Trending Topics

10 behaviors that stifle career advancement in corrections

If you work in an agency that offers career development opportunities, certain behaviors will deter your progression


In this June 18, 2015 file photo, prisoners stand in a crowded lunch line during a prison tour at Elmore Correctional Facility in Elmore, Ala.

AP Photo/Brynn Anderson, File

By William Cope

You’d like to advance your correctional career and feel you were born to be a leader. But how do you make that happen? The answer may not be so much what you need to do, but what you need not to do.

If you work in an agency that offers career development opportunities and your employer is favorable to promoting from within, certain behaviors can deter your progression. Here are 10 things that will stifle your career advancement:

1. Tardiness and/or poor attendance.

When employees don’t show up for their assigned shifts or arrive late, there’s an immediate negative impact. Fellow employees might have to cover for you, putting them behind on their own work or requiring them to work during their time off. Tardiness and absenteeism cause stress to co-workers and supervisors. These behaviors are infallible ways to destroy any chance of advancement. If you have poor time management skills and never seem to get where you need to be on time, take proactive steps to change your habits so you don’t have a negative impact on others.

2. The “eight and hit the gate” mentality.

When interviewing staff for advancement opportunities I always begin the interview with, “When was the last time you went above and beyond the call of duty?”

Occasionally, you may be asked to do things that aren’t included in your normal job duties. Turning down difficult assignments won’t keep you from being paid, but it may indicate you are not ready to advance. Only doing the basics tells your supervisor you are not ready to take the next step. Ask your supervisor for more challenging projects. This will allow you to demonstrate your willingness to take on a higher level of responsibility and prove your ability to handle it.

3. Refusing criticism.

At some point in your career you will be criticized. Dealing with criticism positively is an important skill needed for advancement. Sometimes, it will be difficult to accept, but that all depends on your reaction. You can either use criticism in a positive way to improve, or in a negative way that can cause stress, anger or even aggressive behavior. It is helpful to have a mentor who you can ask for advice. Explain the criticism you have been dealt and ask for your mentor’s suggestions on how to handle the situation. A positive response to criticism displays a willingness to learn from your mistakes and shows your employer that you strive to advance.

4. Failure to take learning to the next level.

Many employees get through their initial training and then stop learning. To rise above everyone else and put yourself in a position to advance, you must continually learn new skills and strive to improve. Fortunately, many agencies see the value of continuing training as this can spur the growth of their operation in various aspects. Find out what additional training and certifications will help advance your career and then pursue them if possible.

5. Being known as “the malcontent.”

Malcontent employees spend more time trying to undermine administrative decisions and supervision than doing the job they are paid for. Supervisors spend an incredible amount of time trying to supervise and hold these employees accountable, which is a waste of time and resources.

Malcontents usually fall into two categories. The first type of malcontent feels as though he or she has been treated badly by the organization and acts out accordingly. The second type of malcontent is the employee who feels the need to criticize the agency through continuously complaining. Good employees recognize how destructive this can be. They are self-aware enough to know when their negative behaviors get in the way of their goals, so they keep them to a minimum. To be considered for advancement you need to know how to deal with these types of behaviors, not display them yourself.

6. Working alone on your goals.

Unfortunately, performance alone will not guarantee advancement. Occasionally, we all need a little help. Point number three mentioned the value of mentor, as other people can see positives in us we can’t always recognize ourselves. If you need to gain perspective on your skills and help with developing your future goals, find a person who can serve as a coach. This coach may uncover traits you didn’t realize you had. They may be able to teach you how to use these traits to make yourself a more desirable candidate for promotion.

7. Failing to follow through.

Most people have a good idea of how to do their duties to the best of their abilities. The challenge is following through. Sometimes we don’t follow through because of “time inconsistency,” which refers to the tendency of the human brain to value immediate rewards more highly than future rewards. Making promises you fail to keep will influence how you are perceived. Being known as an employee who fails to follow through will undeniably cut short your ability to advance your career. Execution and persistence are the kays to make sure you follow through.

8. Having a passive attitude.

You don’t want to be known as the impetuous employee of the department, but it’s no better to be known as the pushover. Voice your opinions and showcase your work. Your supervisor may not know how valuable your ideas are if you never propose them. Active employees show they are dedicated to the department. In turn, employers see active employees as people they should invest in.

9. Being that “average employee.”

Average employees don’t get promoted. Work hard and become the person your agency depends on for projects and special assignments.

10. Staying in your safe place.

Promotions require you to step outside your comfort zone. Prepare yourself to face adversity. Accept challenges you wouldn’t normally take on. Work that extra duty shift even though it is your day off. Request meetings with your supervisors and ask for ways to improve your performance. Accept criticism, own it and use it to your advantage. Staying comfortable in your position sounds nice, but it won’t help you advance your career.


It’s important to understand that you must create and manage your own career path. Work hard, stay positive, be flexible and accept advice from those who recognize your potential. Develop an advancement plan, execute it and follow through.

About the author
Superintendent William Cope has extensive administrative corrections experience with proven leadership in the management, supervision and treatment of adult offenders. He has been instrumental in the implementation and overseeing of educational and evidence-based rehabilitation programs for inmates at the Rutherford County Adult Detention Center and Rutherford County Correctional Work Center for nearly two decades. He is a graduate of both the Tennessee Corrections Institute and Tennessee Corrections Academy, is an American Correctional Association-certified auditor/inspector, is a Tennessee Corrections Institute certified instructor and is a graduate of the National Institute of Corrections Jail Administration program.

Cope has worked in corrections for more than 20 years in four different facilities including state and local institutions. As the facility coordinator of the Rutherford County Adult Detention Center, he transferred to the Rutherford County Correctional Work Center to serve as the assistant superintendent in 2010. In 2017 Cope was appointed superintendent and has since led his facility to receive its first 100% accreditation through the American Correctional Association.