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Recruiting Minority Employees in Corrections
By Frank DiMarino
Published: 06/01/2009

African american security g Frank DiMarino, J.D., LLM, is the Dean of the School of Criminal Justice at Kaplan University. He spent over two decades prosecuting federal offenses and understands the evolving landscape and challenges facing the criminal justice industry. Frank can be reached at criminaljustice@kaplan.edu

There is a need and an opportunity to increase the hiring of minorities to fill positions in the corrections system. While prison populations are overflowing with minorities, the staff serving this population is often not diverse. The U.S. Census Bureau reported that in 2006 minorities make up 60% of the prison population with African-Americans at 41 percent of the 2 million prison and jail inmates, Hispanics 19 percent and whites 37 percent. According to a 2006 survey of 45 correctional systems in the United States, the racial breakdown of correctional staffs ranges from 0.4% black (in Utah) to 84.4% black (in Mississippi). The nationwide average of minority correctional staff members is approximately 29%.[1] In some organizations or locations, the large representation of minorities among correctional staffs is a reflection of the regional population pool of employees.

Correctional executives may be already anticipating the demographic shift forecasted by the Census Bureau that ethnic and racial minorities will make up the majority of the US population within the next generation. Specifically, by 2042, Americans who identify themselves as black, Hispanic, Asian, American Indian, native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander will outnumber the white population.[2]

Many correctional systems are seeking to increase the number of minority officers and administrators on their staffs. Such initiatives are grounded upon the socially desirable goals to build a diverse workforce and correct past racial discrimination. There are other known and expected benefits to be gained by diversifying correctional facility staffs. For example, staffs that reflect a variety of cultural backgrounds, including those represented among the prisoner population, may receive better cooperation from prisoners or give prisoners a sense that someone on the staff either understands their life experience or is less likely to be biased against them. As corrections departments become more diversified, we also may find less resistance to the enforcement of prison rules and perhaps even less resistance to treatment options offered by corrections professionals.

Efforts made to increase minority recruitment include correctional facilities attending more job fairs, advertising in predominantly minority media, conducting recruitment through community-based organizations, such as NAACP, Urban League, and La Raza, as well as seeking applicants from churches and historically black colleges.[3] Additionally, some correctional systems have instituted affirmative action plans, such as in Minnesota, that specifically seek “to increase the number of protected group members” as employees at the state’s correctional facilities.[4]

Coupled with these recruitment practices is the hiring requirement in many correctional systems that an applicant successfully pass an examination, such as the Certified Corrections Professional examination. The exam assesses the applicant’s knowledge of the responsibilities and duties of corrections officers. While there are many minorities who may be interested in corrections careers, the legitimacy of such examinations, which typically are used to select candidates for employment or promotion of corrections officers and applicants, is presently being reviewed by the United States Supreme Court.

A recent case before the United States Supreme Court calls into question the racially discriminatory impact of a similar knowledge content-based examination used to determine the promotion of firefighters that had the result of excluding all blacks from promotion. If the Supreme Court rules against such examinations, similar “knowledge content-based” examinations may become illegal.

“The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race.”[5] Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr. admonished school authorities whose practices are questioned under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. With this in mind, the Court heard oral arguments last month on whether the examination should be rejected and how the law should treat diversity in the work force.

The federal government has argued that public employers should be protected when they try to comply with a federal law forbidding the use of some job qualifications that have a disproportionately negative impact on members of one race.

In summary, the corrections community will want to move aggressively to meet its goals for increasing minority hiring and updating its recruitment and selection practices and criteria. By continuing to assess and review long existing hiring practices that were considered discriminatory or resulted in few minority hiring decisions and conducting outreach where minorities gather, it will be possible to attract additional minority applicants, as well as more who are qualified. It also will be essential that effective training and education opportunities are available to these new employees so that they may be prepared to understand what is expected of them and have the skills to be successful in their corrections careers.

  1. Corrections Compendium; Monthly Survey, Staff Recruitment/Work Force Issues, May/June 2006, 31, 3; p. 15
  2. http://www.census.gov/Press-Release/www/releases/archives/population/012496.html (accessed May 7, 2009)
  3. Corrections Compendium, supra.
  4. www.doc.state.mn.us (accessed May 7, 2009)
  5. Parents Involved In Community Schools v. Seattle School District No. 1, 551 U.S. 701, at __, 2007 U.S. Lexis 8670, ***90, 168 L.Ed. 2d 508, 541 (2007).


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  3. PeterFinn on 06/09/2009:

    Corrections is not a place for social engineering experiments. When I walk out on the yard I want to know that the people watching my back are the best possible people for the job, not that they were hired to make a politician or an administrator look like they champion diversity. Lives are on the line here. Staff, Correctional Officers, and inmates's lives are put on the line when hiring is done according to a politically correct whim as opposed to a rational and realistic standard.

  4. Josie on 05/31/2009:

    Mr. DiMarino is not a racist as this article may suggest. Affirmative action just gives those who are less qualified a job over those who are. Recruiting from "community(-nist)based organizations" like La Raza whose very name means the race would be great for corrections as well as America. In my humble opinion recruiting from La Raza to watch over Mexicans in jail would be like hiring crows to guard the corn patch. La Raza whose patrionage is not to the Constitution nor America but to establishing a Mexican autonomy within the USA. Mr. DiMarino, my fellow Paesan. You probably look at yourself as an Italian American rather than an American of Italian extraction. Merit-based hiring is the way to go for every career. If we had merit-based hiring for Congress we would be in better shape. Chris

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