Certified Employees: Taking Correctional Facilities and Personnel to the Next Level

By Lensing, C. Martin | Corrections Today, August 2004 | Go to article overview

Certified Employees: Taking Correctional Facilities and Personnel to the Next Level


Lensing, C. Martin, Corrections Today


Brawn, not brains, was once what the public envisioned when it heard the term "prison guard." While this sometimes continues to be the case, during recent years, correctional practitioners, administrators and other correctional staff, along with the American Correctional Association, have worked hard to educate the public about the professionalism involved with the duties and responsibilities of correctional officers and civilian correctional staff. It takes much more than the muscle-bound prison guard portrayed by Hollywood to control a correctional environment as is well understood by correctional practitioners, but the perception of those outside prison walls is that of what has been depicted in movies such as Cool Hand Luke and The Shawshank Redemption and HBO's Oz.

The Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Corrections has made tremendous strides since the early 1990s in changing the public's perception of its facilities, employees and inmates. The agency began this process by educating and informing citizens of its abilities, innovations and high level of performance in the following core functions of the corrections field: security practices, staff training, offender re-entry and health care. That process started in 1991 when the department took on the challenge of accrediting every state facility under the standards set forth by ACA. Until that time, the public's perception of the correctional system was shaped by the fact that the agency had been under court supervision since the 1970s for conditions stemming from overcrowding and constitutional issues. After accomplishing the goal of systemwide accreditation with the accreditation of agency headquarters in 1999, which freed the agency from court supervision and control, the public and other legislative and judicial officials began to realize that with the support and assistance of professional organizations, such as ACA, the Association of State Correctional Administrators and the International Association of Correctional Officers, and the resources provided by the National Institute of Corrections, Louisiana's correctional agency could perform independently at the top of its field. The agency also turned to statewide professional organizations, such as the Louisiana Correctional Association, the Louisiana Drug Court Association and the Louisiana Sheriff's Association, among others, to further support its goals.

Beyond Accreditation

With the accreditation goal accomplished, the agency began to pursue the next level of professionally developing its employees. It did this by providing mechanisms that gave staff the opportunity to further specialize and become qualified practitioners in their positions. Much of this was accomplished by offering them career choices and trying to ensure that they did not perceive their employment as just another job. To accomplish this, the agency used programs such as ACA's correspondence courses and Louisiana's comprehensive public training program, which is the state's management training program for state employees. Through these programs, staff were given the opportunity to be recognized for what they do. After implementing these programs, the next natural choice for career development was ACA's Correctional Certification Program, which was first offered in 2000. The leadership of the Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Corrections embraced this program and encouraged staff to participate by including certification in the department's employee awards program, which provides numerous forms of employee recognition, including monetary awards.

With such tremendous support from the department as a whole, ACA's Correctional Certification Program fulfilled the agency's need for a program that took it to the next level. There are certifications and degrees for all types of jobs, but this program offered a unique opportunity for the individual correctional employee to earn recognition for a job that he or she has learned mostly through hands-on experience. …

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