4 continuing education options for correctional officers

Looking to improve yourself, or maybe earn a promotion? Check out these options for continuing education for correctional staff and law enforcement

Corrections professionals receive a great deal of training: Academies, field training programs and yearly competencies are all part of the job. While all of this mandatory training is great, it represents only the bare minimum. For some of us, that just won’t do. We want to learn, expand our horizons and develop as professionals. Whether your goal is to land that special assignment, receive a promotion or be better informed, there is a wealth of learning opportunities available to you.

Internal Training

In addition to the yearly mandatories, many agencies offer additional training to their employees. No doubt you are aware of the opportunities provided by your own agency and perhaps you have already used them. If not, why? Take advantage of these opportunities. They are quite often some of the easiest training opportunities to acquire. Make sure you submit the proper requests, and don’t get discouraged if you don’t get approved the first time. Training costs time and money and, in our field, both of those things are in precious supply.

Whether your goal is to land that special assignment, receive a promotion or simply to be better informed, there is a wealth of learning opportunities available to you.
Whether your goal is to land that special assignment, receive a promotion or simply to be better informed, there is a wealth of learning opportunities available to you.

External Training

It’s a big world out there, full of diverse training opportunities, so why not jump on them? External training has two major advantages over internal training. First is that you are acquiring knowledge and perspective on a subject that is not necessarily possessed by others within your own agency. The second is the opportunity to network with professionals outside your own organization.

External training can come with a hefty price tag. If you want your agency to foot that bill, make sure to sell them on it. Prepare a justification letter with your request. Explain how this class is going to benefit not only you, but most importantly the agency. Have a plan for how you will apply the information/skills learned to your current or future assignments. If practical, explain how you will pass on this knowledge to your coworkers, thus increasing the value of their dollar.

Formal Education

The long and odd hours of our profession can often make continuing a formal education difficult, but more colleges are offering hybrid, online and accelerated courses that make receiving a college education quite a bit easier.

Another hurdle to a college degree can be the cost, but there are ways around this. Depending on your economic situation, you may be eligible for grants and/or subsidized student loans. Regardless of your finances, don’t count yourself out. The only way you’ll know what you’re eligible for assistance is if you apply. If you don’t qualify for grants, look into the Stafford Student Loan.

You may quality for loan forgiveness programs for public service professionals. One additional resource that may be available to you could come from your employer. Many agencies offer tuition reimbursement programs that could cover some or all of your expenses.

One last note on formal education: when choosing a degree path, think big. What is your goal? Are you looking to promote one day? Time and again I see people majoring in criminal justice. If promotion is your goal this may not be the most worthwhile use of your time and money. Consider instead majoring in public administration and minoring in criminal justice, sociology or criminology.

Online Training

There is a wealth of quality online corrections training if you know where to look for it. Below I list of some of the online resources I use most often. Some I’ve used for research papers and reports, I’ve taken online training courses on others, and some I review just to keep abreast of current trends and hot topics in the justice system. While this list isn’t all inclusive, it should give you a good start to expanding your professional knowledge online:

  • Americans for Effective Law Enforcement: AELE is a wonderful resource for legal research on all topics related to law enforcement. The site boasts “a searchable library of more than 34,000 case digests.” No advertisements and no registration ae needed to access this information. Sign up for email alerts to be informed when new bulletins are released. The Jail and Prisoner Bulletin is particularly informative for those working in corrections.
  • National Institute of Justice:  As the research, development and evaluation agency of the United States Department of Justice, the NIJ is a wealth of resources including published studies, statistics and training.
  • National Institute of Corrections: The NIC provides training, technical assistance, information services, and policy/program development assistance to federal, state and local corrections agencies. That assistance is available to you directly through free online training courses and a library of publications.
  • Federal Law Enforcement Training Center: FLETC’s mission statement is clear and concise: We train those who protect our homeland. FLETC provides webinars, classroom instruction and online training/resources. Interested individuals can subscribe to the centers’ monthly publication "The Informer" or view archive copies on the website. Other resources include podcasts and video casts on such subjects as report writing, miranda and officer liability. There are costs associated with some of these classes.
  • Bureau of Justice Statistics: Need some statistics for that lesson plan you are writing? The BJS has what you’re looking for. From jail/prison mortality rates to crimes against the elderly, if it is a justice-related statistic the BJS has it. 

This article, originally published June 23, 2015, has been updated.

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