The Changing Role of Wardens; A Focus on Safety and Security

By Ruddell, Rick; Norris, Tommy | Corrections Today, October 2008 | Go to article overview
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The Changing Role of Wardens; A Focus on Safety and Security


Ruddell, Rick, Norris, Tommy, Corrections Today


It has long been recognized that wardens have a demanding job that often places them at odds with different stakeholder groups. As far back as 1932, wardens were said to be responsible for "economy of management, making escape impossible, administrative management for guards and officials, supervising a building program, and keeping in touch with the state legislature to avoid being strangled to death financially." (1) Although institutional missions and terminology have changed over time--especially using the term "guards" to describe corrections professionals--the core duties of wardens today are similar to that early description. As the chief executive of the institution, the warden plays an important role in ensuring that the mission of his or her federal, state or corporate headquarters is carried out. Increasingly, that focus has shifted to ensuring the safety and security of the community, staff and inmates.

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Not unlike the mayor of a small city, prison wardens require a broad set of knowledge, skills and abilities in order to successfully lead hundreds of employees and manage multimillion-dollar budgets while ensuring a safe and secure environment. Making the job even more challenging are increasing expectations for rehabilitation; a greater number of difficult-to-manage inmates; difficulty recruiting, training and retaining officers; and an era of diminishing budgets.

Similar to other leadership positions, the role of warden is strongly influenced by changes in the internal and external environments. In some cases, the goals of the employer may be in sharp contrast to the views of community activists, inmates' families and other stakeholders. Further more, due to greater media coverage, inmate litigation, and active unions and associations of correctional officers, the role of wardens has received increased attention. As Stephan Kaftan noted, "Wardens and superintendents operate in highly political and complex environments." (2) Given these realities, two important questions are: What types of duties do wardens carry out, and how have these duties changed over time? Change in any public or private endeavor is constant, but the ability to adapt to changing environments is the key to being a "true winner" in corrections. (3)

Competency Profiles for Corrections

During the past two decades, the National Institute of Corrections has funded the development of competency profiles for different correctional positions, from correctional officers to commissioners of corrections, for both juvenile and adult corrections. These competency profiles outline a list of job duties in order of importance and prioritize a set of tasks that constitute each duty. Examining a competency profile gives the reader a fundamental understanding of the main tasks of the position. Newer versions of these competency profiles also include a list of what tasks are most important in terms of criticality (tasks that are seen as most important) and frequency (tasks that consume a disproportionate amount of a worker's time). They also highlight the training needs of new and veteran workers. Altogether, a competency profile provides a comprehensive overview of different positions and is an excellent starting point for developing education or training.

One limitation of this body of knowledge, however, is that some competency profiles are several decades old, and may no longer accurately reflect all of the changes experienced within the field. The 1988 Competency Profile of Wardens and Superintendents, for instance, was the very first one developed for the field of corrections. In recognition of this shortcoming, the North American Association of Wardens and Superintendents (NAAWS), NIC, and the Correctional and Juvenile Justice Studies Department at Eastern Kentucky University (EKU) collaborated to conduct a job task analysis of wardens and superintendents (hereafter "wardens" will be used to mean wardens/superintendents) at the April 2008 NAAWS training conference.

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