|Report Writing for Correctional Officers|
|By Carl ToersBijns, former deputy warden, ASPC Eyman, Florence AZ|
A most interesting fact was revealed a few weeks ago when a couple of retired correctional officers met for lunch and chatted a little bit about the job and significant problems related to the job inside our prisons. The matter of facts during these discussions were not only interesting but very relevant to improving the performance of our officers who depend on others with experience to guide them through the difficult times and show them, mentor them or train them in the correct manner. After it was all said and done we all recognized at least one common factor that could in fact enhance or improve an officer’s performance and the agency’s standpoint in their battle to fight frivolous litigation in this business. Thus we all agreed that one such focal point was good report writing for correctional officers and other staff inside prisons. It appears that we have not moved forward a bit in this area in the last few years and some even feel we have lost ground in the importance of good report writing.
Breaking it down for the reader we find several points of view on this matter. The first point to make is the officer’s ability to write better s in relationship to grammar, sentence structures and writing skills. We all agreed that today’s officers have improved but the deficiency is in communicating or matching the essential and precise details for the report to have both structure and format is still flawed. Their writing styles are often reflected in the manner how they talk or communicate with each other on social media web sites thus they must refrain from doing that as well as using jargon or work related slang in their reports to make it clear for the reader who may not be a fellow officer but perhaps a juror or witness reading the report. Secondly, the reader could be the prosecutor or detectives [investigators] who are trying to glean the relevance and factual information to follow up with their duties thus they might struggle to make sense out of your narrative or report.
Many times, reports are written without providing essential background information and filled with useless or non-relevant information that is both useless and harmful to the report’s purpose and intent. Fact remains that poor reports don’t add value to an incident and only require more follow up work to be done to get the right information to begin with thus a loss of precious productivity and time regarding the outcome of such investigations or reviews. Many reports are re-cycled or re-written several times before they are both legible and understandable to the reader and for the purpose it serves at the time. This is happening because many fail to proofread their own or other’s writings before submitting the report.
Report writers need to stick with the basics taught at the beginning of such training and cover the Who, What, When, Where, How (if known) and carefully follow up with the type of action(s) taken to handle or manage such an incident. Officers must avoid “cookie cutter” reports that serve no purpose and only provide attorneys the “bullets” to tear the validity of the report apart. Sharing or copying reports should never be encouraged or instructed by supervisors as the value of the report is degraded when such action exists and is exposed or revealed by other sources such as district attorneys or defense lawyers who will attack the credibility of the writer is written in synchronization with other reports submitted at the time of the incident.
Today, most critical incidents are recorded thus the contents of the report writers must be consistent with that data contained within a video recording of the same event. Going back to background and essential data it is important not to ramble or write too much in these reports. In other words, don’t write a book and stick to just the facts as you know them to be at the time of writing it. It has been said that when you follow the formats trained, a good report will stand on its own merits and tell the reader what you wanted them to glean.
Learn how to articulate your words [keep it at the level you are most comfortable with and don’t use words that are extravagant or fancy] and explain why you wrote what you did by a brief objective statement that explains the event as you understood it to occur. Stay away from propagating rumors or subjective thoughts and stick to the facts, don’ use abbreviations or text language and take the time to spell check the entire document to make it both readable and structured in format for the reader and purpose designed.
To answer the concerns “Is good report writing significant” the answer is “yes” for the need to be accurate is very high and required to report accurately. The fact that many agencies have lowered their recruitment standards has impacted the quality of employees as their educational and work skills are still unrefined and in need of more structure coming out of school and the armed forces. It should be fair to say that “shoddy report writing” may lead to “shoddy investigations.”
Thus we stress the importance of writing a good report not filled with irrelevant data or opinions. Good report writing results in good outcomes for the officers and all those concerned. It can also be said that having the ability to write good reports is also associated with the ability to perform good critical thinking on the job. It appears the job is difficult and stressful enough than to add more time on the shift staying late to write reports that can be done right the first time if you take the time to cover the basics. After all, how many times have you been asked for a supplementary report on a report you may have written? It may be serving you as a hint on whether your report writing skills need improvement or if they are satisfactory enough to share with others your special skill to communicate effectively through report writing.
Editor’s note: Carl ToersBijns (retired), worked in corrections for over 25 yrs He held positions of a Correctional Officer I, II, III [Captain] Chief of Security Mental Health Treatment Center – Program Director – Associate Warden - Deputy Warden of Administration & Operations. Carl’s prison philosophy is all about the safety of the public, staff and inmates, "I believe my strongest quality is that I create strategies that are practical, functional and cost effective."
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