Cover: Building a High-Quality Correctional Workforce

Building a High-Quality Correctional Workforce

Identifying Challenges and Needs

Published Aug 7, 2018

by Joe Russo, Dulani Woods, George B. Drake, Brian A. Jackson

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Research Questions

  1. What are the challenges associated with building a high-quality correctional workforce?
  2. What needs, strategies, and tools should be developed to address these challenges?

The U.S. corrections sector is a critical component of the criminal justice system, charged with managing offenders and defendants confined in prison or jails, as well as those released into the community on probation and parole. Correctional staff, both within institutions and in the community, must protect the public from individuals accused or convicted of crimes, some of whom are dangerous. However, staff must also prepare those under correctional control for successful, law-abiding lives in the community and support these individuals through the reentry process. The larger public safety mission, therefore, is accomplished not only by separating and monitoring these individuals but also through interpersonal contact, positive relationships, and support of the behavioral change process toward a crime-free life. It is thus critically important for the corrections sector to develop a high-quality workforce.

This report presents the results of an expert panel discussion focused on identifying and prioritizing ways to address workforce concerns in the corrections sector. Panelists identified needs related to recruitment, selection, onboarding, retention, leadership development, and misconduct that, if addressed, would help to build a high-quality workforce.

Key Findings

Expert panelists discussed the challenges faced by administrators and identified high-priority needs for developing a high-quality correctional workforce

  • A shift in orientation from punishment and surveillance to a human-services approach could enhance the corrections sector's ability to recruit new talent.
  • Competency standards are required to improve the level of staff professionalism and should be the basis of performance evaluation.
  • There is a need to assess the impact that inadequate funding for training can have on workforce issues and sector outcomes.
  • Minimum standards are required to ensure that training curricula are adequate, consistent, relevant, realistic, and delivered in an effective manner.
  • There is a need for standards to control excessive workloads, which can lead to both staff turnover and inadequate mission performance.
  • There is a need to promote best practices proven to influence the factors related to turnover intention.
  • The sector should develop best practices for line staff to assume more decisionmaking authority and to participate more in policy discussions.
  • The sector should place greater emphasis on developing future leaders.
  • Supervisors require better training; they are key to line-staff development.


  • Clarify the mission of the sector. A shift in orientation might be key to reversing the long-standing difficulties the sector has faced in recruiting talent to corrections officer positions. Panelists called for research to determine whether a shift toward an increased human-services role, along with a corresponding change in the competencies sought, would help the sector recruit a broader base of new talent.
  • Improve staff competencies. The panelists called for the reevaluation of existing competency standards or the creation of new standards for correctional positions.
  • Increase staff preparation. The level of funding dedicated to training is insufficient, particularly compared with that in other criminal justice professions. The panelists suggested an assessment of the relationship between funding levels, substandard training, and key outcomes. The panel also identified the need to assess and validate training approaches and to develop national curriculum standards for correctional education.
  • Improve the work environment and conditions. Validated workload standards and ratios — and strategies to allow agencies to meet them — are needed to ensure that staff can function in a safe environment with adequate bandwidth and without undue stress. The panel also called for the development of best practices for pushing decisionmaking authority down to the lowest possible levels.
  • Develop future leaders. The panel recommended the creation and promotion of best practices for leadership development and recommended assessments of the adequacy of training for new supervisors, development of strategies for improvement, and compilation of best practices for leadership development.

The research described in this report was conducted by the Justice Policy Program within RAND Justice, Infrastructure, and Environment.

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