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Can I train jail and prison pre-service custody employees together in the same basic academy?



Our state is considering developing and offering a basic correctional officer academy for both jail and prison new custody employees. What should we be aware of as we proceed? Is there a difference in training jail versus prison officers?


The answer is, it depends. It depends upon the results of a formal job task analysis of both positions.

Proposing to train new employees together from both state and local jurisdictions may seem a good practice since they both deal with the same inmates (almost all prison inmates initially came through a jail at somepoint) and perform certain tasks in common, but you also need to consider the different mission of a state prison versus a local jail.

The formal way of developing a common curriculum for both jail and prison custody officers is to perform a job task analysis of both positions, determine the core tasks in common, and then build a basic curriculum around them.

A formal job task analysis will surface the duties, tasks, (and even steps) involved in performing a particular job. If done properly, it will surface the core tasks of the job: core tasks being those that are frequently done, are critical, or both frequent and critical. Often this ends up being around 150-200 core tasks, which is what you "teach to" in a basic employee curriculum. Each core task is further analyzed to see if it is heavy cognitive (classroom or knowledge-based delivery) or heavy psychomotor (FTO, experiential, behavior-based delivery) or both (classroom followed by FTO/experiential - like ground school/flight school). In theory, that is how you produce a fully trained new employee.

If you perform the analysis and identify the core tasks in common between the two jobs, then you could theoretically develop a curriculum to train to both jobs together, but only covering the common core tasks.

However, here is the tricky part. While you might find many core tasks in common (tasks="What" they do), you also might find that the specifics of "how" they perform steps in accomplishing those tasks can vary between the different mission of prisons (long term care, great deal of inmate movement, congregate dining, programs, industries, activities, etc) and local jails (shorter term care, pre-trial and sentenced, all classifications of inmates, limited inmate movement, etc.).

In theory you could develop a core curriculum that would combine officers from both jails and prisons, but it would need to be based on the core tasks that both jobs have in common, and then you would need to keep it fairly generic: the "what" and the "why" of correctional work - standards, information, generic policies/practices, etc. and keep away from the "how" unless there is a clearly preferred and mandated or documented manner of performing those tasks in both jails and prisons in your state.

Also at some point perhaps a core curriculum might need to diverge into two tracks: jail and prison - example: local jail staff have a constant flow of inmates needing to go to court for arraignments , first appearances, hearings, trials, etc - so they need training in that asa frequent task. For prison staff, inmates going to court would be less frequent - it may not surface as a core task for them. Another example: local jails experience a moreunknown,unpredictableflow of new admissions, while prisons have a more predictable and documented group of scheduled admissions. Any training would need to accommodate theknowledgeand skills required given those differences.

Admittedly, some skill-based tasks are fairly generic and common. For example, around the duty of security: handcuffing, cell searching, offender pat search, counts - common tasks for jail and prison. While you can teach about those in a classroom, and have them practice on each other, they really learn the specific skills back on the job in a good formal FTO program where there are actual cells, real inmates, authentic contraband, etc.If the instructional goal is how to search a fellow student, you can accomplish that in an academy setting. If it is how to search an inmate, it needs to occur on the job with real inmates as part of a formal FTO experiential training program, applying the core knowledge and skills from an academy setting.

So the answer is, yes, there is a difference in training new employees for prison versus jail. While the standards tend to be the same, and the "what" (duties and tasks) tends to be the same (with some exceptions due to the mission of each: like that court appearance and admissions example), "how" the tasks are accomplished can be different. That would be where you need to be very careful in crafting a common core curriculum.

Note: in the resources below, DACUM (Developing a Curriculum) is one form of job analysis.