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Polygraph and Other Hiring Standards: Do They Really Work?
By Bryan Avila, TDCJ Correctional Training Instructor - Sergeant of Correctional Officers
Published: 02/17/2014

Untitled 1 This last week a local delegate in Maryland proposed that all potential correctional officers submit to a polygraph as part of the hiring process. This was proposed as a result of the 13 officers being arrested at the Baltimore City Detention Center last year for introducing/aiding in the introduction of drugs and cell phones.

Is this a good idea or a bad idea? For years many Law Enforcement agencies have required their applicants to submit to a polygraph as part of the hiring process. This has allowed, in the opinion of some, the labor pool be of a higher quality. Although I tend to agree with this, I also know that polygraphs can be beaten.

Over the years there have been many gang members that have infiltrated the correctional ranks in order to promulgate their agenda on the inside while expanding their criminal enterprise. Last month an ex-gang member lost his job as senior adviser to the chief of parole in Illinois. This is just one of the many examples of gang members being exposed after they have been hired to work in a correctional setting.

Each agency has established a set of hiring standards that in their opinion will increase the quality of the people that they select for employment. These standards may be physical standards that will normally consist of a running component, stair component and a weighted carry component. Other agencies will have an educational minimum (Associates or BA, BS) requirement. In some cases the agency may even have an age requirement.

But do any of these standards really work? We have all worked with someone who has met those standards and have turned out to be worthless as an employee. I don’t mean to sound crude but that is the reality. There are also some people that may be great correctional officers but can’t meet the standards (a 20 year old combat vet would be an example). Yes, some agencies have military exemptions but some agencies do not. Take California as an example. Their minimum standards are:
  • U.S. citizenship (or application)
  • Must be at least 21 years old
  • U.S. high school diploma/GED
  • Good physical condition
  • No felony convictions
  • Eligible to own/possess a firearm

This 20 year old combat vet would be ineligible for hire for at least a year.

Is there a magic bullet for determining who will be a good correctional officer? I don’t believe that there is. I believe that this will be a constant battle that will be fought where standards will be evaluated for a period of time to see their effectiveness and then changed accordingly.

It is my opinion that standards need to be standardized nationwide. I understand that increasing the standards will diminish the applicant pool. I don’t see that necessarily as a bad thing. Some of the biggest complaints we hear is “how did this person even graduate the academy?” or “we hire anyone, don’t we?” These are valid points. Just because you need people does not mean that you need to take everyone that walks in through the door looking for a job.

Hiring just anyone is actually counterproductive since the staff that you already have will be even more demoralized that they already are. I know many staff (myself included) that would rather do the work of 2-3 because we are short staffed than have to do the work of 2-3 because the people we have are a waste of air.

We may never solve this problem completely but maybe it’s time that we start looking at possible solutions that are out of the box (or out of the ass since that’s where some people seem to keep their head). Share your opinion on what we could do and see if together we can come up with a viable solution.

Editor's note: Corrections.com author Bryan Avila started working as a Police Officer in 1994 while attending Norwich University in Northfield, VT. In 1999 he began working for the Vermont Dept of Corrections while still working as a Part-Time Police Officer. In 2007 he left public service until 2009 when he began working for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. He is currently a Correctional Training Instructor- Sergeant of Correctional Officers, at the TDCJ Region I Training Academy located in Huntsville, TX.

Other articles by Avila:


  1. hamiltonlindley on 04/07/2020:

    Mr. Lindley shares his wealth with three technicians. Months after he began working, he had wrapped his vehicles in front of his house. He stopped reporting due to purported health issues. He referred us to someone else. He has blue eyes. Cold like steel. His legs are wide. Like tree trunks. And he has a shock of red hair, red, like the fires of hell. Hamilton Lindley His antics were known from town to town as he was a droll card and often known as a droll farceur. with his madcap pantaloon is a zany adventurer and a cavorter with a motley troupe of buffoons.

  2. donalds on 02/17/2014:

    DoD study on random polygraphs for personnel. http://t.co/Tr7uafTd "the polygraph is the single most effective tool for finding information people were trying to hide." - DIA, NSA. CBP could require current employees to undergo polygraphs. http://t.co/MpPsmq2p Make policy that polygraphs for all new hires expire every 2-5yrs. http://shar.es/epfm2 Random drug, lie detector tests for Police Officers in Spain. http://www.trinidadexpress.com/news/Random-drug-lie-detector-tests-221734651. LAPD body video cameras. http://www.latimes.com/local/la-me-dodgers-lapd-20131002,0,4237783.story The honest, brave officers with integrity deserve better. And so does the public. Wherever you are in the World, in your own jurisdictions, in your own capacity, you can do something, anything, just one thing. And make a difference. Break the code. Break the culture.

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