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Correctional Certification: First Step Toward Professionalism.

Ask any practitioner what corrections has in common with medicine and law, and he or she is likely to cite an above-average involvement in liability lawsuits, But there is something considerably more positive that corrections now shares with these established professions -- a standardized process for credentialing its personnel. Just as qualified correctional facilities may seek accreditation, qualified staff-have an opportunity to achieve nationally recognized certification.

Although the accreditation process has existed for more than two decades, a program for certifying correctional staff -- from line officers to executive leaders -- began less than two years ago with the establishment of the American Correctional Association's (ACA) national Commission on Correctional Certification. Comparing organizational accreditation with personnel certification reveals both similarities and differences.

Accreditation And Certification

At the most fundamental level, the accreditation and certification processes each maintain a different focus. Whereas accreditation assesses the manner in which facilities continually are improved services are provided and programs are implemented, certification is directed toward the capabilities of personnel operating the facilities, providing the services and staffing the programs. By definition, accreditation is a broader, more comprehensive process. It incorporates numerous measurements and embraces virtually every facet of the organization being assessed. On the other hand, certification is less generalized. It involved review of an individual's credentials and capabilities as they relate to his or her current job functions.

There are several additional distinct ions. The Commission on Accreditation for Corrections (CAC) is a private, nonprofit entity created in 1978 and now administers a national program for accrediting all components of adult and juvenile corrections. As of January, there were 1,185 institutions and programs throughout the country that have earned CAC accreditation. Certification also is national in scope; however, it does not have a lengthy history, having been initiated 20 years later, in 1999. As a result, certification still is an emerging process. While thousands of institutional accreditation audits have been conducted during the past 20 years, certification is relatively speaking, still in its infancy, with just four certification exams having been administered to 30 candidates as of May. Additional applications for certification have been received from more than 130 people representing 21 states, the District of Clumbia, the Federal Bureau of Prisons and Puerto Rico.

In many respects, however, there may be more inherent similarities than differences between the two processes. Despite a number of distinctions in operational practices, both appear to share a degree of conceptual consistency. For example, the purpose of accreditation is to promote improvement in the management of correctional agencies by applying relevant standards to a voluntary external review process. Like wise, the National Organization for Competency Assurance states that the purpose of a certification program is to uphold standards for competent practice. One of the objectives of certification is to encourage high performance standards among corrections personnel. As accreditation does for facilities, certification provides an opportunity for staff to be recognized as qualified practitioners. In that regard, some parallels also an be drawn between certification and professionalism.

Seeking Professionalism Through Certification

As with all occupations that maintain self-imposed standards, the impetus for establishing a certification program was ACA's desire to enhance professionalism in corrections. Few would argue against that commendable goal, and many have supported professional recognition of correctional staff. But in corrections, the term professionalism often has been enthusiastically embraced without much thought given to what actually is involved in achieving such status. Obtaining professional recognition requires much more than emotional debate concerning the merits of individuals or the importance of their work: "Professionalism cannot simply be issued like a uniform or a badge. It is also beyond the power of any organization -- whether a local department, a state [or federal] system, or the American Correctional Association -- to issue an edict 'declaring' that correctional officers are professionals. While such action might be satisfying to the officers themselves, it would be, at best, a meaningless endeavor and, at w orst, harmful -- similar to obtaining a college degree through an uncertified 'diploma mill.'" As has been noted with regard to policing, claims of professional status in corrections are more often "an assertion of what ought to be done, rather than a statement of actual achievement." [1]

Among the challenges inevitably confronted when developing a certification process is distinguishing the profession from the occupation. While a complicated issue to address in any discipline, it is perhaps even murkier in the justice system. In both law enforcement and corrections, professionalism often has been equated with technical competence and organizational efficiency than with the individualistic and altruistic principles associated with such established professions as medicine and law. In a speech still relevant today, former Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis said, "First, a profession is an occupation for which the necessary preliminary training is intellectual in character, involving knowledge and, to some extent, learning, as distinguished from mere skill; second, it is an occupation which is pursued largely for others and not merely for one's self; third, it is an occupation in which the amount of financial return is not the accepted measure of success." [2]

With regard to these criteria of professionalism, corrections in the past achieved point three. However, corrections does not stand alone in that regard: "There are any number of professions -- from teaching to nursing or social work -- that have traditionally not been well-compensated." With respect to Brandeis' second point, most correctional staff members, at least initially, enter the field with some concern for helping others -- although, as the years pass, the realities often wear down their enthusiasm.

It is in the area of Brandeis' first point that less progress has occurred in corrections. [3] This does not mean there is not a proper place for skill-related job preparation in corrections, or that a certification program can single-handedly upgrade such preparation from skill-based job training to knowledge-based intellectual standards. Rather, like its accreditation counterpart, standards established by the corrections certification commission are designed to be acceptable -- not optimal (although there is nothing to prevent states or localities from further upgrading minimum requirements). Nevertheless, the commission's standards represent a significant step toward embracing the type of intellectual principles that are characteristic of established professions.

Correctional Certification Process

Neither correctional officers nor executives -- or, for that matter, any staff occupying the ranks in between -- have an exclusive interest in professional certification. Recognizing this, the Commission on Correctional Certification established four categories within which personnel may seek certification status:

* Certified Correctional Executive (CCE): Those at the highest organizational level who oversee development and implementation of policies and procedures. Requires a bachelor's degree or equivalent work experience.

* Certified Correctional Manager (CCM): Those who manage major units or programs, have authority over supervisory staff and may contribute to, but primarily are responsible for the implementation of agency policies and procedures. Requires an associate's degree or equivalent work experience.

* Certified Correctional Supervisor (CCS): Those who work with both staff and offenders, implement agency policies and procedures and supervise, as well as evaluate, personnel. Requires an associate's degree or equivalent work experience.

* Certified Correctional Officer (CCO): Line personnel who work directly with offenders. Requires a high school diploma or general equivalency diploma.

To become certified in one of these categories, an applicant must:

* Establish his or her qualifications as a member of the group representing the applicant's current position. This includes documenting educational credentials, length of full-time correctional experience, time in current position and compliance with ACA's Code of Ethics.

* Pass a 200-item, multiple-choice examination based on material from relevant resource publications. These source materials (identified for each certification category) contain information that, in the judgment of the certification commission, best matches descriptions developed by the National Institute of Corrections for the job tasks and related competencies associated with the position.

After a review of submitted documentation, applicants meeting the established qualification standards enter into candidate status. A candidate has two years to take and pass a certification examination. Those who successfully pass the exam become certified corrections professionals for three years. Maintaining that status involves becoming recertified; i.e., holding a position within the certification category and obtaining a specified number of continuing education contact hours.

Developmental Highlights

An undertaking of this magnitude obviously does not emerge overnight. The concept originated with ACA staff in 1995. During the following three years, several models for certification programs in other fields were studied. After conversations with a number of associations that have similar programs, an action plan was devised.

With the installation of Richard Stalder as ACA president in 1998, the plan found a strong advocate committed to making certification a reality, "to do for staff what accreditation has done for facilities." At the 1999 Winter Conference, ACA's Board of Directors approved the concept.

Implementation details were delegated to ACA's Professional Development staff and an outside contractual consultant. Drafts outlining the overall program design were prepared, application procedures were established, marketing brochures were composed and a management information tracking system was constructed.

By fall 1999, enough of the infrastructure was in place to begin appointing the first certification commissioners -- their inaugural meeting was held in March 2000. Initially, the commissioners' responsibilities were devoted largely to assisting staff with development of the first four examinations. Subsequently, the commission's role became guiding and fine-tuning the overall process and its related policies. Any appeals from applicants or candidates also are handled by the commission.

As is apparent from the positions held by its members, a concerted effort has been made to ensure that commission members reflect diverse correctional backgrounds and include both academicians and practitioners. Ultimately, it is projected that the certification commission will be elected by ACA members and drawn, primarily, from certified corrections personnel.

Certification officially began in January 2000, when the first application was accepted -- from Kelly D. Ward, CCE, warden of the David Wade Correctional Institution in Louisiana. Since most of the initial applications primarily came from those holding upper-level executive positions, emphasis was placed on finalizing the CCE exam. As a result, it was administered for the first time in August 2000. Eight people took the exam and seven were awarded the CCE designation. William W. Sondervan, Ed.D., CCE, was the first state Department of Corrections commissioner to take and pass the CCE exam and Sharon E. Detter, director of administration for ComCorr Inc. in Colorado Springs, Colo., became the first female to pass the CCE exam.

Since applications also were being received from correctional managers, the CCM exam became the next priority, debuting at ACA's 2001 Winter Conference in Nashville, Tenn. It was followed by the CCO exam in May 2001. The CCS exam will be ready early next year. Upon completion of the four core examinations, plans call for additional exams for specialized job categories, including probation personnel, independent trainers and consultants.

Feedback indicates that while the exams are challenging, they are neither overwhelmingly complex nor overly simplistic. As of May, 73 percent of those taking the examinations have passed. Successful candidates report that prior experience and education are helpful; however, studying the resource material is essential.

Future of Corrections Professionalism

Those living in the midst of monumental change often are the least likely to appreciate its significance. Only in retrospect does the impact of progress become apparent. Advancement toward the goal of correctional certification has undeniably been made during the past two years. A coherent process has emerged. A Commission on Correctional Certification has been appointed. Procedures have been established for reviewing applications, identifying study resources, developing exams and tracking applicants/candidates as their paperwork moves through the system. Exams have been administered, candidates have been certified and recertification procedures have been drafted. Clearly, the first steps have been taken on the long road toward true professionalism.

While corrections still may be some distance away from the esteem enjoyed by medicine or law, it is an improvement to have something in common with those prestigious fields beyond lawsuits.

The major question remaining, however, is whether the corrections field itself will embrace this approach: Will corrections demonstrate a desire to upgrade its image and its professional stature? It is one thing for a handful of administrators to take the lead by becoming certified. It is quite another to attract a broad-based groundswell of support sufficient to make a significant impact on the future. After all, one of the major hallmarks of established professions is their universal compliance with a self-imposed credentialing process.

While certification alone may not be sufficient to achieve professionalization, it certainly is a necessary ingredient. But unless it is comprehensively embraced, corrections is likely to remain consigned to the status of an unregulated occupation rather than an emerging profession.

Robert B. Levinson, Ph.D., is special projects manager for the American Correctional Association's Professional Development Department. Jeanne B. Stinchcomb, Ph.D., is chairwoman of the National Commission on Correctional Certification and associate professor in the Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice at Florida Atlantic University. John J. Greene III, M.Ed., is director of the Professional Development Department of the American Correctional Association.


(1.) Walker, S. 1977. A critical history of police reform. Lexington, Mass.: D.C. Heath and Company.

(2.) Bopp, W.J. 1977. On professionalism. In The administration of justice system: An introduction, ed. D.T. Shanahan, 84-101. Boston: Holbrook Press.

(3.) Robinson, D., F.J. Porporino and L. Simourd. 1997. The influence of educational attainment on the attitudes and job performance of correctional officers. Crime and Delinquency, 43(1):60-77.


American Correctional Association. 1997. Standards for adult correctional institutions, third edition, Lanham, Md.: ACA Press.

Certification Program Manual. 2000. The certification project: Manual, Lanham, Md.: ACA mimeo.

National Institute of Corrections. 1988. Competency profile of wardens/superintendents, U.S. Department of Justice, Washington, D.C.: mimeo.

National Institute of Corrections. 1989. Competency profile of institutional department heads, U.S. Department of Justice, Washington, D.C.: mimeo.

National Institute of Corrections. 1992. Competency profile of correctional officers, U.S. Department of Justice, Washington, D.C.: mimeo.

National Organization for Competency Assurance. 2000. Standards for the accreditation of certification programs (draft), Washington, D.C.: mimeo.

Stinchcomb, J.B. 1986. Correctional office professionalism: Are the benefits worth the risk? Journal of Correctional Training, 2(3):16-19.

Stinchcomb, J.B. 2000. Developing correctional officer professionalism: A work in progress. Corrections Compendium, 25(5):1-19.

Stinchcomb, J.B. and V.B. Fox. 1999. Introduction to corrections, Upper Saddle River, N.J.: Prentice Hall.


The following corrections professionals earned their certification designations June 29:

Derrick W. Anderson, CCO


Jesse E. Bellamy Jr., CCO


Leonard C. Bennett, CCO


Delores Marie Bluitt, CCO


Demetrice L. Butler, CCO


David W. Davenport, CCO


Ronald J. Fontenot, CCO


Steve J. Gagnard Jr., CCO


Ernest R. Gremillion Jr., CCE


Gary G. Gremillion, CCE


Gloria Griffin, CCO


Narviree Wells Harden, CCO


Michelle Harmon, CCO


James M. Heasley, CCO


Patricia Ann J. Jacobs, CCO


Nicole C. James, CCO


Carol H. Jordan, CCO


Joseph LeJeune, CCO


Linda R. London, CCO


Richard A. Magee, CCO


James Monroe, CCO


Melinda Moreau, CCO


Serai E. Morrison, CCO


Cheryl P. Parker, CCO


William L. Parker Jr., CCO


Kevin J. Seal, CCO


Nannie B. Spurlock, CCO


Chancy L. Ulvick, CCO


Brian J. Williams, CCO


Jerry L. Williams, CCO

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Article Details
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Author:Levinson, Robert B.; Stinchcomb, Jeanne B.; Greene III, John J.
Publication:Corrections Today
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Aug 1, 2001
Previous Article:Corrections Mourns Joseph R. Rowan.
Next Article:A Historical Moment ... PAST PRESIDENTS' Council Meets to Revise Declaration of Principles.

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