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Old and new: Corrections training in 2014

Let’s discuss recent developments in training over the past few years

As 2013 comes to a close and I find myself a year older, I’m reflecting where correctional training is today. Let’s discuss recent developments in training over the past few years.

First, correctional trainers can now bring the real world of corrections — jails and prisons — into the classroom like never before. We are still relying — a little — on our experiences in the form of the “war story.” But from what I’ve observed by attending several conferences and from speaking to trainers, the real world can be brought into the learning environment by using video from the Internet.

Online videos can be easily downloaded and be included in Power Point presentations. It’s a great way to bring events and observations by corrections professionals into the classroom for discussions and question/answer sessions. I find that videos from good sources are very useful.

Second, trainers are advised to bring in guest speakers. I tell trainers: “You do not have to carry the load yourself.” Guest speakers — well briefed in advance — can add to any presentation. There are a lot of criminal justice professionals that work with corrections staff — use their knowledge! Also, through websites and correctional associations, trainers can reach out to many in corrections — all, I have found, are willing to share ideas and curriculum.

Third, I think that corrections training has reached a “fork in the road.” On one route, many trainers are using online training more frequently and for more subjects. There several definite advantages to basic format online training — it saves money and staff can take a course at the institution on slow shifts, such as at midnight or when relieved by colleagues. Online training can also be taken during off duty time. This eases staffing problems such as covering for staff that are in the academy.

Still, online training has several limitations that I would like to address. A trainee cannot ask a computer questions if the format is basic information on the screen. But if the on line training includes live video feeds, this can be very beneficial to have a group engage in instruction with a trainer in another location.

The other route is continuing to use the stand up, personal instruction (teacher in the room) format. This can serves as a relaxing break from the facility — I remember that a week assigned to the academy to take a good class was a stress reducer and served as a type of vacation from the jail. If the instructor is engaging, energetic and knowledgeable, trainees will walk out of the class with better skills and knowledge than when they went in. Discussions, questions and group activities can be great learning tools. Staff will remember the training.

We have seen a rise in technology for trainers since the new millennium. As 2013 comes to an end, where does correctional training go from here?

It depends on the need for training, combined with the criticalness of the subject. For example, if you want to have an online, basic course on legal updates and statute changes — great! But if your agency is getting sued or a lot of inmate grievances are being filed, a seminar with a good instructor driving home the need to avoid liability may be more beneficial.

A basic online suicide course may be good, but if your staff isn’t recognizing that inmates should be treated like people and may have serious problems that are not recognized, the personal instructor format may help them appreciate the seriousness of the subject.

Trainers, especially “the old ones” (like me) have to merge at times both routes and go down one path. I have done this by developing an online course and using an online tool — SKYPE — to present to a class hundreds of miles away. I enjoyed working in both areas!

So, as we greet a new year, these are some thoughts by a correctional trainer — and one who embraces both the old and the new.

Thanks for your attention. Happy New Year!

Lt. Gary F. Cornelius retired in 2005 from the Fairfax County (VA) Office of the Sheriff, after serving over 27 years in the Fairfax County Adult Detention Center. His prior service in law enforcement included service in the United States Secret Service Uniformed Division. His jail career included assignments in confinement, work release, programs, planning/ policy and classification.