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Training Programs Staff with the Tripod Model Part 1

October 8th, 2009


How do you train a corrections programs professional?  This question may sound like a bad joke, particularly if it is followed with, “Very carefully!”  But there is really some truth to that.  Specialized niches need specialized training content. 


Certainly, basic mandatory instruction is crucial.  Courses such as CPR, unarmed self-defense, remedies against manipulation and infection and pathogen control are necessary for all corrections staff.  They serve as annual reminders of vocational fundamentals.  But shouldn’t corrections training address both sides of the hyphen?  Consider the corrections-librarian, for example.  Is the librarian component receiving a much subordinate emphasis compared to the corrections part? Shouldn’t the left and right side of the equation get more or less equal development? The needs of some groups are not always apparent. Sometimes niche professionals such as prison librarians have not asked themselves these questions.

Yet, programming is very important, even if this is not stated often. Everyone should recognize the benefits of program staff in a correctional setting.  Programs staff preside over opportunities for prisoners to learn, create, and grow within the bounds of policy and procedure. Programming also provides custody staff and the administration with crucial management tools, allowing would-be management problems to be productive.  When they consider it, most correctional administration and custody staff recognize the importance and utility of programs for the order of the facility. But, if each specialty provides so much, shouldn’t there be distinct training to buttress programs professionals?


Yet, programs staff (teachers, chaplains, recreation directors, hobby craft instructors, and librarians) traditionally have more to worry about than homogenized training schedules. They contend with additional hazards.  Those dangers are present in all classifications, but more prevalent in programs staff.  They are:

* professional isolation
* disenfranchisement within the facility
* boredom
* quick turnover
* burnout
* vulnerability to manipulation
* And a general vocational identity crisis. 


But, there is hope for valuable programs staff whose work complements custody staff and aids in fulfilling the mission statement.  That optimism is based in the concept of balanced training called the tripod model. It is a full-day training opportunity tailored to the needs of programs staff.


The tripod model is applicable to all programs staff, regardless of specific job title, seniority or experience.  Newly hired staff need acclamation.  Seasoned corrections professional need occasional reminders of the comprehensive nature of their jobs in the corrections setting.  The tripod model is divided into these components: Departmental Perspective, the Professional Perspective, and Standard Tools.


Proactive trainers can guide niche staff into beneficial in-service that nurture both the corrections and specialty sides of each job.  The tripod model goes beyond the fundamentals.  Its three components render many benefits to programs staff. The tripod model makes conditions favorable to:


* Keep hard to recruit niche staff vested and professionally interested
* Diminish turnover
* Reduce recruitment costs
* Eliminate redundant initial training costs
* Lessen retention costs
* May be counted towards annual training requirements
* Promote networking as a means to arrest professional isolation
* Strengthen ties through networking and leaves staff less vulnerable
* Promote broader perspective, vanquishing ‘blinkered horse’ mentality


All of those benefits and more are possible with the tripod model of training.  But it is up to the coach to cultivate each particular program area. This seminar works from the general to the specific.  Let’s review the three parts that make the whole.


Departmental Perspective. This segment of the tripartite is a review of new employee school, but with a larger scope.  The mission statement of the agency is highlighted here. This exercise gives a sweeping view of the custody/programs/administration paradigm.  The goal is to demonstrate how these three groups interact and attain the ultimate goal of institutional safety and security.  This part of the Departmental Perspective shall incorporate interdepartmental training in rapport.  There will be heavy emphasis on custody/programs staff relations. Then, the role of each program unit within the institution is noted.  Departmental Perspective is capped with emphasis on certain policies and procedures such as the mission statement, the prisoner disciplinary process, prisoner security classification, prisoner programs classification, etc.


Professional Perspective.  The second component of Balanced Training is the Professional Perspective.  This part examines what it is to be an isolated professional who assumes many non-traditional duties in the corrections setting.  This is meant to complement the Departmental Perspective while illustrating the uniqueness of the professional niche. 


Part of the Professional Perspective would be presented with help from outside the Department. Academic speakers from the particular field should be obtained for each specialty group. The topic would be like a keynote address, focusing on a hot topic in the sub-field.  This would assist in outreach and aid in the battle against professional isolation.  It would also serve as an intellectual stimulus addressed to each professional niche within the institution.  Theories and concepts about one’s own chosen vocation tend to make one more excited about what one does for a living. 


It should not be too difficult to arrange such a colloquium. There could be promises of reciprocal presentations or participation in career days at the sponsoring college or university.  A representative from the corrections profession certainly would be welcomed at college job fairs.  If the reciprocity does not suffice to cover academic speaker expenses, grants can be written to cover those fees.


Standard Tools.  Having looked at the broad Departmental Perspective and the specialized and conceptual Professional Perspective, we now move to the Standardized Tool section.  The sessions would be completed with a comparison of sample tools that we all use in corrections each day.  An example of a standard tool is a generic set of chapel posted rules.  Or, another example is a standardized legal photocopy processing flow chart from the law library.


Similar rules exist at all institutions.  So, it would be useful, for instance, if all recreation directors compiled and compared the weight rule rules system-wide.  This does not mean that generic rules would leave no room for local autonomy.  It is merely an exercise in issuing common practices for common challenges.  It would be up to each professional to strike the balance between pragmatic uniformity and necessary modification at the institutional level.

Sample misconduct reports, notices of intent and local operating procedures are other examples of useful tools to compare and adapt.


For implementation ideas, please see Training Programs Staff with the Tripod Model Part 2.



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