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Individual differences |
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A corrections officer, correctional officer, detention officer, prison warder, or a prison officer is a person charged with the responsibility of the supervision, safety and security of prisoners in a prison, jail, or similar correctional facilities. Historically, terms such as jailer (also spelled jailor or gaoler), jail guard, prison guard, and turnkey have also been used.
These officers are responsible for the care, custody, and control of individuals who have been arrested and are awaiting trial while on remand or who have been convicted of a crime and sentenced to serve time in a prison or jail. They are also responsible for the safety and security of the facility itself. Most prison officers are employed by the government of the country in which they operate, though some are employed by private companies.
The duties of a correctional officer can vary, but they often include:
- Maintaining order and discipline within the institution
- Enforcing facility rules, regulations, and applicable legislation
- Searching inmates and environs for contraband
- Transporting inmates to courts, other correctional facilities, or into the community (e.g. medical appointments, escorted day-pass, etc.)
- Providing first-response in the event of riot, fire, medical emergency, etc.
- Tactical response for ongoing emergencies, such as riot, hostage taking, or other major crisis
A correctional officer's job is often considered dangerous with inmate confrontations resulting in many injuries a year. A correctional officer's working environment can vary considerably with some correctional institutions being modern, well lit, air-conditioned and ventilated while others are old, overcrowded, and noisy. Correctional officers often work on a rotating shift basis including weekends and holidays. Since many correctional facilities have officer shortages, correctional officers are often required to work additional shifts. Having to put in extra hours can result in fatigue, low morale, and family related problems. Correctional officers may also get burned out because their work is unpredictable, identity threatening, tragic, incongruous, and stigmatized. 
Because a correctional institution is a controlled environment inmates will often attempt to disrupt that environment. Various remedies for such disruptions, including physical and less than lethal force, isolation and less lethal weaponry are often adopted depending on the type of correctional facility and its jurisdiction. Due to multiple disruptions and challenging work environments correctional officers often face high levels of stress, burnout, health problems, high turnover rates, low life expectancy and decreased quality of life. In fact, the National Institute of Corrections reports that after 20 years of service the life expectancy of a correctional officer is 58 (National Institute of Corrections, 2008).
The duties a correctional officer carries out will often depend on the type of institution in which they work. For instance, a correctional officer at a minimum security institution may be responsible for casually supervising inmates as they work or participate in treatment programs while at a maximum security institution a correctional officer would have duties involving the regular use of restraints, weapon searches, and tactical response.
Correctional officers are also expected to control their emotions, remain impersonal and engage in activities that are often conflicting. For example, they are expected to respect and nurture, yet suspect and discipline inmates and have an us-them mentality. Despite the many trials and tough work environments corrections officers encounter, they serve and protect the public by monitoring a population that the rest of society has cast out and does not want to deal with.
Correctional officer training will vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction as well as facility to facility depending on the legislated power given, the nature of the facilities, or even the socio-economic conditions of the region. Training may be provided by external agencies or at the facility with a peer-group or supervisor instructor.
In North America, standard training usually includes
- Use of force and restraints (i.e., handcuffs, leg-irons, belly-chain, etc.)
- Weapons (Firearms, chemical agents, batons etc.)
- Defensive tactics
- First aid and CPR
- Report writing
- Giving testimony in court
- Diffusion of hostility
- State/Federal Criminal Law
Many jurisdictions have also, in recent years, expanded basic training to include
- Suicide awareness
- Critical incident stress management
- Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System
- Gang awareness
- Crisis or hostage negotiation
- ↑ Biblical dictionary
- ↑ Ontario Provincial Secretary and the Inspector of Prisons' report on the Toronto Central Prison
- ↑ U.S. Department of Justice, Addressing Correctional Officer Stress: Programs and Strategies
- ↑ Tracy, S. J. (2005). Locking up emotion: Moving beyond dissonance for understanding emotion labor discomfort. Communication Monographs, 72, 261-283.
- Davenport, D. K. (2001). State of Arizona Office of the Auditor General Performance Audit: Arizona Department of Corrections. Sunset Factors Retrieved March 8, 2008 from http://www.auditorgen.state.az.us/Reports/State_Agencies/Agencies/Corrections
- National Institute of Corrections (2008). Retrieved March 12, 2008 from http://www.nicic.org
- Tracy, S. J. (2004). The construction of correctional officers: Layers of emotionality behind bars. Qualitative Inquiry, 10, 509-533.
- Tracy, S. J., Meyers, K., & Scott, C. (2007). Cracking jokes and crafting selves: Sensemaking and identity management among human service workers. Communication Monographs, 73, 283-308.
- Correctional Service of Canada; Correctional Officers and Their First Year: An Empirical Investigation