Want to get promoted within corrections? Get a degree

As the corrections profession evolves, there is a need for officers with both formal education and frontline experience


You’re sitting at your desk, waiting for the next inmate movement to be called out over the intercom, when you are approached by your supervisor who delivers yet another memo. Just when you are about to ask a question, the supervisor is gone.

In frustration, you look over the memo and learn that upper management has implemented a change that, in your opinion, conflicts with the overall performance of your job. You want to say something, but you remain silent. You shake your head in aggravation, recalling how many times your opinion was lost as it began to travel further up the chain of command.

Disappointed, you again realize that today, like every other day, your voice will not be heard – that your existence in the system is nothing more than a formality of merely being “just another frontline employee,” whose professional experience and expertise, as seen from above, has no value.

For you to begin your move upward, you must first educate yourself! (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)
For you to begin your move upward, you must first educate yourself! (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)

On a national law enforcement level, experienced officers are being marginalized, in terms of promotions, by those who have attained higher levels of education. Those with college degrees are securing the higher positions and making decisions that can only be made or understood, by walking the frontline.

Failure to speak

Let’s be honest, in today's world, the collective voice of corrections professional experience, especially from the frontline, will lose its volume as it travels up. What you may hear as a scream at the bottom level becomes but a whisper as it moves upward, muted by the many obstacles along the way.

Even if the proverbial whisper is heard by the “powers that be,” it’s is sometimes perceived by upper management as a personal attack. So, again, in fear of a potential conflict, you hold back your experienced opinion and harbor whatever thoughts you have and deal with the shortsighted changes that will occur.

Your failure to speak and the unwillingness of correctional leadership to listen becomes the repeated cycle that will eventually define your career. Through this repetition, the morale of those on the frontline lessens as they become mere automatons going through the motions that were delegated from those who choose to lead in a manner where communication simply moves only in a downward flow. Eventually, this form of leadership is begrudgingly accepted and those with professional experience remain in the dark.

Moving up the chain of command

As is all paramilitary structures, you cannot go against directives. As you already know, you must remain subordinate to the system, but that does not mean you are out of options. There is a way to level the promotional playing field and, therefore, secure the positions of leadership that will promote the changes needed by those on the front line.

For you to begin your move upward, you must first educate yourself! This is paramount. You need to earn the degrees necessary that will help you secure higher leadership positions and bring experience back to the upper echelons of command.

But make sure, once you begin your journey upwards and secure those positions, that you remember where you came from and maintain open communication with those who still walk the frontline. Too often, those who get promoted “fail to remember” the needs and perspectives of those who still reside on the lower level of command.

Remember where you came from

Don’t be like the many officers who silently vent their frustration to others and never move beyond the grumbling. Be the elite, who move beyond the grumbling and vow that collectively, “the voices of the frontline will be heard.” In the shadows, they seek and attain the education needed to bring the voices of the front line to the upper managerial positions. They remain true to their roots and bring back the level of experience needed to reflect the immediate needs of the front line staff.

Brothers and sisters, if one’s true motivation to move upward is powered by the voices of the frontline, then they are making a selfless sacrifice to maintain the balance needed to compliment experience with education.

We all know the corrections profession has evolved and there is a need for those with degrees in psychology, sociology and business administration. We know we need to look at the whole picture and see things objectively from a standpoint that highlights the multiple departments in corrections (mental health, education, social services, religion, etc.) and the goals these departments must achieve. With that in mind, safety and security must never be sacrificed to obtain the goals of rehabilitation. Any officer who has worked with those on the frontline will know what decisions to make when an emergency arises and safety and security must be maintained.

As experience continues to get overlooked, custodial staff need to take the road less traveled and secure the positions that will give birth to the many voices from within. But to do so, higher education may be the only option you have to level the promotional playing field.

This article, originally published 08/20/2015, has been updated. 

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