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Former Cook County CO Talks About How Training Has Evolved Since the 1970’s
By Sean Reed, Sr. Editor, Correctional Officer Org
Published: 05/29/2017


The following is the conclusion of a two-part series interview.

Former Cook County CO Talks About How Training Has Evolved Since the 1970's

We sat down for a conversation with Tre Hardiman, a former CO with the Cook County Sheriff’s Department. He opened up about his personal experience with candidate training in the 1970’s and how things have changed in the decades since.

By the early 1970’s voices in the nation were speaking up about the potential for psychological harm that could come from these types of exercises. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) was starting to become part of the modern psychological vernacular because of the Vietnam War, and the now-infamous Stanford Prison Experiment was in the headlines.

Contrary to what you might expect, Hardiman was grateful for the experience and the hard-learned lessons he gained as part of the immersive exercise he was put through. He compared his CO trainers to the DIs that trained him during his military days, “The old drill sergeant used to be the guy who would beat the hell out of you and make you into an Army man, or an Air Force man, or whatever you were going to be. And you respected him even though you hated him. But after you got your training you'd love him because he put you through the grind.”

But it’s a different world than the one Hardiman cut his teeth in. True, COs don’t deal with the kind of people you would want to turn your back to, but that doesn’t mean you allow inmates to set the terms. It is incumbent on COs to use everything they are trained in, including psychology and verbal de-escalation techniques.

These days, inmate control protocols are better defined and de-escalation options are always on the table to defuse situations and avoid violent confrontations. As Hardiman looks to the new generation of trainers and the new training methods in practice he says, “You have new younger guys who've been in the field for maybe 10 or 20 years, and he's training now… It takes time now and it takes experience now.”

Correctional officer training is now smarter, more methodical, and trainers are among the most elite in the profession. They often hold degrees in criminal justice and have a better understanding of the psychology of the inmate population, and the candidates in their charge. And with this greater level of understanding, they are able to employ training methods that are ultimately much more effective than the methods used in Hardiman’s day.

Experience Is Always the Best Teacher… And Your Trainers Have Enough to Go Around

Luckily for today’s CO recruits, the past experiences of other correctional officers are used to inform procedural training. There is also a new form of immersion training going on today. It is now common practice in many states for on-the-job training to involve a slow approach to exposing new recruits to the actual prison environment. This gives new COs a chance to perform their duties in the real-world under the careful supervision of a field training officer for a few hours a day before returning to the classroom.

Procedural training is based on decades of observation and established precedent so you know it will cover every scenario you're going to encounter. Though nothing can substitute for personal experience, procedural training will absolutely prepare new COs for the unexpected since it is based on real world experiences that other COs have had, drawing from case studies and tens-of-thousands of individual incidences.

From Hardiman's perspective, the best advice he can give new recruits preparing to go into training is to be receptive to what's being taught but to also ask the trainers questions that tease out lessons learned from real-world experience: “When you go into training listen to everything your instructors tell you and go by the book.”

Ultimately, it’s all about having knowledge of proper protocols for a given situation down cold and the ability to execute procedures on the fly, combined with the experience to know when and how to deploy them. This is what makes a correctional officer great at the job.

But until the time you’ve gained that experience yourself, you just need to trust your field training officer and be confident that the procedures work. This means trusting in the years of experience your trainers bring with them into the academy. Think of it this way, experience is the best teacher, but until the time new candidates become seasoned COs, they have to rely on learning from the experiences their instructors and senior officers have had. As Hardiman puts it, the kind of officers that always follow the procedures they were taught are the ones that are, “cool, calm, and collected.”

As the managing editor of the writing staff at Correctional Officer Org, Sean has had the unique opportunity to learn more about the CO profession than just about anyone outside the field. His goal is to ensure the site serves as a voice for the profession by keeping his team focused on the issues that matter most to COs.


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