Laying down the law for new prisoners, checking inmate cells for illegal contraband and warding off life-threatening altercations might sound like the flyleaf for a thrilling novel, but correctional officers live in a nonfiction world. They must deal with unruly captives, disgruntled inmate family members and other branches of law enforcement, so strong interpersonal skills help them survive difficult interactions.
Correctional officers communicate clearly so inmates know what's required of them. For example, an effective communicator might say, "Stand behind the red line with your back against the wall and face me." She doesn't say, "Move over there." If a prisoner disobeys the rules or provokes a confrontation, you must communicate penalties and punishments resulting from the inappropriate behavior. Unless yelling or physical contact is necessary to avoid danger, you shouldn't lose your temper, strike an inmate or use foul language -- you don't want to lower herself to an inmate's level. Clear and concise communication typically works best. Correctional officers orientate new prisoners, communicate with guards, give mealtime directives, maintain order during recreation times and establish protocol for traveling to and from prison cells. According to "The Princeton Review," some institutions give officers specialized training in communication techniques so they can engage in formal counseling with inmates.
Organization is the key to a productive work flow. A correctional officer performs administrative tasks such as scheduling counseling sessions, organizing work assignments, facilitating educational opportunities, making travel arrangements and establishing visitation guidelines. This interpersonal skill requires you to think strategically. You might ask yourself, "Does this procedure maximize safety and minimize distractions?" Or, "Will this schedule give all inmates equal opportunities?" Strong organizational skills establish uniformity, making it easier to manage and oversee prisoners and daily activities.
A correctional officer might not notice every cobweb or floor scuff, but she must be detail-oriented. Correctional officers have detailed job responsibilities such as checking cells for unsanitary conditions, performing thorough searches for contraband, inspecting facilities for signs of security breaches, proofreading inmate mail, keeping an eye out for hand-crafted weapons and completing daily prisoner-behavior logs, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Without an eye for details, you might overlook something important that could lead to a dangerous situation. Making sure handcuffs and leg irons are securely fastened, addressing questionable behavior and alerting guards of potentially hazardous conditions can prevent dangerous altercations and ward off tempted prison escapes.
Fair and Consistent
Fair and consistent behavior helps correctional officers develop positive relationships with inmates and staff. As tempting as it may be to show favoritism to well-adjusted or submissive prisoners, you must exhibit unbiased behavior and report all violations, regardless of an inmate's personality or likability factor. Convicted prisoners made bad choices that led to incarceration, so your fair approach and consistent behavior set an example, proving your compliance with the law. Debra Scutt, warden at the Parnall Correctional Facility and Cotton Correctional Facility in Michigan told Jackson Community College that strong interpersonal skills and consistency also help a correctional officer interact with convicted felons who have social-skill deficits, substance abuse problems, medical conditions and mental health issues. Fair and consistent interactions with inmates makes it easier to enforce policies, without succumbing to prejudicial treatment.
As curriculum developer and educator, Kristine Tucker has enjoyed the plethora of English assignments she's read (and graded!) over the years. Her experiences as vice-president of an energy consulting firm have given her the opportunity to explore business writing and HR. Tucker has a BA and holds Ohio teaching credentials.