Recent statistics indicate that nearly half of all Corrections Academy graduates will have left their agency within a two-year period (“State questions high, “2004). This high turnover rate is causing a staff shortage, which is forcing agencies to put new officers on the job immediately while being untrained. Though the amount of Corrections Officers departing from their agencies continues to rise, the amount of inmates entering prisons remains the same.
This of course can become a serious safety issue for the departments employing these new hires that are inadequately trained. Throughout this paper I will explore the numerous possibilities of what’s causing Corrections Officers to depart from their agencies at such a high rate. Whether it’s the demanding hours associated with shift work, the high stress and burnout, or the inadequate pay and benefits, all possibilities will be discussed in an attempt to understand why the retention rate of Corrections Officers is lower compared to various other careers across the nation.
The Department of Corrections (DOC), privately owned jails, parish jails, and local city jails not only face the hardship of maintaining inmate property, specific calorie counts from meals provided, medicine dispensing, doctor visits, and numerous other tasks required that Corrections Officers tend to on a typical day of work, but these facilities also face the hardship of retaining these Officers for extended lengths of employment. As stated in the Abstract of this paper, “Recent statistics indicate that nearly half of all Corrections Academy graduates will have left their agency within a two-year period” (“State questions high, “2004).
This has become a major problem for agencies that have a continuous increase in the number of inmates entering these facilities each year, while becoming almost impossible to keep enough manpower to operate shifts in a safe and secure manner. It is stated that in 1999, the turnover rate of Officers and Corporals within an agency was 29. 6 percent, while the average tenure of Officers was 3 years (“Department of corrections,”). The turnover rates in 2000 ranged from a low of 3. percent in New York, to a high of 41 percent in Louisiana (Lommel, 2004). Typically, once an Officer has been hired and accepted the job, they are to be trained in some type of Corrections Academy. The department hiring the Officer may host this Academy, or the Officer may have to travel to receive their training. Either way, prior to an Officer actually beginning their job monitoring the walkways of a prison or jail, the Officer should first be well trained to ensure theirs, the inmates, and other Officers safety.
However, due to the high number of vacancies within Corrections, Officers are being hired without any experience, while hoping to receive this training academy shortly after becoming employed. Some agencies have established a policy that once the Officer has completed their training at an Academy, they are to sign a contract stating that they will remain with the department for a set amount of years. This is due to the high costs that an agency incurs by having these Officers sent to an accredited Academy to receive their training.
The dollar amount that an agency may spend on an Officers training may range anywhere between a few hundred dollars, to a few thousand dollars. To elaborate on the amount of vacancies within Corrections, this could very well be a contributing factor to the increased amount of Officers who resign due to stress and burnout. Officers are being ordered in on their off days or holidays, forced to work mandatory overtime, a higher inmate to Correctional Officer ratio, as well as experienced Officers having to work with an extensive amount of “rookie” or inexperienced Correctional Officers.
This combining of experienced officers with new hires, who have not received any type of prior training, raises the stress level during dangerous interactions with inmates, as well lowering the morale of the Officers who remain and attempt to complete their careers with a specific agency. This may be due to long term employees realizing that many of the new hires are using their time as a Correctional Officer to gain experience, or as a stepping-stone to eventually become a road or patrol Officer, which may involve more experienced Officers not spending the time necessary to assist, or provide “On the job training” to the new hires.
Additional causes of stress may include the threat of inmate violence, actual inmate violence, inmate demands and manipulations, problems with co-workers, as well as having a poor public image. For example, “Between 1990 and 1995, the number of attacks on correctional officers in State and Federal prisons jumped by nearly one third, from 10,731 to 14,165 (Lommel, 2004). An additional stress added to a Correctional Officers life is being able to balance and separate work from their personal relationships.
Workdays at a correctional facility often involve long hours of uneventful and routine procedures. This “routine” may quickly be disrupted by a brief period of crisis. Some Officers have issues with being able to return to a calm state once a crisis occurs, often times bringing their problems home to their families. This may lead Officers to substance abuse, or alcoholism. Law Enforcement careers can be an extremely difficult, stressful, yet rewarding career, even when referring to Corrections Officers.
However, due to the long work hours associated with shift work, combined with the stressful and strenuous workdays officers are exposed to, it seems as if all Law Enforcement, to include Corrections officers do not receive the pay and benefits that they are entitled to. A large number of Corrections Officers are leaving this career field due to struggling with raising families while trying to balance and survive on the annual salary of a Corrections Officer. It seems as if economically speaking, the value of everyday necessities ontinues to rise in value, except for the officers’ paychecks. This dilemma, combined with the additional stress an Officer encounters on the job, could possibly explain why many Officers leave their jobs due to stress and burnout. The benefits that an Officer, or Corrections Officer receives is usually the highlight of their employment contract. Officers usually do receive good insurance and retirement plans. Not just for them, but for their families as well. However, the type of insurance that an Officer receives depends on the plan that the agency has purchased.
Some agencies will have top of the line benefits, while others may have insurance carriers with extremely high deductibles and rates, due to tight budget restraints and cutbacks within the department. In addition to the stress, burnout, long hours, and low pay, many officers are never set on retiring within corrections. As previously stated, numerous officers, such as myself, use corrections as a stepping-stone, or training prior to being hired for a patrol position.
Numerous agencies such as Sheriff’s Offices of various Parishes within the state, require that an individual hired first serve one to two years within the parish jail prior to being sent to a Police Academy and ultimately landing a position on patrol. Many agencies have come to realize this, which is why they may not spend the time, effort, and funds to train the individual to become a more efficient Corrections Officer. By reflecting on the issues presented in this paper, it is determined that turnover rate in Corrections Officers will likely continue to be a rising problem for agencies.
Administrators seeking seminars on retention strategies, which may depend on additional funding, can combat some of these issues. Agencies can improve their policies, improve management, increase criteria of the screening process, as well as address the wage and benefit issue. However, no matter what an agency decides in attempting to retain there officers, there will always be the Officers that slip through the cracks and ultimately cost the department more funding in training the individual, only to have them leave the agency before reaching their desired and previously stated commitment.