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Report Writing for Correctional Officers
By Carl ToersBijns, former deputy warden, ASPC Eyman, Florence AZ
Published: 02/13/2012

Reportwriting 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."

Other articles by ToersBijns:



Comments:

  1. jamestown0509 on 03/15/2012:

    Report writing is critical to corrections. i have told officers to start writing notes about date, times, inmate names and cell locations and what officers and supervisors came to assist on the incident prior to writing the actual incident report (ticket as called in NYS corrections). I don't that the author in the article mentioned review by a supervisor and with most jails and prisons that is required before the report is sent through the computer system or Jail supervisor if written by hand. One of the essentials my Sgt always said was, "If you didn't write it down, it didn't happen." He was so right about that. I have told countless officers to make sure the details are in sequence and correct as to facts and to leave out extraneous statements. Having testified in federal court I am way too familiar with being on the wrong side of a notice of claim and I can assure you that my incident report was well written and it was that report and my testimony that dropped the entire case by the former inmate.Also the initial incident report is part of a criminal package that has to be used with a deposition, supplemental disciplinary report, accusatory instrument and warrant for arrest in criminal charge cases such as inmate assault.

  2. Play13 on 02/17/2012:

    For the most part this article is correct about Officers report writing skills. I personally take pride in writing my reports and always turn in a detailed report documenting my involvement in an incident. I always pay attention to my co-workers reports and look to see how detailed their reports are. Most of the time my reports are a few pages longer than most of my co-workers. The sad part is the majority of Officer take no pride in their reports and just want to get them turned in and leave work for the day. Also there is the supervisor issue that was not addressed in this article. I cannot count how many times a supervisor would pressure us officer to get our reports turned in because they too had to get their reports completed and turned in. Most of the time the Officers involved in the incident are not relieved from their post to go somewhere private and write their reports. Instead they are left to write their reports while still trying to run program. They are not given the proper time or environment to write detailed reports and if they are it is being done after their shift has ended. The problem with this is that management starts to put on the pressure because of overtime cost and the fact they just want to wrap everything up quickly. The other problem is than only until recently most Officers did not have access to a computer to type out their reports. They were left to hand write their reports and if they made a mistake or needed to change something they would have to start over. Then once they were complete and turned it in, the supervisor would make correction to it and the Officers would have to re-write the whole report over. Now with computer access being available to the Officers reports writing has improved. Mistakes are easily corrected and the majority of the Officers I work with feel this has helped them improve their overall report writing skills. Yes there is still room for improvement for all of us Officers, but the only way to improve report writing skills is to write reports and take any constructive criticism and build from it. To many times I've seen an Officer get their feelings hurt because a supervisor or another Officer made corrections to their report to make it flow better or told them they might want to word a sentence or paragraph a certain way because it made the report clearer to the reader. The Officer would get mad and make a statement like, " you can't tell me how to write my report or this is my report and this is how I want to turn it in". For the most part all the supervisor was attempting to do was prevent pandoras box from being opened up on that officer once it was sent up the chain of command. The funny part about this is that when the Officer get the endless amount of clarification question they get mad and act as if somebody is out to get them.

  3. Mar9cd on 02/15/2012:

    Correction about the report writing for correction officers.

  4. Mar9cd on 02/15/2012:

    Thanks for posting about report reading and my mistake I write with my feeling and that needs to stay out of the report


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