconds to find the link to the careers section from your homepage;

Some examples
1. Take a look at this recruitment video on the Wyoming Dept. of Corrections Web site. It has everything a good Generation Y targeted message should include: http://www.maddash.net/videos/wdoc/
2. Check out the clarity, appealing color scheme and depth of useful information on the California Dept. of Corrections Web site. They do a great job of “unveiling the mystery.” Also, notice their links to Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, and others: http://www.cdcr.ca.gov/
3. This link goes to the Maryland Dept. of Corrections recruitment videos. This is an excellent approach for capturing Generation Y’s attention: http://www.dpscs.state.md.us/media/co_media_flashvideo.shtml
4. Florida Dept. of Corrections offers an excellent virtual facility tour: http://www.dc.state.fl.us/oth/vtour/index.html

About the author

The CorrectionsOne.com team of editors and writers is committed to tracking down and reporting on the most important issues and interviews in the correctional field.

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