How to recruit corrections officers in 2015

​As the year 2015 approaches, recruitment and retention in corrections is as important as ever


By Harriet Fox

Jails and prisons all across the United States have one thing in common – we need correctional officers to maintain our facilities. Corrections is quite the thankless job, but a much needed and valuable one.

The recruitment and retention of officers can be challenging for some organizations and is a universal issue across the country. The retention of correctional officers is essential for our organizations and can have a direct impact between success and failure.

With retention issues, we may have understaffing, morale issues, diminished job satisfaction, and a decrease in organizational effectiveness.

(Photo LVMPD recruitment video)
(Photo LVMPD recruitment video)

There are many reasons why retention is a problem. Some facilities deal with turnover amongst officers at too fast of a rate, while some endure constant and steady loss. Retention issues affect the corrections workforce at different times, for different reasons, and in different ways.

I believe since the economic crash in 2008, there has been less movement and laterals occurring in the law enforcement field as a whole, but that does not mean our organizations are not struggling with recruiting quicker than those lost.

What leads to retention issues?
Turnover rates can vary and include retirement, medical disabilities retirements, terminations or forced resignations, and promotions or resignations to take a different class of job.

Some agencies are required to mass recruit so a large number of new trainees can be fully functional by the time a new facility is built and ready for operation. With mass hiring, it’s important to not lower standards in an attempt to reach hiring numbers. This technique can cause retention issues by trainees unsuccessfully completing the training program or possibly hiring someone not cut out for the job.

Retention issues can also be caused by unhappy employees, whether from job dissatisfaction or boredom.

What can be done to help retention?
Retention research shows that being cognizant of what works for diminishing attrition can make a difference. These are a few of the most important factors that can help retention:

Morale: Morale must be recognized, maintained, and encouraged in order to guard against organizational instability. Fostering a motivating environment, along with supportive leadership and effective communication, makes a world of difference.

Low morale affects cohesion as a whole. Negative morale reduces individual and group performance levels and unfortunately heightens complacency and inattention to duties. Morale in the workplace is one of the most important things to focus on.

Training: Research shows training, combined with education, provides officers with improved self-worth and job skills. Training and continued education promotes a safer environment and encourages career growth. Agencies who cannot afford a budget to maintain training should be creative in training officers in another capacity. For example, several officers can be sent to formal training and return to their teams and train others.

Support: It’s critical to feel support from immediate supervisors, as well as from management. Strong commitment to employees can strengthen ethical behavior, provide motivation, and create less job burnout.

It is important for support from our neighboring organizations like the district attorney. Correctional officers need supports and the filing of cases involving: staff assaults, inmate altercations, or criminal conduct of inmates while incarcerated. Correctional officers need to feel their wellbeing and needs come before inmates and prisoners.

With overall job satisfaction, unity, and employee loyalty, correctional officers are more apt to feel dedicated to their agency and become a long term employee.

What makes correctional officers stick around?
Aside from the attractive compensation (pay and benefits) we currently sustain, our job provides us with medical and financial security for retirement. Many correctional officers work for their paycheck and future earnings.

There are other reasons as to why officers stick around.

Many of us spend more time at work than we do at home with our own families. Our coworkers become our families. This may be a big reason why many of us stay in the field. We are so close to the people we work with. The camaraderie shared is something our family and non-law enforcement friends cannot provide or understand. We become comfortable and surround ourselves with these relationships.

Many officers follow their family members into the same line of work. In law enforcement, it’s quite common to have sons or daughters follow in their parents’ footsteps. Being generational in the field brings pride and creates a family bond.

Lots of correctional officers have aspirations to be promoted. Some try and cannot. Some want to be a cop and work patrol but are scared of not coming home at the end of shift. Correctional officers come home 95 percent of the time.

Some officers want to see criminals pay for their crimes, or they have a sense of giving back to the community and helping protect society. Some officers believe this is an indirect way of helping people.

Whatever the reason, a correctional officer decides to stick around, it’s apparent that they will at some time or another face retention issues with their organization.

What do we face in the upcoming year?
As the year 2015 approaches, recruitment and retention in corrections is as important as ever. It appears the level of violence and crime is escalating at a faster rate and in California now with AB109 and Proposition 47, inmates are being released too often, too soon. Being a correctional officer continues to become more challenging in ways we have not faced before.

It’s so important to feel fulfilled in our choice of career since we end up spending decades living inside our jail and prison walls day in, day out. Our job is a huge part of our everyday life and we must be happy where we are. 

It is imperative for our organizations to hire quality and honest candidates and provide retention in the workplace. Correctional officers deserve to have the safest environment and should have overall job satisfaction and a fulfilling job to go to each day.

With the sacrifices we choose to endure while being a correctional officer, it is the least our organizations can do for us. Employee satisfaction increases the value of an organization.

Discussion questions:

What is better than having a strong organization with happy employees?

What type of retention issues has your agency faced and how did your agency work through them?

What makes you stick around?

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