By Dr. Jarrod Sadulski
Faculty Member, Criminal Justice
Leadership in the corrections field presents unique challenges as compared to other forms of leadership and management. For example, in addition to being responsible for subordinates who are corrections officers, supervisors are also responsible for the care and treatment of inmates.
The Corrections Field Has Several Problems that Prison Leadership Needs to Address
According to the National Institute of Justice, some of the most pressing issues within the correctional setting that need to be addressed by prison leadership include:
- Improving staff competencies within the correction system with a focus on professionalism
- Improving staff training
- Improving the corrections work environment and conditions for subordinates
- Developing future leaders
- Addressing the workforce staffing crisis that adversely impacts many prisons
Training has an important role in ensuring that corrections officers have the knowledge and understanding to do their jobs on a daily basis. Proper training can also reduce liability and problems within prisons. For instance, training can ensure that corrections officers who interact with inmates daily understand prison policies, how to respond to dynamic and dangerous situations, and how to properly use the tools and weapons common within prisons to gain compliance from a resisting inmate.
Corrections Supervisors Should Ensure Their Subordinates Are Properly Trained
Corrections supervisors have an essential role in ensuring that their subordinates obtain adequate and frequent training. They should also recognize when a subordinate is struggling with a certain aspect of a prison job and provide remedial or additional training if needed.
Staffing shortages, the safety hazards of maintaining order and dealing with non-compliant inmates, the risk of exposure to disease, and shift work are all stressful challenges for corrections officers. However, Dr. Michael Pittaro, a leading expert on current issues and trends in corrections, posits that physical safety is not the leading cause of stress among correctional officers; instead, it is “inadequate and weak leadership.”
Leadership Determines the Internal Culture of Prisons
Leadership sets the internal culture within the prison for its staff. A positive culture created by prison leadership and administration will guide the morale, ethics, professionalism, and job satisfaction of prison guards.
Mid-level supervisors have an especially important role in corrections. They can either create motivation in their subordinates through fostering a buy-in on the objectives and daily operating goals of the prison, or they can create an us-versus-them mentality between corrections officers and upper-level administrators.
A division between subordinate corrections officers and mid-level supervisors creates an atmosphere of mistrust and has an adverse impact on workplace morale. But when good mid-level supervisors lead by example in following prison policies, hold themselves accountable to the same standards that they require of their subordinates, and stand up for subordinates when their actions were ethical and within policy, they will be better able to gain the trust of subordinates.
Instead of simply ordering their subordinates to follow directions and advising them not to ask questions, effective mid-level supervisors explain why an order is in place and how it applies to achieving a work-related goal. Trust and effective communication are essential in this situation. This trust and communication creates a culture where subordinates feel they are supported and that management has their best interest in mind.
Advocating to top prison administrators by mid-level supervisors is equally important and can further develop this sense of trust. Discussions between mid-level supervisors and top-level prison administrators can include a wide range of topics, such as improving work conditions, fixing broken policies, or advocating for incentives for corrections officers.
Avoiding the Burnout of Corrections Officers
Working in corrections is tough work. Strong leaders should develop best practice strategies to help their subordinates avoid burnout among corrections officers.
The development of best practice strategies is useful. These strategies can lower employee turnover within prisons and enable the most promising employees to be promoted through the ranks, rather than resigning and moving to different careers.
Some of these strategies include fostering communication, decision making and problem-solving skills by subordinates. It is also helpful to rotate subordinate corrections officers through different job roles within a prison, provide career development opportunities and monitor employees for any indicators that they are struggling with stress.
In the Corrections Field, Visionary Leadership Is Required
The National Institute of Corrections says that to improve correctional policies and outcomes, visionary leaders are required. Visionary leaders find new ways to solve problems, provide new solutions to upper management and align subordinate strengths with job responsibilities within the corrections setting.
Developing strong leadership skills through experience and training is important in any profession. We offer an online bachelor of arts in criminal justice that strengthens students’ understanding of corrections and incarceration. In addition, the University also offers an online bachelor of arts in management that provides insight into management practices, leadership, critical thinking skills, and decision making.