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What The “Hack” Can Learn From The “Rookie”
By Judith A. Yates
Published: 01/21/2013

Prison guard handcuffs When a new officer is assigned to a post, they are usually teamed with an officer who has been in the business for some time. Some refer to the seasoned officers as “old guard” or “hacks.” These “older, wiser” officers are to teach the new officers what they know and how they work. But the “Hack” can learn just as much from the “Rookie.”

Too often, “old guard” or “hacks” have grown complacent. They see the job as a means to an end: you work, get a paycheck, and wait until retirement. They have an understanding with inmates: you leave me alone, I leave you alone. They have no interest in promotions; they want no part of extracurricular training or activities. Sometimes they will even advise, “Nothing will happen here” meaning an escape or a riot.

“Rookie” officers see the institution in a new light. They are eager to do a good job. They know the world of corrections offers a plethora of education, training, and employee benefits. They are eager to look professional, do their best every day, and stand out from the crowd. But too often they are told to stop kissing up, quit dreaming, and not to even try or worry. The officers struggle to find their place between not looking like a Rookie and fitting in, to not appear “green” yet not fall into the negativity the “old guard” might carry. These are tough constraints on top of learning rules and regulations and ensuring everyone on watch is safe.

This may sound like typecasting; it is not meant to be. But we all know “Hack” officers who fit the above description. We’ve all been trained by one or two. And we all have all been the “Rookie”!

The older, “experienced” officer who does fit into the above description can learn much from the new officer coming in. It can be as something as simple as how you wear your uniform to how you conduct a search. There is new information on gangs, weapons, and technology coming in every day (In 1990, who would have ever thought of inmates smuggling in phones?). Attitude, work ethic, education - new officers have something to offer us.

I propose that, instead of an experienced officer being assigned a new officer for training, institutions consider “team training” - the new officer working with the experienced officer, each sharing what the other has learned. The new officer could teach the elder about an issue they learned in class (i.e. a new street gang); the seasoned officer could assist with learning about the system (i.e. which inmates are gang members). The enthusiasm of looking at something from a new point of view may become infectious, and the “Rookie” is trained.

Of course no system is perfect. There is never one answer. But if we can do more to ensure everyone goes home safe at the end of the shift, isn’t it worth it?

Be safe out there.

Corrections.com author, Judith Yates, is a criminologist who has lectured on domestic violence prevention for over 20 years. A former Correctional Officer Specialist and trainer with the Bureau of Prisons, she is now a true crime writer and a trainer available for guest speaking engagements. She can be reached at judithayates@yahoo.com

Other articles by Judith A. Yates:


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