Careers in Corrections Research Paper

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The criminal justice system is composed of the agencies of police, courts, and corrections. The corrections system, representing the community’s response to suspected and convicted juvenile and adult offenders, is a significant component of criminal justice. Corrections agencies, operating at local, municipal, state, and federal levels, include jails, prisons with varying degrees of security, and a wide array of quasi-institutional as well as community-based programs. Among the most frequently applied community-based programs are probation, parole, and halfway houses, easing the transition of offenders from prison or jail to the community. Recent rapid expansions of intermediate sanctions have provided corrections with a widening range of community-based options. They include home detention, electronic monitoring, intensive supervision probation and parole programs, restitution, community service, substance abuse monitoring, fines, day reporting programs, shock incarceration, and regimented discipline programs more commonly known as boot camps. Juvenile corrections programs operate on the parens patriae principle, under which local, state, and federal jurisdictions assume responsibility for juveniles in order to protect ‘‘the child’s best interest.’’ As such, it is the role of juvenile corrections to ‘‘treat’’ and ‘‘help’’ the children in their charge, whether they are ‘‘dependent and neglected,’’ in ‘‘need of supervision,’’ or deemed ‘‘delinquent.’’ By contrast, the penal sanctions imposed on convicted adult offenders serve a multiplicity of purposes ranging from deterrence and incapacitation to punishment and rehabilitation.

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Even though people are the most effective resource for helping offenders and for effecting crime control and crime reduction, they remain underutilized and, for the most part, inappropriately applied in corrections. Major manpower problems range from a continuing shortage of specialized professional personnel, to poor working conditions, to unsound utilization of available human and scarce fiscal resources. Of all the components of criminal justice, the corrections system suffers the poorest image and is characterized by mission conflict. System fragmentation is yet another serious problem. Given the multiplicity of overlapping but seldom intercommunicating agencies at the local, state, and federal levels, planning, resource allocation, restructuring, and standardization have been next to impossible. As a result of these problems, correctional manpower has developed haphazardly. There has never been a national manpower strategy, nor has there been a systematic study of correctional employment. It is the purpose of this article to discuss the historical development of correctional careers, to describe the current job market and job requirements, and to review employment conditions for workers in correctional institutions, probation, and parole. Additional topics of discussion are career development and opportunities, salaries, and unionization in the professions.

Corrections, Probation, and Parole

One of the earliest references describing work in prisons comes from the notable prison reformer John Howard. In his classic work, The State of the Prison in England and Wales (1777), Howard writes that there is nothing more important to effective prison management than a warden who is honest, sober, and free of other vices, such as gambling. Responding to the serious abuses heaped upon prisoners in his day, Howard recommended that wardens and guards be salaried and not depend on fees customarily levied on inmates. Howard’s prison staffing recommendations were remarkably parsimonious: a warden, a matron (for female prisoners), some guards, a manufacturer (to furnish inmates with work), and a few taskmasters to provide the necessary vocational training. Although prison staffing patterns have changed much since Howard’s writing, his outline of the essential prison manpower and personal characteristics of staff are valid to this day.

Since its inception, correctional practice has developed haphazardly in Europe and subsequently in America. Near the end of the eighteenth century, Americans began to embrace Cesare Beccaria’s enlightened concept of imprisonment as punishment, first enunciated in his seminal Essays on Crimes and Punishment (1764). During the Penitentiary Movement era (1790– 1825), American prisons became models for European reformers seeking to humanize criminal punishment. Capital and corporal punishment was gradually replaced by confinement in penitentiaries. Prisoners would be redeemed through labor, religious reflection, isolation, and silence. Yet in spite of these efforts every informed observer since Beaumont and Tocqueville has remarked on the pervasive contradictions in goals and philosophy within the American correctional system. Not surprisingly, these contradictions have historically affected recruitment of personnel and work performance. To this day corrections personnel—and the public as their employer—are doubtful as to whether corrections should punish and isolate offenders or rehabilitate and reintegrate them back into society. The correctional officer work force in America, from the earliest prisons and jails until the mid-twentieth century, lacked training and preparedness for the job. Officers came into corrections largely by chance, seldom by choice. Employment prerequisites and salaries were low. Most obtained their jobs through political patronage, the vestiges of which remain today. What training occurred was done on the job. It was not until 1930 that the first formal training program was initiated in New York City under the auspices of the Federal Bureau of Prisons (Schade). The three-month training program covered such topics as the history of crime and punishment, inmate classification and management, and discipline and segregation of inmate categories. Thereafter, it became largely the task of professional organizations, unions, and state civil-service provisions to set the performance standards for corrections. Of particular note is the work of the National Prison Association (NPA). First formed in 1830, it was renamed the American Correctional Association (ACA) in 1954. As the largest organization of corrections professionals and volunteers, the ACA has been instrumental in lifting the image of the profession. It has carried the responsibility for developing standards for the profession, which today serve as the benchmarks for the accreditation of prisons and jails. In a similar vein, selection standards, the quality of recruits, and training programs have improved significantly. The combined efforts of the professional organizations, unions, and state civil service commissions have resulted in improved working conditions, better pay, and most of all, the professionalization of institutional corrections.

Probation as an alternative to imprisonment also has its roots in ancient England. As early as the 1300s the English courts had the option of placing certain low risk offenders into the custody of upstanding citizens who would vouch for their conduct. By comparison, probation in America has a shorter history. John Augustus (1784–1859) is generally recognized as the father of American probation. Augustus was a successful shoemaker in Boston. While visiting criminal courts he was distressed to see petty criminals being consigned to jail because they were unable to pay even modest fines. After bailing selected offenders, Augustus would help find a job for them and provide assistance to their families if needed. At time of sentencing, Augustus would vouch for the individual in court. He would also point to the progress being made toward the person’s reformation. Judges, in turn, usually responded by imposing modest fines and court costs, rather than sentence the individual to time in jail (Glueck). The idea of probation as an alternative to incarceration quickly took root in state court systems. By 1925, Congress authorized probation at the federal level and probation had become not only accepted but also the most widely used form of community-based supervision.

Parole is the supervised early release of prisoners from correctional confinement. Alexander Maconochie is credited with first conceiving the practice in the 1840s. Captain Maconochie of the Royal Navy was the superintendent of an English penal colony on Norfolk Island located between New Caledonia and New Zealand (1840–1844). Responding to the brutalities of prison management of his day, Maconochie thought that prisoners should be provided with incentives for rehabilitation and opportunities for earning their way out of confinement. He devised a system of credits or ‘‘marks’’ to be awarded for good conduct, hard labor, and industriousness. As inmates earned marks, they could apply them toward less restrictive prison settings and eventually toward an early release. A ‘‘ticket of leave’’ was the final step in the release process and meant that a prisoner was discharged without constraint and free to pursue his life.

Careers in Jails and Correctional Institutions

Nature of The Work

Correctional officers are responsible for supervising persons who have been arrested and detained in jails pending trial. They also supervise individuals who have been convicted of crimes and sentenced to serve time in jails, reformatories, and prisons. Comprising over 60 percent of most institutional staff, they are responsible for maintaining order and institutional discipline. Officers enforce institutional rules and regulations. They monitor and control inmates throughout their incarceration twentyfour hours a day, seven days a week. Officers must periodically search inmates and the prison environment for contraband, such as weapons or drugs. Officers are in charge of internal and perimeter security. They must periodically inspect locks, window screens, grilles, doors, and gates to prevent escapes or other malfeasance. Officers also inspect inmate mail, control visitors, and escort inmates within the facility or transport them to outside locations, such as court hearings, facilities transfers, or hospitals for medical care. Officers bear responsibility for maintaining safe, sanitary, and secure conditions in prisons and jails. Unlike police officers, they do not have any law enforcement responsibilities outside their institutions. By the same token, correctional officers are expected to function as change agents in the correctional process. They are informal counselors in charge of the health, safety, and general welfare of their inmates by providing guidance and tracking an inmate’s life and behavior in the institution.

Correctional officers report orally and in writing on inmate activities and conduct. This includes reports on security breaches, disciplinary infractions, and violence. Similar to role call in policing, officers attend short briefings before the beginning of their shifts to learn about events, problems, and inmates with special needs. Logs are kept for each shift, reflecting inmate counts, unusual occurrences, and incidents, if any. At times, officers must deal with inmates who may be self-destructive, violent, or uncooperative. They must write citations for behavior infractions and attend disciplinary hearings during which incidents are reviewed and adjudicated. Unlike police, corrections officers work unarmed in prisons and jails. Exceptions to this rule are special prisons designed for holding highly dangerous offenders and prisons in lockdown conditions due to collective violence incidents, and similar emergencies. In lieu of weapons, officers are equipped with communications devices with which they can summon help if needed. Depending on the shift or available manpower, correctional officers may work on a tier or cell block alone, or with another officer. In direct supervision facilities, an officer may be in the midst of fifty to one hundred inmates or more. Officers must rely on their intelligence, training, and interpersonal communications skills to maintain order and control over their inmates. Their only other means for motivating inmates are a series of progressive sanctions involving a small number of privileges, such as visits to the canteen, time spent in day rooms, visitation, and so on.

There are approximately 450,000 workers in the nation’s correctional agencies (Camp and Camp). Of these, the vast majority is uniformed (or line) staff, located throughout roughly fifteen hundred correctional facilities spanning many security levels. The latter range from maximum, medium, minimum, community-level, intake, multi-level, to high/close. Line staffing patterns follow a paramilitary and highly hierarchical structure: correctional officer, sergeant, lieutenant, captain, and major. There are fifty state-level correctional agencies, controlled by directors or commissioners. These positions are usually gubernatorial appointments. Only a few are a part of a state’s civil service structure. Penal facilities are operated by wardens. They generally serve at the pleasure of the director or commissioner of corrections. By contrast, most, but not all, jails are under the control of popularly elected sheriffs. Police and sheriffs’ departments in county and municipal jails, as well as large precinct station houses, also employ large numbers of correctional (or detention) officers. There are approximately thirty-three hundred jails in the country. They hold and process more than twenty-two million arrestees a year. On any given day, jails detain and hold about half a million inmates. Given the nature of jail operations, they have a high turnover of their inmate populations. Jail clientele vary much, ranging from petty criminals to highly dangerous felons.


Salaries for line staff have greatly improved in recent years, with annual starting pay ranging from a low of $15,324 in Louisiana to a high of $34,070 in New Jersey (Camp and Camp). The national average starting salary for a correctional officer was pegged at $22,500 in 2001. A combination of annual pay increases and pay incentives for post-secondary education, hazardous duty, or overtime can easily raise pay above $50,000 for line staff, with lieutenants and captains earning as much as $70,000 to $75,000. Salaries for agency directors reflect their many responsibilities and range from a low of $32,000 to $130,000.

Qualifications and Education

Historically, correctional officers were white males from rural areas with low-level education. However, due to the previously discussed quickening process of professionalization, this dismal picture is changing rapidly. Employment criteria for entry-level positions require that candidates be at least eighteen to twenty-one years of age and have a high school education (or equivalent). Applicants must be in good health, of good moral character, meet fairly strict physical fitness requirements, and undergo a psychological assessment. Additional criteria include U.S. citizenship and the absence of a criminal record. These entry-level requirements resemble those for policing. Although relatively modest when compared to other professions, there is a distinct trend in the profession favoring educational attainments beyond high school. This salutary development is attributable to a number of factors. First, with increases in professionalization, the field has become more attractive to better-educated individuals looking for a career in corrections. This development is reinforced by the fact that most corrections agencies, including the Federal Bureau of Prisons (FBP), have made time spent as a correctional officer the cornerstone of a correctional career. Second, equal employment opportunity has opened the field to a more diverse workforce, including people of color and women, many of whom have post-secondary education experience. And third, post-secondary education, such as the acquisition of an associate’s, bachelor’s, or master’s degree, are becoming increasingly important in promotion considerations and leadership selections. In sum, the ideal officer candidate will be highly motivated, with a good education. Above all, the individual will be have good judgment, maturity, a strong sense of fairness, and the ability to think and act quickly and decisively.


The vast majority of today’s correctional agencies follow well-established and mostly nondiscriminatory selection processes. Nonetheless, a majority of jurisdictions do give preference points to veterans. The underlying rationale is to reward veterans for their military service and to assist them in the readjustment to civilian life. Another reason for favoring veterans is the assumption that a military background will be of advantage in corrections due to the paramilitary nature of the work. While the military model is now considered out of place by many national organizations, such as the FBP and the American Correctional Association, veteran’s preference remains in place. Once selected, candidates must pass a written examination and a physical fitness test. They must undergo drug testing, a medical examination, a psychological assessment, and extensive background checks. Following successful completion of this process, candidates are given oral interviews by a selection board representing management, security, human services, and corrections officers. Successful candidates will then be offered employment, contingent upon successfully completing academy training (ranging from six to twelve weeks), and a probationary period (ranging from six to twenty-four months).

Pre-Service and In-Service Training

Federal, state, and a majority of local corrections agencies provide pre-service training in training academies. The training follows the guidelines established by the American Correctional Association and the American Jail Association. Academies are paramilitary in nature and teach a variety of topics. Subjects include: the legal parameters under which the agencies operate; rules and regulations; security procedures, team work, and self-defense; firearms proficiency; search and seizure; inmate characteristics and needs; inmate management, counseling, and supervision; suicide prevention and emergency medical aid; disciplinary procedures and report writing; inmate rights and responsibilities.

Regular in-service training is now a staple in all corrections agencies. The Federal Bureau of Prisons (FBP) is in a leadership position by requiring at least 200 hours of additional training to occur during the first year of employment. On top of this requirement is another 120 hours of specialized training at the FBP’s residential training center at Glynco, Georgia, within the first sixty days of employment. State and local corrections agencies have annual in-service programs ranging from forty to one hundred hours. Given the potential for violence in corrections institutions, each agency trains and assigns correctional officers to tactical response teams (better known as Special Weapons and Tactics Teams, or SWAT). It is the responsibility of these teams to respond to prison and jail disturbances, riots, hostage situations, forced cell moves, escapes, and similarly dangerous situations. SWAT teams emphasize physical and mental fitness, training, and teamwork.

Job Outlook

The U.S. Department of Labor notes highly favorable job opportunities for correctional officers in the first decade of the twentyfirst century. This is due to a number of factors. First, the number of juvenile and adult offenders under some form of correctional supervision is rising. Prisons and jails are expanding, and more juvenile delinquents are waived into adult court than ever before. Second, the adoption of mandatory sentencing laws, such as three strikes, has increased the time offenders spend in prisons and jails. Third, reduced usage of parole, coupled with a tightening of parole violation procedures, is spurring demand for more manpower. Fourth, there is an ongoing need to replace correctional officers due to retirement, transfer to other occupations, such as policing, and internal promotion. The totality of these effects will generate thousands of job openings in the foreseeable future.

Career Development

With experience, further education, and in-service and skills training, qualified correctional officers have excellent opportunities for advancement to higher ranks. They may be promoted to supervisory positions, such as shift commanders, unit or program supervisors, training or tactical commanders, or some combination. Additional opportunities exist for qualified and enterprising officers to be promoted to administrative posts, assistant superintendent, superintendent or warden.

Most federal, state, and local corrections agencies provide career development incentives for their employees. For example, many increase an officer’s pay upon completion of postsecondary education degrees. There is also support for professional development, such as pursuing additional training and skill development programs, and for attending professional association meetings. Many agencies also look favorably on extracurricular activities, such as volunteer work with schools, youth development programs, such as sports or the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, or similar activities that serve to enhance the agency’s image in the community.

Careers in Probation and Parole

The Nature of The Work

Probation and parole officers share common goals. They supervise, support, and provide needed services to offenders so that they can return to free society as law-abiding and productive citizens. Whether an offender is on probation or on parole is determined by his or her legal status. An offender, under a probationary sentence, will be under the supervision of a probation officer. If the court imposes a ‘‘split-sentence,’’ the offender serves a short time in a correctional institution, usually in a house of correction. Thereafter, he or she is supervised by a probation officer for the remainder of the sentence. Offenders serving time in prisons or jails are often placed on parole upon their release. Both probationers and parolees are given a conditional release under the supervision of a probation or parole officer for specific length of time.

Probation and parole straddle the worlds of police, courts, corrections, and social work. Probation agents are officers of the court and fulfill a multiplicity of interrelated functions. At the police level, they provide information for the possible diversion of an offender from criminal justice to alternatives, such as community assistance programs. Parole officers usually work for the executive (federal, state, and local) branches of government. They notify local police and victims when certain individuals (for example, sex offenders) are released from prison. Release notifications are determined by law and vary considerably by jurisdiction. Both probation and parole officers assist police in the location and apprehension of probation absconders or parole violators.

At the court level, probation officers conduct presentence investigations. They prepare reports on the offenders for prosecutorial and judicial decisions, such as bail or other pretrial release. They supervise offenders placed by the courts on pretrial release. Probation officers routinely make sentence recommendations, including the use of special conditions to be placed on individual offenders. Once offenders are placed on probation, the officers supervise and monitor their activities. They prepare reports for the courts, which reflect an offender’s relative progress. As warranted, the reports may recommend probation revocation in case of serious rule violations or the commission of new crimes. They may modify the conditions of probation as needed, or they may recommend an early discharge for good behavior. Parole officers, in turn, make recommendations on sentence length through parole decisions. They provide liaison between the police, the courts, and the executive branches of government. They also coordinate the supervision process for offenders with split sentences. While the decision to parole is usually made by parole boards, it is the parole officer who prepares the cases for hearings, formulates the recommendations for action, and supervises the offender in the community. This activity includes enforcing the conditions of an offender’s release, including substance abuse monitoring. Officers assist offenders in finding and retaining work and housing. They also provide the necessary linkages to community services, such as medical or mental health treatment, vocational training, and drug treatment.

Through their sentencing recommendations, probation officers exert a major impact on institutional corrections, since they help determine who will go to prison or jail, and for how long. They serve as a liaison between the courts and the various corrections agencies. Probation officers also administer the community release phase of an offender’s split sentence. Parole officers, in turn, coordinate the release of inmates from institutions. This involves the preparation of offenders’ dossiers for the release hearing, as well as the procurement of housing, work, and community assistance as needed. The supervision of parolees has long been recognized as a vital component of an offender’s reintegration into the community. Unfortunately, recent criminal justice reforms have abolished parole in many jurisdictions. Although some corrections systems have replaced parole with another form of community supervision, any reduction in post-release supervision is detrimental to community safety and crime reduction.

Probation and parole work emphasizes casework, reflecting the influence of social work on the professions. This focus first emerged in the middle of the twentieth century, when officers were expected to form therapeutic relationships with their ‘‘clients.’’ In the process, the development of social work skills was emphasized, and work consisted of probing interviews, counseling, providing insight, and modifying offender behavior. With the demise of the ‘‘medical model’’ during the late 1970s and early 1980s, the focus changed from diagnosis and treatment to a much broader perspective of probation and parole work. Today’s probation and parole officers fulfill a multiplicity of functions. They are agents of law enforcement, responsible for the supervision of the offenders assigned to their care, and, indirectly, for the safety of their communities. They are also social workers in the broadest sense of the word. As such, they work with individuals, groups, and communities. They recognize that factors such as poverty, lack of education, unemployment, underemployment, marginality, inadequate housing, and ill health are connected to crime and can affect an offender’s rehabilitation.

Since it is the responsibility of probation and parole officers to enforce court orders, they must, as the occasion arises, arrest those they supervise, conduct physical searches, seize evidence, and decide whether to revoke probation or parole or whether to file charges for new court proceedings. One of the latest trends in community corrections is the development and growth of collaborative projects between police, probation, parole, and other social service agencies. For example, Operation Night Light in Boston is a highly acclaimed juvenile crime reduction program in which probation officers and police not only share information, but also engage in joint patrols and curfew checks. The program has succeeded in reducing gang violence, homicides, and violence committed with firearms. It is currently being duplicated in other cities and states.


In 1999, the average starting salary for probation officers was $27,197. With time in grade, the average salary rises to $36,622, with the highest salaries ranging from a low of $36,275 in South Dakota to a high of $93,411 in the federal system (Camp and Camp). That same year, the average starting salary for parole officers was $28,491. With time in grade, the average salary rises to $37,319, with the highest salaries ranging from a low of $30,036 in West Virginia to a high of $64,212 in California.

Qualifications and Education

A bachelor’s degree in social work (BSW) is generally the minimum requirement for employment as a social worker. In corrections, majors in criminal justice, education, psychology, sociology, police science, and related fields are also acceptable for entry-level work. Federal positions require one year of graduate-level courses in addition to the degree. By contrast, some agencies accept experience plus passing a university equivalency test as substitute for formal education requirements. However, there is a trend toward increasing educational requirements in the professions. Similar to the corrections track, candidates must be citizens of the United States, have no felony convictions, and must pass a battery of job-related general physical abilities tests, psychological and physical examinations, as well as drug tests. In some jurisdictions, probation and parole officers must also be willing to complete training necessary for certification as peace officers.

Probation and parole officers must have excellent communication and human interaction skills. Agents must also have good oral and writing skills, analytical aptitude, and be willing and able to work under stressful conditions.

In-Service Training

A majority of agencies require the completion of an intensive basic training course within the first year of employment. California, for example, requires a 200hour basic training course and certification by the California State Board of Corrections. Similar training is provided to parole agents, who also must complete several weeks of academy training. In many jurisdictions, probation and parole officers are also expected to complete one year of supervised casework.

Job Outlook

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the employment of probation, parole, or community supervision officers is expected to rise faster than the average for all occupations during the first decade of the twenty-first century. At year-end 1998, the number of adult men and women in the United States being supervised in the community exceeded four million, reflecting a growth rate of about 3.1 percent per annum (Bureau of Justice Statistics). The number of federal, state, and local probation officers will continue to rise due to a number of factors. First, prison overcrowding in many jurisdictions has led many judges to sentence larger numbers of offenders to probation, including higher risk cases. Second, widespread adoption and expansion of intermediate sanctions, such as electronic monitoring, day reporting, education and work furloughs, and community service, is increasing demand for supervisory agents and workers in each of these areas.

Looking at parole, each year approximately 600,000 federal and state inmates are released to the community. Many more parolees are released from local houses of correction. Because prisons and jails, at all levels of government, have retained few treatment programs in this era of resource cutbacks and lost faith in rehabilitation, the prisoner reentry population has greater needs than ever before. Therefore, the need for parole and related supervisory agents is expected to rise, as will their caseload. Meeting the myriad of needs of this population, such as finding and keeping a job, increasing their skills and education, improving their family ties, and dealing with their persistent and destructive substance abuse problems, will be critical if a new crime wave is to be prevented.

Career Development

Most probation and parole officers begin their career as trainees and receive on-the-job-training for six to twelve months. With experience, further education, and in-service and new skills training, qualified officers can advance to higher grades. Depending on qualifications and ambition, officers can also advance to supervisory positions and, with time, to administrative posts. Most agencies encourage their employees to advance their education and to attend professional-training events to keep at the cutting edge of their work. Of note here are the activities of the American Probation and Parole Association (APPA), an international association composed of individuals from the United States and Canada actively involved with adult and juvenile probation, parole, and community-based corrections. The APPA provides national training workshops, symposia, and training institutes on a regular basis.

Issues in Correctional Careers

Employment of Women and Minorities

Historically, prison and jail staffs have been principally white males. However, the demographics of correctional employees have changed dramatically during the past two decades. In 1999, women comprised 32.5 percent of all agency staff in adult correctional agencies, while 29.6 percent of all agency staff were nonwhite (Camp and Camp). Today, minorities and women are a vital part of the correctional workforce. What is more important, they function in every capacity of the work environment, as correctional officers, supervisors, and senior managers, as well as superintendents and wardens. Although women, African Americans, and Hispanics remain underrepresented when compared to their presence in the general population, correctional agencies are committed to spending time, effort, and resources to make their institutions culturally diverse. These efforts are based on the conviction that effective institutional management depends on a heterogeneous staff that can relate to and communicate with an equally heterogeneous inmate population.

Labor Relations and Unions

Public unions in corrections are a relatively recent phenomenon. While correctional officer unions did not emerge until the late 1950s and 1960s, they are now established in almost every state. Operating under the provisions of the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), first passed by Congress in 1935, correctional employees have the right to organize and to be represented by a union of their choice. Employers, in turn, are required to enter into agreements with the union regarding their workers’ terms and conditions of employment. Both employers and unions must follow established collective bargaining procedures. While private-sector union members have the right to strike as a last resort during labor negotiations, public-sector workers such as correctional or police officers are prohibited, for the most part, from any strike activities. One of the fastest-growing unions is the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), which represents a large number of corrections employees. There are many other unions at the national, state, and local levels, each of which is committed to improve working conditions for their members. Most unions are concerned with issues of safety, pay, fringe benefits, performance evaluations, disciplinary procedures, job protection, training, recruitment, and career advancement. Unions have also been a driving force behind the previously discussed accreditation of many correctional institutions by the Commission on Accreditation for Corrections.

Compared with previous practice, unions have made labor-management relations more complex. Employers can no longer hire and fire workers in an arbitrary manner. With the help of the unions, workers are now entitled to legal representation in all work-related matters. On the negative side, unions have on occasion taken strong adversarial positions toward management. And when management and labor are bogged down in protracted and stormy disputes, the ensuing mutual distrust serves to corrode the mission of corrections. Since unions are likely to remain a permanent part of the correctional landscape, management’s best approach will be tolerance, coupled with the development of sufficient collective-bargaining skills to preserve its administrative prerogatives.

Working Conditions

Work in correctional institutions can be stressful and at times hazardous. Jails and prisons, with their fences, barbed wire, gray walls, incessant din, artificial lighting and stale air, are gloomy places at best and highly inhospitable, dangerous abodes at worst. While newer institutions provide more pleasant work environments, the majority of facilities are older, overcrowded, and lack air conditioning. In 1998, there were almost fifteen thousand assaults committed by inmates on staff. Over two thousand of these staff members required medical attention (Camp and Camp), which averages out to 304 such assaults per week. Given the large number of inmates held under lock and key in the country, the rate is not inordinately high. Nonetheless, it speaks to the difficulty of the job.

Supervising and managing difficult, distressed, and sometimes dangerous inmates, whether they are located in institutions or in the community, make corrections work a difficult and demanding profession. It is interesting to note that most stress experienced by correctional workers emanates from, or is influenced by, the correctional organization. For example, a major source of stress is role conflict and role ambiguities. This is because officers must strike a delicate balance between maintaining control and providing assistance to inmates, probationers, and parolees. Characteristics intrinsic to the job are other sources of stress. For example, security levels of prisons and work assignment to specific shifts are highly correlated with stress. Perceived dangerousness and officer-client-inmate contact go to the heart of corrections work. There is evidence that probation and parole officer stress and burnout are consistently tied to such stressors as hostile and antagonistic client contracts, critical decisions involving dangerous offenders, work overload, and insufficient resources (Champion). Finally, organizational characteristics as they relate to administrative and supervisory matters are still another, major source of stress. Included here are flawed supervisory activities and leadership, faulty communications between departments, institutions, program staff and the officers, lack of decision latitude, feelings of alienation and powerlessness, and a lack of participation and input in the organizational decision-making process. Given the many challenges presented by working in this field, it will be the task of today’s correctional managers to improve their organizational climates so that stress is either reduced or eliminated. In addition, managers must marshal to the fullest their workers’ commitment to their work and to the mission of their organizations.


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  2. Beccaria, Cesare. On Crimes and Punishment, 2d ed. Translated by Edward D. Ingraham. Philadelphia: Philip H. Nicklin, 1819.
  3. Bureau of Justice Statistics. Probation and Parole in the United States, 1998. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, 1999.
  4. Camp, Camille, and Camp, George. The Corrections Yearbook, Adult Corrections. Middletown, Conn.: Criminal Justice Institute, Inc. 1999.
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  6. Glueck, Sheldon. Introduction. John Augustus— First Probation Officer by John Augustus. The original Report of his Labors (1852). Montclair, N.J.: Patterson Smith, 1972.
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  9. S. Department of Labor. ‘‘Correctional Officers.’’ Occupational Outlook Handbook 2000-01 Edition. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 2000.
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