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Why Good Correctional Officers Become R.O.A.D. Warriors
By Carl ToersBijns, former deputy warden, ASPC Eyman, Florence AZ
Published: 10/15/2012

Change This idiom or phrase is usually spoken out loud as a workplace joke or a negative referral to someone that is performing at a sub-par level while on duty. It must be stressed that this expression is used often in the work place but is not to be taken literally. It is used by most correctional officers that speak the same language and knowing the meaning of such a phrase.

Although it may seem humorous in the beginning it is often a legitimate point of frustration and stress for those impacted by the lack of sensitivity and concern to this important matter. In fact, it is a high element of staff turnover and resignations. Many of these ROAD warriors exhibit the “Do it my way, or hit the highway” attitude that are often contradictions to policies and procedure and influenced by a culture of high tolerance to these “shortcuts” by their supervisors.

Every correctional officer must realize that the reality of working with such individuals on shift sends a terrible message to those who are already stretched thin on the job and working their butts off to make ends meet while solving problems to the best of their ability while on shift. We have experienced it on every tour of duty, at every prison complex and it seems to be growing in numbers and attitudes. The danger of such approach is how it impacts the new officer or transferred veteran candidate who come on-board with a pocket full of expectations and personal goals as well as determination to do the job well.

These potentially great officers quickly learn the ropes from those that are “retired while on active duty” by performing the same shortcuts, the same mannerism and the same attitudes demonstrated by their so-called “mentors.” This article is about prevention or in many cases, the intervention of such a phenomena happening at your workplace.

What causes this phenomenon and how do you combat such a influence. The answer is not easy and it takes a lot of work to re-direct new officers, as well as veteran employees back to the right direction. The most important element for making changes is the mannerism or approach you take to address this problem. It takes positive leadership qualities to reverse the trend and keep it going in the right direction. Looking at some of the dynamics of the ROAD syndrome, we find commonalities that must be addressed. How we change these negative activities is left up to three main steps for responsible parties.

The first step is for the administration to ensure their policies and procedures are updated and revised annually or identified as needed. In fact correctional “best practices” must be reasonable and according to nationally established standards as well as ensuring their training programs are up to standard and applicable to the tasks at hand in a real work environment, not just at the academy. This includes a follow up on-the-job orientation program that employs mentors of good standing and excellent work histories.

The rank and file of supervisors that are charged with direct supervision and guidance for all correctional officers, new and veterans. These supervisors must be properly trained to perform and make good decisions. They must also conduct sound and impartial personnel evaluations while building teams; have the ability to draw up individual development plans and evaluate and assess performance with no prejudice, bias or political influence when making the scores for every individual under their command. Giving an undeserving officer an excellent rating when in fact, there may be room for improvement takes away the potential for growth and knowledge. Supervisors are not doing their subordinates any favors by overrating them as it stifles learning and career growth. This rating is most important during the probation periods as it must accurately reflect the performance and the behaviors exhibited during this trial period thus giving the officer a chance to redeem themselves through work improvement plans and other motivation tools provided by the supervisors. Reality is the key to best efforts put forth during this important trial period of employment. It sets the baseline of standards that could guide them throughout their entire career.

The last step is the individual that has voluntarily chosen to become a correctional officer and work inside a penitentiary that is potentially dangerous and harmful to both personal health and well being. This is the most important step as these persons should be receptive to instruction, direction and suggestions from those who know how to do the job according to best practices and training provided by the agency. Each individual must step up to a leadership position and address all issues coming their way professionally and in compliance with the rules and regulations imposed on this potentially most dangerous workplace.

Setting aside personality issues or political preferences is a priority for leaders, supervisors and correctional officers. We already know that poor leadership qualities may in fact cause this ROAD phenomena thus it is important that the leadership recognize their responsibilities in this concept to avoid making the problems worse than they may already be in the workplace.

Leadership at all levels must be positive in nature and focus on reinforcement and instructional behaviors. The problem directly related to developing a good officer to become a great officer is the manner these individuals enable and promote good feelings related to job satisfaction, performance and appreciation of doing the job right. The obvious result for negative behaviors impacts the enabling of practicing poor work standards thus causing undesirable behaviors and this syndrome called ROAD warriors at work.

Although there are many more tools available to address this phenomenon, it is recommended that every human resource administrator review their individual training plans to evaluate effectiveness and get feedback on elements of this plan to ensure applicability and practical exercises are included for all staff. This review should also include the assessment of all performance and evaluation tools and verify whether they are being used in the manner prescribed by a written outline rather than random scoring using poor rating techniques to get this [often perceived burdensome] task out of the way.

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:


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  2. Sergeant Larkin on 10/24/2012:

    Great article for all staff who work in corrections. I would suggest to all staff to add some sort of work out program for stress reduction, take the time to invest in yourself. I am thankful our facility managment has taken the step of providing a small gym for us to use at a minimal cost of seven dollars. I know in these times of tight budgets training is not as abundant but still very inmportant in accomplishing our mission. Stay ready and stay safe :)

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