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Care, Concern and Looking Out for Each Other...
By Kevin H. Kempf
Published: 09/14/2015

Riot shield In my 20 year’s experience working in the corrections industry I have heard it said a thousand times, “I got your back”. So often, I have attributed that to one of my fellow staff members watching me as I completed a tier check or one of my Probation/Parole Officers assisting me on making an arrest. Looking back over my career I now know that this is only a small part of someone “having my back.”

When I took over as Director of Corrections in Idaho one of the first things our team did was travel to each work site across the state. We talked to staff, and more importantly, listened to what they had to say. We asked them questions like, “Why do you come to work?” and “What do you like about the job?”. One consistent theme emerged after visiting numerous places, our staff mostly appreciated the comradery felt within this industry and are asking us to promote more of it.

Well, we heard them. Beginning with our strategic plan, we laid out simple and specific things we were going to focus on. We committed ourselves to creating a culture of leadership.

The concept of creating a culture of leadership came from the State of Texas Director, Brad Livingston. He is the longest tenured corrections Director in the country and it’s not by accident. Next we looked at what our neighbors to the west (Oregon) are doing with their staff wellness program. Director Peters’ leadership in this area has many other states following her lead. In Idaho we have changed the way we conduct our promotional hiring. After all, it starts with leadership. We have established promotional ceremonies for each promotion in the state.

We invite the new leaders’ families and fellow staff members and create an awesome event. Our Human Resources Team has created a 3 phase plan to address staff wellness, care, and concern. We recently sent Sr. HR staff to training that assists in the prevention of law enforcement suicides. We created an anonymous staff satisfaction survey that gauges how things are going in the agency. We were excited to have over 65% of our staff fill out the survey and point out areas that are working well and areas where we must improve. The survey was transparent so everyone in the agency could see the results. Each leader has developed an action plan for his/her area that gives specific examples on how they will improve the areas that were pointed out by staff.

It warms my heart to see our statewide leaders not just talking about what they are going to do, but actually doing it. As a matter of fact, we have collectively come up with the saying, “Let’s not talk about it, let’s be about it”. Is it working? Absolutely it is. We recently had a Correctional Officer in the Boise area suffer major complications from surgery. These complications have had him in a coma for an extended period of time in the hospital. Our staff, all on their own, came up with the idea of relieving this CO’s family from the hours of 8pm to 10am every night so they can go home to rest and take care of their children. Staff who sign up are volunteering their time. They call it “#StandingWatch” and it’s been an amazing experience to watch and be a part of.

It’s a proven fact that individuals and entire departments are at their happiest when in the service of others. It’s in honor to be a part of a movement like this. This “culture of leadership” creates an environment where care and concern can grow. It’s humbling to know what it truly means when someone says, “I got your back”.

Editor's note: Kempf joined the Idaho Department of Correction in 1995 as a correctional officer at Pocatello Women’s Correctional Center. He went on to serve in a variety of positions including parole officer, investigator, section supervisor, district manager, warden, chief of prisons and deputy director. The Idaho Board of Correction appointed Kempf director of the department in December 2014. Kevin can be reached at kkempf@idoc.idaho.gov

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