A recent study found that prison and jail staff are at significantly increased risk of contracting COVID-19 compared to the general public. With all the time prison staff spend around prisoners and members of the public who come in for visitation, this number is not surprising. However, it’s had a major impact on the availability of staff for prisons and the recruitment of new team members. Because of this, correctional officers are overworked, which poses a threat to public safety. In this blog, we explore ways correctional leaders can increase staffing and relieve the burden on their officers.
Why are prisons short-staffed?
Staff shortages have frequently affected prisons across the US. The work can be mentally and emotionally taxing, and staff members sometimes feel they are underpaid for what they do. Desirable candidates often find competing job opportunities more attractive, and the coronavirus didn't help things. As COVID-19 found its way into closed prison communities, more officers became sick and took time off. Many did not return to work after they recovered, having re-evaluated their career priorities and determined that working in a prison was not meeting their needs. Now, correctional leaders must not only retain the staff they have but also recruit new employees in greater numbers.
Retention: Keeping Your Staff Employed
Correctional officers are the backbone of the criminal justice system. They ensure that prisons run properly and protect public safety. The tips below can help you cultivate a loyal staff that’s motivated to show up for work and do their best.
Ask your frontline staff how you can improve their roles.
Ask your current staff for their opinions on how their jobs could be improved. Many may feel uncomfortable speaking directly to a manager or team leader about this, so anonymous surveys may be the best way to collect insightful information. Understanding the reasons members of your team don't want to be at work puts you in a position to correct these problems so they do want to be at work. With this information, you'll be able to make vital changes that matter to your employees.
Ensure adequate break time.
Stress and other mental health concerns are key factors in many correctional officers’ decisions to leave their positions. Providing enough time between shifts and sufficient breaks during them gives staff greater opportunity to manage their mental health.
Be as flexible as possible with shift changes and swaps.
When something comes up in an employee's life that creates a need for a shift change or swap, they want to know their employer will do their best to accommodate them. Of course, there are times when this is not possible, but you should create a system that allows for this in most cases and makes it easy to swap a shift with another employee. It’s the easiest way to make sure the shift will be covered and the employee who needed the swap will be satisfied. Ask your employees for as much notice as possible if they need to change a shift.
Offer desirable rewards for unpopular shifts.
Provide some kind of extra compensation, such as higher pay or extra vacation time, to encourage and support employees who work unpopular shifts. Employees hate feeling like they are being taken advantage of. Let them know you understand their time is valuable by offering valuable incentives to be there when you need them most.
Recruitment: Attracting Staff to Your Prison
If you have suffered staff shortages due to COVID-19, your priority should be getting new staff. To do this, you want to offer the benefits that most employees want. These can include a positive work environment, mental health support, and promotion from within.
Offer the best salaries and benefits possible.
One of the most effective ways to attract new staff to your prison is to offer higher salaries. As the cost of living rises, people are looking for careers that provide a secure income. Benefits such as retirement packages and health insurance can also help recruitment. Employees want to feel that they will be looked after, so if you can offer this, they will come to you.
Create a positive work environment.
Maintaining a positive work environment helps your prison staff feel good about coming to work. Particularly in a prison setting, where emotions often run high, a good working environment is a top priority. To support this, ensure staff members feel they can trust their managers and supervisors, and let them know how valuable they are in their positions by offering training, benefits, and promotions.
Promote your employees first.
When you have a system for promoting from within, employees feel valued and reassured that they have opportunities to grow in their careers. If an employee expresses a desire for career growth, make sure to take this seriously. Discuss their options with them and determine if they require additional training to prepare them for a higher role.
Make training and support a priority for new correctional officers.
Becoming a correctional officer is a daunting process. New recruits don't know what to expect or how to react to new and challenging situations. Inadequate training endangers your staff, prisoners, and public safety. Prioritizing training and development for these positions lets new employees know they are supported and gives them the chance to learn how to cope with even the most dangerous prison issues.
Ask your current staff what attracted them.
There was a reason your current team members decided to join your prison staff in the first place. They may have been attracted to the salary, or perhaps they found that the vacation time or health benefits were good. Asking current employees why they joined the team helps you understand how to appeal to new employees.
Offering salaries and benefits that qualified job seekers want and maintaining a supportive work environment will help you retain experienced correctional officers and recruit new ones who are motivated to rise in their careers. Show your employees that their safety and happiness at work is a priority and be as responsive as possible to their needs to cultivate a loyal, dedicated, and professional workforce.
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