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The technology bridge
By Dennis Souther
Published: 09/08/2008

0904computer Recently I had a conversation with the director of staff training with the department of corrections in one of the nation’s largest states. Though the state employs approximately 8,500 correctional officers only seven percent hold an associate degree, and four percent hold a bachelor degree.

These percentages are likely indicative of most correctional agencies nationwide. An increasing number of law enforcement agencies nationwide require a degree for promotion within the agency with many larger departments requiring the degree for initial employment. Likewise, corrections also demands professional, skilled, and well-trained employees.

Opportunities to increase the percentage of correctional staff with academic degrees should be a goal of every correctional agency. Agencies should also develop policies and programs to assist correctional staff with tuition assistance and to award incremental salary increases for staff with degrees.

For the past several decades much attention, research, and effort has been generated toward providing educational opportunities for incarcerated men and women, and the correlation of education to rehabilitation is well documented. To a large extent educational opportunities for inmates are met regardless of location. The instructors and the curriculum are delivered even to correctional facilities in remote areas. Thus, a need was identified and resources allocated to meet the need.

The intent of this article is not to question correctional education for inmates, but to make a comparison of the need for quality educational opportunities for correctional staff as well. The need for quality college degree programs is clear. The question is whether correctional administrators will assist in meeting this need among correctional staff.

Providing correctional employees the opportunity to access academic education helps develop a well-rounded and professional workforce. Academic education is one of the foundational elements in the trilogy of training, education, and experience.

What are some of the traditional reasons that correctional and detention officers do not hold academic degrees? If the officer desires to earn the degree what are some barriers that may prohibit access? There are a variety of answers to these questions including but limited to the following:
  • Many facilities are located in rural areas that create a hardship for officers wanting to attend classes. The more rural the state or region the more likely that traditional college is not easily accessible to a full-time correctional employee.

  • Correctional employees often work shifts and schedules that preclude attending classes on a regular basis.

  • Many jurisdictions do not provide tuition assistance and the officer cannot or will not prioritize personal financial resources to fund the education.

  • Many jurisdictions have traditionally not required academic education as a requirement for initial employment or for promotion, so officers may feel that there is no incentive to complete a degree.
Technology has exploded into our lifestyles in the past twenty years. Any 50-year-old can remember the days without cellphones, personal computers, or even fax machines. So much has changed in our society and these changes increase exponentially each year.

The technological development with the most direct impact on educational delivery within the past ten years is the widespread access to the Internet and the World Wide Web. The Internet opened a whole new realm of course delivery in the form of online courses, podcasts, and hybrid courses.

Most Americans are now aware that the majority of colleges and universities offer at least a portion of their educational programs in online or distance learning formats with many offering complete degrees in online format. Within little more than five years the development and delivery of online and distance learning courses has eliminated many of the barriers correctional employees have in completing their academic degree. The Commission on Colleges, the major nationwide accrediting agency, fully recognizes online course delivery as a viable educational delivery format.

The Internet eliminates barriers of race, gender, and age. The Pew Internet and American Life Project conducts extensive research on Internet accessibility nationwide. According to its most recent polling in March 2007, Pew Internet reported that 71 percent of adults are Internet users, and there is no significant difference between men and women (71 percent and 70 percent respectively) and not a dramatic difference in race.

The report indicates that 73 percent of whites, 62 percent of blacks, and 78 percent of English-speaking Hispanics use the Internet.

Forty-two percent of Internet users have access to broadband, such as cable. The only significant differences in Internet use are attached to older Americans, educational levels, and poverty levels. Americans older than 65, or those without high school education and those with household incomes of less than $30,000 show a marked lack of Internet usage.

What factors should a correctional employee consider in choosing the college or university to complete a degree?
  • Cost. One of the first questions asked by most prospective students is the cost. Naturally the cost will vary based on whether the college is a public or private institution and whether the student qualifies for financial aid and/or tuition assistance from the agency. Cost should not be the only factor considered but it must be balanced with the other factors.

  • Quality. Often overlooked by some prospective students is the rigor and quality of the courses and degree programs. Careful consideration should be given to the integrity of the academic program, the institution, and the qualifications of the faculty and instructors.

  • Accreditation. This is a very important consideration when choosing a college. The Commission on Colleges has seven regional accrediting agencies and most major colleges and universities hold accreditation through the regional accrediting agency. This is important in transferring courses later into additional degrees, such as the graduate level.

  • Accessibility. Of increasing concern to the correctional employee is the willingness of the college to offer its courses and degree programs in contemporary formats that are conducive to the working adult. A working adult may choose a traditional evening program, however, since many correctional facilities are located in rural settings the online and distance learning formats are increasingly relevant.
Hopefully, as we move deeper into the twenty-first century correctional agencies will see the need to stress academic education in addition to basic and on the job training. Correctional administrators should strive to develop tuition assistance programs for correctional staff and college administrators must ensure that they offer quality educational programs at a reasonable cost and in formats that accommodate the professional correctional workforce.

Dennis Souther is Dean of the Online Campus with Stanly Community College in Albemarle, N.C. Prior to this position, Souther served as Online Coordinator for the Criminal Justice Program where he developed and taught online courses and marketed an online associate degree; the first completely online degree in his state. He has also developed and taught criminal justice courses with other online colleges and universities.

Prior to joining Stanly Community College, Souther served eighteen years with the North Carolina Division of Prisons. Beginning as a correctional officer he served in various positions and facilities while also attending college and earning his academic credentials. He is a long-time member of the American Correctional Association and has served on the Executive Board of the North Carolina Correctional Association. He also serves locally as member of various criminal justice oversight boards and committees.


  1. Ann P. Stevens on 09/17/2019:

    The technology bridge a great work done by the person who is really independent to his work where I'm able to get best essay writing services for quality work. The person who maintains this website is quite responsible. I would love to salute the designer of this post.

  2. bhenders on 09/04/2008:

    I couldn't agree with the author more. College education not only proves that a person is bright and can stick out a course of study; it also gentles a person such that they are not easily angered and can think through a situation before taking hasty action. Increased education for corrections personnel can only help them and those in their charge as well. For those who are in rural areas, online coursework is an acceptable substitution for classroom education. Departments of Corrections should definitely have an education benefit. Brook Henderson Co-Coordinator, Southern ColoradoCURE

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