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Home > Training > Of wardens and trainers: An interview with Bob Hood

Of wardens and trainers: An interview with Bob Hood

June 11th, 2009

Wardens, as we all know, have so many responsibilities.  Every occurrence on facility grounds poses a potential crisis.  Administrators must consider physical plant, constitutional rights, and political and societal trends.  And all of that has to be placed on the very necessary template of safety for staff, offenders and the public.   The responsibility is awesome.  The accountability is stupefying. It is truly dizzying when one thinks about it.


Do wardens have time and inclination to think about staff development?  Is there enough room on the already full plate to ponder the necessity of continued education for professionals?  What do wardens need to know about training in these dire economic times?


To answer some of these questions, I caught up with Bob Hood. His reputation is excellent and his corrections experience is vast. In the realm of corrections, there is  just a handful of individuals who have served in so many positions and in such assorted workplaces.


Joe Bouchard: Would you tell us a bit about your corrections experience?


Bob Hood: During the past 34 years I have been employed in local, state, and federal corrections.  I retired from the United States Federal Bureau of Prisons (FBOP) as warden of the “supermax” prison in Colorado.  Currently I am the National Security Specialist (Corrections Division) for GE Homeland Protection (HLP).   Relocations throughout my career allowed me to teach criminal justice studies at five colleges and universities.  Regardless of security level (community corrections to ultra-maximum facilities), staff and inmates have training needs.  I will always be involved with professional development and training initiatives.


What is your experience in providing professional development?


Approximately half of my career has been directly involved in professional development.  In the capacity of warden and now as a national security specialist, I continue to develop correctional employees in a different capacity.


While in college, I read a comment form Thomas Mott Osborne, Warden of Sing Sing Prison.  Although written in 1915, his words continue to motivate my desire for professional development; especially within the correctional environment.  Mott wrote:


Deep down in the heart of every man is an innate love of humanity — a spark of that divine love that redeems the world


In 1974 I started working as a Correctional Educator for the New Jersey Department of Corrections.  Two years later I joined the Windham School District as an Academic Supervisor with the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.  After seven years of academic teaching and supervising, I joined the FBOP and eventually was promoted to Supervisor of Education (principal) at the Federal Correctional Institution (FCI) in Colorado.   Several years of correctional education experience prepared me for the position of Assistant Director of the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center (FLETC) in Georgia. 


In my current position with GE, I work with wardens throughout the United States and abroad to find solutions to the ongoing, institutional problems.  In the end, it always comes down to communications, leadership, and planning.


What is your favorite corrections training topic to render?


Communications.  Effective communications is the life blood of our profession.  Far too often simple problems are escalated into crisis situations because of poor communications.  I enjoy taking real life emergency situations and dissecting each component that went wrong.  Staff at all levels may be developed through a non-intrusive approach to learning in this manner.


In your opinion, what are the top three necessary training topics? In other words, what three modules must corrections staff have in order to facilitate smooth operations?


Effective Communications, leadership, and strategic planning.  During institutional assessments and audits, I have found most deficiencies related to a lack in these three training areas.  Administrators and staff are simply not on the same page with communications, leadership, and strategic planning.  When they are, their inmate population and the community are often left out of the loop.  Staff training should include each essential topic.  


If money and logistics were not issues, what single training project would you suggest to supplement the necessary instruction?


It doesn’t take significant funding or logistics to supplement existing instruction.  A “lessons learned” approach usually can be very effective.  For example, an inmate assaults a staff member and we conduct an after-action report.   A training project can include every who, what, where, why question in an informative, exciting manner.  During training, teams can analyze the problem and come up with proactive measures to avoid future assaults.     


Why should administrators really care about training when there are so many daily tasks to occupy staff time?


In order to run a safe, secure, and productive correctional facility, correctional administrators need to be active in training at many levels; staff, inmates, and the general public.  Let me give you an example.  The main concern I hear from correctional administrators throughout the world relates to drug introduction.  Access to drugs in many facilities impacts staff safety and ultimately the local community.


A southeastern prison system used k-9 units, shakedowns, and other valid methods to reduce drugs introduction (all effective methods, but only if used very frequently).  I recommended use of trace technology as part of their interdiction program.  Trace particles of narcotics (normally not observed), are collected using existing technology designed for this purpose.  


Wardens and senior prison officials were trained in using equipment that was non-intrusive (called MobileTrace and Itemiser drug detection units).  With full support of the Director of the prison system, today a quality drug interdiction program exists.  Staff, inmates, and the general public benefit from this program.


It was critical for the Director, wardens, and executive-level staff to support training.   A training plan was developed which included those staff assigned to process visitors and searching for drugs within the facility.  Inmates and their families were part of the solution — so they too were educated on the program to provide for a safe prison experience.    


Without the interest and proactive support of the warden, a drug interdiction program would not have been successful.   In this example, the problem was identified, a training plan was developed, and technology was applied to supplement traditional methods of detecting drug contraband in the prison setting.  It took communications, leadership, and strategic planning at all levels to make this work.


Do wardens have time and inclination to think about staff development


Let me add inmate development to your question.  Wardens need to make the time for both inmate and staff development.  If you review key indicators of a successful prison environment (such as inmate programs, leisure-time activities, disciplinary infractions, morale, staff turnover, assaults, introduction to contraband, etc.), you can determine the warden’s involvement in training initiatives. 


Leadership starts at the top.  If the warden dedicates time to personally addressing new inmates during orientation, attends graduations, holds job fairs, communicates with inmate family members in the visiting room, promotes community involvement, visits the prison library and chapel, the outcome will be worth the effort.  


The warden’s participation in staff orientation and annual refresher training is critical.  The CEO needs to teach staff ethics and provide measurable expectations to create a professional work environment.  The warden must communicate, lead, and provide a plan developed with feedback from staff. 


Regardless of security level or mission, wardens need to make inmate and staff training a high priority.  Initially an enormous amount of time may be required, but the value will be quickly noticed by measuring key indicators. 


Is there enough room on the already full plate to ponder the necessity of continued education for professionals? 


Correctional professionals have many required tasks to perform each and every day.  Each employee, however, needs to determine what their professional goals and objectives are and make time for continued education.  It is their career path; not management’s.  They need to find role models and mentors.  Individualized Education Plans (IEPs) should be linked to promotions and assignment of greater responsibilities for staff.


What common challenges do you perceive between wardens and training staff?


Common challenges often involve a disconnect between mandatory vs. individual development; training staff may be perceived as “treatment” not “security-oriented” staff; and there appears to be no common ground for evidence-based training.  


As budgets are reduced, often training is the first area to be impacted.  Mandatory training continues and staff feel less able to complete their assignment because they need the individualized, often non-required training. Quality training includes courses developed for specific departmental needs.  Not all staff need all training.


Administrators often disregard non-security training.  The challenge is to understand the importance of inmate programs, institutional trends, cultural differences, as well as the arsenal of security topics.  Eventually all personnel will apply a more holistic approach to managing prison populations; not just by restraints, razorwire, disciplinary sanctions, etc. 


Trainers need to do a better job educating administrators on the value of training.  Assessments should determine the specific institutional training needed for their particular mission, inmate population, geographic location, staff experience level, etc.  Evidenced-based training should be recommended to warden.


How can these challenges be mitigated or rectified?


Most of the challenges can be rectified by being visible throughout the institution and as a role model for inmates and staff.  Training occurs every minute of the day.  An effective leader will develop inmate and staff on a regular basis; not just during annual training. 


The visible warden is normally approachable.  Trainers and interested staff should use this opportunity to relay the challenges involving staff training.      


What do wardens need to know about training in these dire economic times?


The essential elements of effective prison leadership work during prosperous or dire economic times.  Although funding may impact staffing levels, number of programs, training opportunities, etc., it shouldn’t be used as an excuse for poor management.  Empower others to assist in staff development through mentoring and protégé programs.  Senior staff should all be certified in training for trainer’s classes and complete speaker’s training at limited cost.         


Has your perspective on staff development changed since you first started in the profession? If so, in what way has it changed?


Yes.  As a program-oriented life-long learner, I always knew the value of staff development.  During the years, I became involved with audits, accreditations, and after-action assessments which identified weaknesses that could have been prevented through staff training and development.   Most importantly, I found the importance in focusing and developing on inmate and staff strengths — not just their weaknesses.  


I found the importance of putting the inmate’s criminal history to the side to focus on their developmental needs.   At the “supermax” federal prison, I worked with terrorist, spies, and gang leaders; all doing multiple life sentences.  Although I don’t condone their past actions, I see the need in moving forward in developing programs and activities that are positive.  Correctional trainers need to take a similar position by education staff on the value of working with the offender …. not against the offender.   


What trends do you see in the future of corrections staff development?


The immediate economic crisis may require more video teleconferencing; less attendance at local, regional, national conferences; and a more evidence-based method of providing security solutions.  As administrators evaluate the negative impact caused by this immediate trend, many wardens will see the wisdom of an ongoing, quality staff-training program.


[Note:  Readers may use the following contact information to ask specific questions:  For more information, 60 Minutes on the CBS network will broadcast a “Supermax” interview with Mr. Hood on June 21, 2009.]

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