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Correctional Officers – Lessons Learned Overrated?
By Carl ToersBijns, former deputy warden, ASPC Eyman, Florence AZ
Published: 11/03/2014

Lead and learn

Basically speaking, much of a correctional officer’s world is based on personal experiences and the process of learning how to do or don’t do things you encounter while doing the job. The fact is that the concept of lessons learned is overrated and should be put into perspective by making sure there are five solid steps taken to ensure you don’t make the same mistakes again as before. Making mistakes can be the difference between winning and losing and the battle between good and bad things happening on the job.

The first thing we need to reduce or address is the temptation to become complacent. Being careless is a game changer and should be avoided at all costs. Officers need to think before they take action – analyze your options and depend on your training to calculate your risks. Time permitting, practicing patience by planning and thinking of the consequences gives you the “extra time” needed to make the right move or action. Using your intuitive skills helps as well as what you have been taught by others.

Never give up and never fear what you will run into when you already know the odds are stacked against you from the beginning as you are outnumbered and put at risk anytime you report for duty. Don’t think about throwing in the towel and stick to the plan to turn the odds around so you are safer when you work. Remember that quitting is not in your vocabulary so looking for new strategies and tactics is the alternative in this environment.

Working inside a prison takes a special person – thinking like an inmate can be an effective strategy and allows you to think in a preventive mode. Don’t leave yourself wide open for their manipulative and sometimes violent plans. Learn how to stay ahead of them by attention to detail and deciding your next step making it a defensive one if necessary keeping your opponents off balance.

Remember I said “think like an inmate” and not “act as an inmate.” One distinct advantage for an officer is to learn how to empathize and think in the shoes of the person do things so you can find alternatives or solutions to their or your problems. Being empathetic means asking good questions and engaging effective listening skills while you sort out the fact and take action.

Remember where you are at all times. Working this job will bring you good days and bad ones. Unfortunately you will also work with good staff and bad ones. How you make your choices or decision is based on your own ability to remain consistent and fair at all times. You will win some and lose some but what is most important is how you play the game. Remain respectful and relax (avoid taking on too much stress) as much as you can under the circumstances. Never lose focus on your responsibilities and control your emotions.

Avoid any negativity that may surround you or those you work with daily. Maintain your sense of humor and keep your mind clear. Avoid taking things personal and focus on being professional at all times. Your demeanor will determine your credibility and respect from others. Walking the talk is more than words, it is who you are.

The longer you work the more you learn and the more you learn the less mistakes you will make if you pay attention to the lessons learned and adapt or modify your strategies or tactics to improve the outcome of the last encounter and most of all, bring your learned experiences to the table and share them with others to avoid making miscalculations.

Corrections.com author, Carl ToersBijns, (retired), has 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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