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3 helpful hints for the first days on the job as a correctional officer

Get in early, ask questions and do more reading than you ever expected to

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What other tips would you suggest for a new correctional officer?


As I graduated from the corrections academy I walked across a threshold into an honorable club of professionals. But just because I gained a membership card does not mean that I have been accepted as a full member of the club. During my first few days on the job, I was transferred around to a variety of assignments within the institution. It was a whirlwind of anticipation and education.

While these assignments for a seasoned officer where normal, as a rookie officer I had numerous post orders to read, security procedures and hundreds of different inmate personalities to work with. I had to keep my mind straight and keep focused on the tasks at hand. I had to do my rounds and counts while ensuring both mine and my partners’ safety.

Listen during briefing

Get there early, sit down and listen during briefing. So much information can be shared and learned in a briefing. First and most important, you learn about the daily actions of the institution. You learn about the culture, tenor and organizational structure. You learn about the culture, the nuances of each shift and you learn about the importance of listening.

Most importantly, you learn how to do your time as a correctional professional. Learning how to do your time is just as important as learning the job. You should not walk in as a “know-it-all” or a rules enforcer or a mark. In briefing, you pick up on everyone’s style.

Soak it up like a sponge

Be prepared to learn a lot of information; absorb it, take it in and know that more than likely you probably won’t recall it all. Ask questions! Get information to ensure that you survive. Knowing when to ask the question is just as important as the question itself.

You shouldn’t ask questions when cuffing someone up, but rather in a controlled environment. After the situation has calmed down, people have level heads, and can describe the action, reactions and get the why’s and how’s of an incident.

Read, read, read

Policies and post orders – make them your friend. Read them, digest them, put them down and do it all over again. The policies and post orders set the tone for the institution, including how to handle situations and how to deal with offenders. The written word is your guide to success.

Following policies and procedures to the letter is dependent on what situation you find yourself in. Most correctional policies do not have much flexibility, considering the nature of the work.

Thus for you to be successful in corrections, it behooves you to know exactly what your facility accepts and does not accept. Some policies with little flexibility include counts, rounds and movements. These policies, which need to be conducted at certain times on the dot, ensure the safety and security of the institution.

This article, originally published 09/18/2015, has been updated.

Dr. Matthew J. Stiehm has received an Educational Doctorate from Argosy University, where the focus of his research was campus safety and security. He has a Master’s Degree of Criminal Justice from Central Missouri State University, with his final paper which focused on the investigation of child abuse and finally a Bachelors of Science from Wayne State College, Nebraska. He has served as a police officer in three states (CA, MN and NE), he keeps current on law enforcement trends most recently he conducted an 8 month study with Columbia Heights Police Department (MN) on Community Policing. He currently is a member of ILEETA, an Associate Member of the IACP, Support, and Police Executive Research Forum Subscribing Member. Dr. Stiehm is transitioning into a career with the correctional world, working as a corrections officer.