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Training staff on policies and procedures, Part 1 — Development

Part 1 of 3

Read Part 2: Plan into action
Read Part 3: Documentation

All correctional facilities must have good written policies and procedures on key aspects of the correctional operation. Policies and procedures are necessary so as to properly direct staff members in the performance of their job tasks and duties. They are also a key element in an overall liability risk management strategy.

Managers have a proactive responsibility to be sure that policies and procedures are developed to cover all reasonably foreseeable occurrences and events in the facility, and that such policies have certain qualities: they are thorough and comprehensive, they are in accordance with prevailing legal standards, there is congruence between what the policies say and actual practices in the jail or prison, and the policies and procedures are written simply and clearly enough that they are understandable to the people who will follow them.


However, management’s responsibility does not end there. Management also has the responsibility to train staff members as to the contents of policies and procedures and the skills necessary to implement policies and procedures. The purpose of doing so is, again, twofold:

(1) to be sure that staff members are properly prepared to do their jobs, and
(2) to serve as a key tool in liability risk management — that is, to help defend against allegations of failure to train in a civil lawsuit against the jail or prison.

The legal responsibility to train staff members was set forth by the U.S. Supreme Court in Canton v. Harris. Although that was a police case, it applies in principle to corrections as well.

In the case, the Court said that if the failure to properly train can be shown to be a significant factor in a situation in which a subject’s constitutional rights have been violated, management of a law enforcement agency can be held civilly liable.

The legal responsibility to train applies to training of staff on policies and procedures. That responsibility is not met simply by distributing written policies and procedures to employees and expecting them to read and follow the policies. Nor is it met by asking (or requiring) employees to sign a document that indicates that they have received policies and agreed to read them and follow, or abide by, them. Such documents do not absolve management of their responsibility to train staff, and to demonstrate that training occurred and was adequate.

Training staff members on policies and procedures has three key elements:

(1) training on the cognitive aspects of policies—that is, knowledge of the contents of policies;
(2) training on key psychomotor skills necessary to implement, or carry out, policies; and
(3) training on good decision-making so that staff members can properly apply policies and procedures.

All three elements are important, and must be addressed in a comprehensive training program.

In regard to training on the cognitive aspects of policies, the goal for the outcome of training depends on the type of policy issue. Some policy issues may be best classified as “need to reference”, meaning that the policy is on an issue that staff members can look up in the policy manual (whether hard copy or on computer, etc.) when they need to do so because there is time to do so. It is not an issue that must be acted upon immediately.

For example, an inmate may verbally request to be placed in protective custody, in an administrative segregation housing area. The officer receiving this request may not know the procedure for how to handle such a request.

But, this is not a situation that must be acted upon immediately. The officer can look in the policy manual to see what to do in the event of such a request. Maybe he or she has the authority to make the decision about placement, maybe it has to go to a supervisor, or maybe it is an issue to be decided by a classification officer. Perhaps the inmate’s request has to be formalized, in writing.

Policy should touch on this issue, since an inmate request to be placed in protective custody is certainly a foreseeable circumstance. Certainly such an inmate request needs to be acted on quickly, but not immediately, in most circumstances. But because this is a “need to reference” policy issue, the focus of training should primarily be to familiarize staff members with the fact that there is a policy on this issue, the title of that policy, and key points of information relating to the issues in the policy.


With that information, officers will be able to look up the policy to get the information that they need, when they need to do so. There is no reason to expect them to know the details of the policy by heart, since the information is easily accessible when necessary. In short, the key purpose of the training is to enable staff members to use the policy manual as a reference tool when they need to do so.

On the other hand, some policy issues may be best classified as “need to know,” meaning that the policy is on an issue that occurs so frequently that officers should reasonably be expected to know and follow the policy without looking it up, or that the policy concerns something that officers must respond to quickly and about which they will not have the luxury of consulting the policy manual.

An example of the first type of need-to-know policy might be conducting routine searches of inmates. That is an important security procedure that officers do every day, in a variety of circumstances. It is such a routine procedure that officers should be expected to master the cognitive information in the agency’s policy on searches — for example, when searches are authorized, whether certain types of searches are to be conducted by an officer of the same gender as the subject of the search, documentation of the results of searches, disposition of contraband discovered during searches, and so on. And, of course, officers must be trained in the skills of conducting searches.

An example of the second type of need-to-know policy issue—a situation to which staff members must respond quickly—might be use of force. When responding to disturbance emergencies in a jail, officers must, of course, act very quickly.

There is no time to look in the policy manual to see what to do. Officers must know, by heart, what the policy says about such issues as when physical force is authorized or not authorized, supervisory notification, and the key concepts and components that are the basis for use of force: the control theory, approach considerations applied to determine the justification and appropriateness of force, the available authorized intervention options and the conceptual framework for selecting an appropriate option, and the follow-through considerations to be applied following the use of physical force.

Another example might be intervention in an apparent inmate suicide attempt. If an officer discovers an inmate hanging in a cell or room, for example, he or she must act very quickly, without consulting the policy manual regarding proper action.

The officer must know, in advance, what the policy says. Does the policy authorize him to enter the cell alone to help the inmate? Or is he to call for backup first and then enter the cell only when backup arrives? Is he expected to apply first aid and CPR even when it appears the inmate is dead, or does he have the discretion to determine that such measures are unnecessary? What steps are to be taken to preserve the scene? And so on.

These are all policy issues that an officer must know in advance of responding to the emergency situation.

With need to know policy issues, the desired outcome of training is different than for need to reference policy issues. It is not just familiarization with the policies and procedures. Instead, the desired outcome is that staff members will have in-depth knowledge and understanding of key points of cognitive information.

Because the desired training outcomes are different for different types of policies, it makes sense to use different instructional strategies in training. For a need to reference policy issue, the instructional strategy for the cognitive domain aspect of training may be as simple as referring learners to a written policy, having them read it, going over a few of the key points of the policy, and perhaps going through a few brief frequently-asked-questions or simple scenarios to illustrate application of the policy. That may take a fairly short amount of time.

But, again, a key point is that the outcome of such training is not that staff members will be experts on the contents of the policy, but only that they will be basically familiar with the policy so that they can refer to it and then follow it when they need to do so.

With a need-to-know policy issue, on the other hand, the instructional strategy would likely be different. Here, management’s goal is for staff members to be experts on the policy contents, so that they can properly follow the policy when they need to do so. Therefore, the training approach must be more in-depth and time-consuming. Points of information regarding both policies and procedures must be covered in detail so that learners will know and understand what to do in a given situation and how to do it, when they need to do so, without the luxury of referring to the policy manual. Training must also focus on application of the knowledge, through use of decision-making scenarios and similar training strategies.

There are good options for conducting training on the cognitive aspects of policies and procedures. Traditional classroom training is one option. That is a good option in many cases, but is time-consuming and can be problematic in a correctional facility, given scheduling issues and so on.


Computer-based training is another option. Technology makes it very feasible to set up excellent computer-based training, including online training. An advantage is that officers can do this on their own time, during work or at home, and at their own pace. Such programs can include an evaluation component as well, which can be as simple as a few basic test questions designed to let staff know if they know and understand the contents of policies. Computer-based programs can give instant feedback on the correct answers to test questions, which enhances effective learning.

Another good option is roll-call training. Gordon Graham of Graham Research Consultants is a strong advocate of doing training of some kind every day, and emphasizes that training can be done in short amounts of time, such as five or six minutes during roll call, or staff shift briefing times. In that short amount of time, a supervisor or other person can go over key cognitive points of a policy very easily. Thus, it is not necessary to think that training must be terribly time-consuming and complicated.

There must be some evaluation mechanism in place for training on the cognitive aspects of policies and procedures, as a way of being sure that staff members do, in fact, know and understand basic information on the contents of policies. If there is no evaluation strategy, management has no way of proving that training was effective. That could be a factor in litigation.

To take a simple example, it was noted above that one of the cognitive aspects of a use of force policy is the authorized uses for physical force. A written use of force policy may specifically say that force is not authorized as a form of punishment, or discipline, of inmates, and that point may be made during training. But how does management know that every officer knows and understands that basic point unless there is a test of some kind that staff members take that touches on that point? Testing need not be complicated, but it cannot be ignored.

Subsequent articles on training on policies and procedures will cover the other two aspects of such training: training on psychomotor skills, and training to enable staff members to make good decisions. The issue of documentation of training will also be discussed.

Marty Drapkin is employed by the Wisconsin Department of Justice, in which capacity he coordinates Wisconsin’s basic jail officer training program. He has written texts and training materials for jail officer and secure juvenile detention officer training, and has worked with curriculum advisory committees to develop training content. He is the author of a number of articles and three books: Developing Policies and Procedures for Jails: A Step-by-Step Guide, Jail Operations Manual Checklist, and Management and Supervision of Jail Inmates with Mental Disorders. As a consultant, he has worked with sheriff’s departments in a number of states to help develop and/or improve law enforcement and jail policies and procedures. He has also co-instructed in training seminars sponsored by the American Jail Association on development and implementation of jail policies and procedures.