Positive reinforcement: improving correctional environments.

Author:Salley, Scott L.
Position:Work Force Update

Working in a jail or prison is extremely demanding; many capable employees leave the corrections field because they do not feel they are properly recognized or rewarded for their efforts. Positive reinforcement is a viable tool for acknowledging and retaining employees who desire to make a positive impact on inmates, peers, friends and, probably most important, their families. The majority of correctional staff continuously search for ownership in their work and strive to make important contributions to the workplace.

Positive reinforcement is stating or doing something that will encourage a person to repeat good behavior. The opposite of positive reinforcement is punishment. A simple pat on the back can be an indicator of positive reinforcement. It is easy to initiate, not cost prohibitive and is most effective when done spontaneously or in a timely manner. Another example of positive reinforcement is to greet a subordinate in the hallway, address them by name and inquire about their daily duties. Ask about their personal well-being during this short dialogue and be sincerely interested in their response.

Why Positive Reinforcement?

Feeling appreciated is a basic need for most people. Unfortunately, the reality is that many in corrections have trouble even verbally acknowledging that someone did a particular job well. Motivation is a fragile asset; similar to a piece of glass, it can be shattered beyond repair in a split second.

One of the common responses from departing corrections personnel who have decided to transfer or leave corrections entirely is the lack of motivation and guidance they received from their immediate supervisors. Do you recall what it costs to hire and train a correctional officer? Starting a short, friendly dialogue, extending a supportive handshake, presenting direct eye contact or incorporating any simple, friendly gesture can reassure co-workers and make a shift more pleasant for all staff. It is no longer advantageous to be the toughest or "meanest CO" on a shift. Although there are situations when learned defensive tactics must be deployed, in today's world using brains to resolve a situation is...

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