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Correctional officers must undergo intensive training that is similar to that provided to police recruits. The pre-employment training of correctional officers in most states is modeled after law enforcement training and combines in-depth classroom-based instruction in corrections principles, concepts and procedures with practical skills related to defensive tactics, subduing violent inmates and riot control.
Correctional officer training programs in most states may last between several weeks or several months. During this period, recruits are typically housed on the grounds of the state law enforcement academy, which usually functions as the location of professional training for other law enforcement professionals including police officer, sheriff’s deputies, as well as parole and probation officers in states where they are granted peace officer status. Living and learning in close quarters with other new-hire trainees helps develop a level of familiarity and camaraderie among fellow recruits and senior officers, ensuring that there is a strong sense of professional purpose and team loyalty. Within the high-risk environment of a prison, working well as part of team has been proven to reduce the occurrence of violence and helps save lives in situations where violence escalates.
Practical Skills Training
The strength, endurance and agility necessary to fend off an attack from a violent inmate may mean the difference between life and death. In order to instill a commitment to maintaining peak physical conditioning, the training programs at most correctional officer academies demand recruits improve their fitness until it meets the highest standards.
Procedural Training – New recruits also are instructed in common procedures used in prisons or jails including:
- Restraint techniques
- Identifying/locating contraband
- Searches and strip search
- Cell search
- Riot control
- Prisoner transport
- Emergency operations
- First aid and CPR
Many of these techniques also involve practicum instruction with mock prisons.
Firearms Training – Training programs for correctional officers also include training in a variety of weaponry. Firearms training is necessary for corrections officers even if they do not typically carry them during their professional duties. Prison guards in close proximity with offenders generally do not carry firearms, but still must maintain proficiency in case of emergencies or if they are assigned to perimeter tower duty. This training may include use of pistols, rifles and shotguns. Proficiency in the use of these firearms must be regularly demonstrated through qualifying tests; in most states, re-qualification must occur annually.
In-service Training – Almost all departments of corrections limit exposure of new officers to high-risk populations. In order to instruct new hires in common procedures and protocols, they usually work through a probationary period that may be between several months and two years in length. During this time, senior correctional officers closely supervise probationary officers, instructing them in the details of their responsibilities. During this period new officers may work with minimum-security populations to acclimatize to prisoner interactions.
Basic Fitness Training – In most states, recruits should expect an emphasis on upper body and core strength. Entry and exit exams typically include:
- Ladder climb
- Quarter mile run
- Grip strength
- Dynamic arm power
These attributes have been determined to be extremely crucial when in a violent confrontation with one or more assailants, so training programs not only try to push recruits to maximize these traits, but also try to convince recruits that maintaining those standards throughout their career is vitally important
Classroom Based Training
Rehabilitative Methods Training – Correctional officers serve in a law enforcement position that also includes rehabilitation responsibilities. In recent years, more state and federal agencies have attempted to lower the recidivism rate among offenders by implementing more treatment programs that remedy substance abuse, mental health issues, and lack of education or vocational skills. In order to encourage participation in these programs, correctional officers are expected to obtain a basic understanding of these programs and identify worthwhile candidates.
Legal Training – All training programs introduce basic legal concepts necessary to serve as correctional officers. These typically include
- Criminal law
- Constitutional law
- Arrest procedures
- Civil rights law
- Rules of evidence
- Use of force
Specialized Populations Training
Juvenile Corrections – Unlike adult corrections which is primarily concerned with isolating offenders from society, juvenile corrections is committed to rehabilitating young offenders so that they can learn from mistakes and set a different course through life. Correctional officers working with juveniles often must complete training programs that emphasize juvenile psychology, family therapy and social welfare.
Death Row Corrections – The majority of inmates on death row may remain incarcerated for years or decades prior to execution. This uniquely morbid situation may produce a variety of psychological responses including violence, despondency or suicidal tendencies.. Many of death row guards also undergo serious emotional responses themselves, so there is instruction in how to recognize symptoms of stress or distress and seek out appropriate remedies.