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Staff Safety and Wellness -- An Evolving Commitment.

A former corrections commissioner from Connecticut once observed, "When the health, safety and welfare of inmates are preserved, when their lifestyles of criminality are altered, chances are the correctional workers most responsible are ... those in daily personal interplay with inmates -- the skilled concerned correctional officer."

Anyone who spends more than a few hours in a prison or jail in the United States quickly learns that the foundation of a good "house of correction" is its line officers. Versatile and effective officers do far more than provide security throughout agencies. Without their knowledge, dedication and professional commitment, the house would quickly crumble. This issue of Corrections Today explores how we can support the care and well-being of the staff upon whom we depend for the "daily personal interplay with inmates -- the skilled, concerned correctional officer."

The Connecticut Department of Correction's (CDOC) motto, PRIDE, stands for professionalism respect, integrity, dignity and excellence. It is important that staff emulate the motto's significance. In juvenile facilities, officers provide daily direction and act as primary role models, something of which many young offenders have been deprived. In adult facilities, unit officers' firm guidance may help make a difference in offenders' decisions that affect lifelong personal growth and change.

A correctional climate built on pride and wellness also demonstrates measurable outcomes of effective prison performance. CDOC has raised the level of staff empowerment through improved training and an atmosphere of accountability. From July 1995 to July 2000, this management style resulted in a significantly lower level of inmate disciplines, which dropped 33 percent. In addition, inmate-on-staff assaults decreased by 60 percent, inmate-on-inmate assaults decreased by 47 percent and escapes dropped 100 percent despite consistent population increases.

How does one recruit, mold, motivate and retain a diverse group of men and women in which the success of a department relies? CDOC has "raised the bar," setting higher competitive standards for selection, ensuring that the most qualified and best-prepared candidates are selected. Connecticut's traditional methods have been bolstered through a new initiative that begins in community colleges. A partnership with the statewide community college system led to the development of a criminal justice pre-employment curriculum and internship that provides practical groundwork for entry-level correctional officers. This school-to-career approach is flourishing across the nation, affording recruits opportunities to test the career waters. It also enhances the skill level, knowledge base and occupational competencies of the prospective employment pool.

CDOC employs nearly 7,000 people in 135 various job classifications and maintains a 98.8 percent employee retention rate. This success is attributed to focused commitment to staff and numerous wellness and safety programs. CDOC begins with a preservice training program, including a participatory component of family orientation, which gives an idea of the expectations of a corrections career. Family support and understanding are essential for employee wellness on and off the job, thus, family members are brought into the fold by recognizing their crucial role in the recruit's success.

CDOC's nationally recognized training academy, the Maloney Training Center, which is accredited by the American Correctional Association, offers the practical foundation for every employee, from correctional officers to electricians to teachers. Training at the in-service level has a mandatory annual refresher component because investments in a comprehensive training program enhance safety and, due to the support of the technologically advanced correctional equipment, ensure the greatest advantages for the challenges that lie ahead.

Ensuring staff health requires recognition of the extreme demands of this profession. CDOC contracts with an employee assistance program experienced in criminal justice career pressures. Staff may call at any time with any issue, including but not limited to financial, marital or substance abuse issues. It is a confidential, full-service professional counseling agency that also is available to family members.

Additionally, CDOC developed and implemented a Critical Incident Stress Response Program, which deploys a trained peer support team in response to emergencies. The team addresses the personal and professional needs of personnel involved in critical incidents. Through this effort, the immediate need for a proactive intervention is recognized so staff confusion and resentment, which often arise from traumatic stress, are constructively addressed. This confidential service is widely used to share the incident's history and come to common resolutions, which alleviates doubts and promotes professional bonds. Connecticut is one state involved with a nationwide initiative called Families, Officer and Correction Understanding Stress (FOCUS) program, which assesses staff stress levels and teaches those in need of the necessary coping skills to handle the unique occupational pressures contributing to their stress.

Access to lifestyles and fitness assessment information also may prove helpful in maintaining awareness of wellness in day-to-day living, for example, periodic health fairs that provide screening for hypertension, cholesterol, blood sugar and body fat levels, and referrals. In addition, the availability of on-site wellness centers, equipped with a range of exercise options, supports mind and body fitness.

The effort to care for and nurture staff, which, in turn, motivates their daily contact with the inmate population, is a continually evolving commitment. But just as the nature of our culture changes, so must our approaches.
COPYRIGHT 2001 American Correctional Association, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2001 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
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Author:Armstrong, John J.
Publication:Corrections Today
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Oct 1, 2001
Previous Article:Public Safety in Action.
Next Article:Michigan Inmates Rescue Female CO.

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