Hiring and Training Requirements for Correctional Officers: A Statutory Analysis

AuthorMelissa A. Kowalski
Published date01 January 2020
Date01 January 2020
Subject MatterArticles
/tmp/tmp-18qJJ6d32vN93b/input 882342TPJXXX10.1177/0032885519882342The Prison JournalKowalski
The Prison Journal
2020, Vol. 100(1) 98 –125
Hiring and Training
© 2019 SAGE Publications
Article reuse guidelines:
Requirements for
DOI: 10.1177/0032885519882342
Correctional Officers: A
Statutory Analysis
Melissa A. Kowalski1
U.S. state statutes provide the minimum hiring and training requirements
for correctional officers (COs), but it is unclear whether COs have achieved
professionalism. This article utilizes a statutory analysis to examine state
hiring qualifications and training requirements for COs. The findings reveal
that not all 50 have statutes outlining CO hiring and training requirements.
Although some states are very specific, many provide only general standards.
As such, statutes regarding CO hiring and training are far from uniform.
correctional officer, hiring, training, qualifications, professionalism, statute
The success of correctional facilities depends in large part on correctional
officers (COs), as these staff are tasked with maintaining a secure, safe, and
humane environment (Lambert et al., 2009). Although the work COs perform
can be both dangerous and stressful, hiring qualifications vary by state. At a
minimum, all departments of corrections require at least a high school
1The College at Brockport, State University of New York, Brockport, USA
Corresponding Author:
Melissa A. Kowalski, Albert Brown Building 231, 350 New Campus Drive, Brockport, NY
14420, USA.
Email: mkowalski@brockport.edu

diploma and specify a minimum age for applying. This raises the issue of
whether COs have attained the status of “professional” (Lutze, 2016) and
what is required to establish a “high-quality correctional workforce” (Russo,
Woods, Drake, & Jackson, 2018).
Past researchers have proffered additional requirements. As an example,
Smith and Schweitzer (2014) suggested that the hiring process of COs should
include a criminal background check. Moreover, potential employees should
be assessed on their personal skills and qualities to support a more therapeu-
tic prison environment (e.g., provide appropriate services to inmates based on
the risk-needs-responsivity model). These authors also argue that COs should
promote human service and have a philosophy of offender rehabilitation,
rather than punishment.
One way to assess the effectiveness of correctional facilities and their COs
is to utilize the Correctional Program Assessment Inventory-2010 (CPAI-
2010), which assesses whether correctional facilities can provide inmates
with evidence-based services and examines whether these facilities imple-
ment practices related to staff characteristics, organizational culture, inmates’
risk and needs, program characteristics maintenance, interagency communi-
cation, and core correctional practices (Gendreau, Andrews, & Thériault,
2010). Higher CPAI scores are an indication of program integrity and are
associated with lower recidivism rates (Smith, 2013). For programming to be
efficacious, three-fourths of COs should, at minimum, have an undergraduate
degree related to a helping profession and also have prior experience working
with offenders. Moreover, 10% of COs should have an advanced degree.
Clearly, these recommendations do not match up with current hiring require-
ments for COs.
Training also matters. The history of corrections has demonstrated how
insufficiently trained COs may inhibit successful implementation of new
reforms (Rothman, 2012). This failure does not fall solely on COs, as inmates
need internal motivation to reform, and correctional facilities may simply not
have enough resources to support staff. However, better equipped COs may
more effectively assist inmates in making necessary changes to successfully
reintegrate into society. Consequently, public safety may be enhanced, and
offenders may be less likely to recidivate. In this vein, adequate hiring and
training are critically important.
Yet, given that each U.S. state may have different requirements for hiring
and training COs, understanding the professional status of COs is difficult. A
profession is defined as having educated, trained, experienced, ethical, and
adequately compensated staff (Stohr & Collins, 2009). Variations in hiring
and training across states may indicate that COs have differing levels of pro-
fessionalism, or that professionalism has not been achieved. As such, the

The Prison Journal 100(1)
present study seeks to investigate state statues related to CO hiring and train-
ing requirements and address three of the characteristics of the profession:
education, experience, and training. The first two characteristics concern hir-
ing requirements, whereas the latter references COs’ duties post-hire. States
that require more education, training, or experience for COs may indicate that
COs in these states have achieved a professional correctional workforce.
Hiring and Training of COs
Lack of professionalization and training has been documented as a concern in
corrections (Lutze, 2016; Rothman, 2012; Russo et al., 2018). The skills and
professionalism of COs can help or hinder inmates and improve or weaken
the effectiveness of corrections (Stinchcomb & Fox, 1999). A wide range of
safety and programmatic failures in correctional settings can be attributed to
poorly trained staff.
Historically, COs have not been viewed as professionals. For example, in
1967, 41% of states did not have education requirements for COs; the remain-
ing 59% of states required only a high school diploma (President’s
Commission on Law Enforcement and Administration of Justice, 1967).
Training requirements were also dismal, with over half of agencies reporting
no in-service training. Another barrier to professionalization involved higher
education. Universities in this era treated criminal justice as a vocation
instead of a discipline (Lutze, 2016). As such, criminal justice practitioners
taught criminal justice courses (Culbertson, 1975). Moreover, as educated
applicants were often offered the same pay as peers without education under
civil service hiring systems (Bowker, 1982), state departments of corrections
had difficulty in recruiting more highly educated staff.
Despite these challenges, a call for CO education and training arose in the
1970s (National Advisory Commission on Criminal Justice Standards and
Goals, 1973). Yet, in the years that followed, only half of U.S. correctional
agencies provided the recommended entry-level training for COs, and 10%
or fewer of COs received annual training (National Manpower Survey of the
Criminal Justice System, 1978). In comparison, 70% of probation and parole
officers at the time were receiving such training. Nonetheless, progress has
been made.
In recent decades, more correctional agencies are requiring applicants to
have some college-level education, and agencies are mandating an average of
220 hours of pre-service classroom training, in addition to field training
(Stinchcomb, 2000). Compared with past educational and training require-
ments, COs could be viewed as professionals, but such a quantitative mea-
sure of professionalism fails to account for the quality of service COs provide

to both inmates and their facilities. The following paragraphs detail such con-
text, including a discussion of burnout, treatment of inmates with mental
health problems, and training to reduce sexual misconduct.
Staff Burnout
Most inmates are not willing participants in their incarceration, which makes
correctional work challenging (Griffin, 2001) and stressful (Trounson &
Pfeifer, 2016). Stressors COs face include work overload, conflict, strain,
role ambiguity, lack of information and control (Dowden & Tellier, 2004),
and a dangerous work environment (Harrell, 2011). Prolonged stress can
result in burnout (Gould, Watson, Price, & Valliant, 2013), which is charac-
terized by reduced personal accomplishment, depersonalization, and emo-
tional exhaustion (Maslach, 1982). Depersonalization is associated with
cynicism and a detached response to clients, whereas a decrease in personal
accomplishment is related to feelings of incompetency. Staff who experience
emotional exhaustion feel overwhelmed by occupational demands.
Staff at risk of developing burnout may have trouble working with clients
(Barak, Nissly, & Levin, 2001) and may exhibit poor adaptive coping styles
(Trounson & Pfeifer, 2017). Hence, COs who are inexperienced in working
with inmates, who do not receive training regarding interpersonal interac-
tions, and/or cannot effectively cope with their tasks may be more prone to
developing burnout. Over time, the stress COs face has profound conse-
quences, including depression (Sui et al., 2014), medical issues (Morse,
Dussetschleger, Warren, & Cherniack, 2011), divorce, substance abuse, and/
or death (Cheek & Miller, 1983).
Job stress is also detrimental for the organization, as stress is associated
with lowered organizational commitment and job satisfaction (Mahfood,
Pollock, & Longmire, 2013), as well as increased absenteeism and turnover
(Lambert, Hogan, & Altheimer, 2010). Higher turnover results in states’
spending more resources to recruit, hire, and train new staff (Carlson &
Thomas, 2006). Correctional administrators could potentially decrease CO
burnout and...

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