The 3 essentials for being a correctional officer

Warden Little standing behind podium
SICI Warden Steven Little delivers the graduation address.

On April 10, South Idaho Correctional Institution Warden Steven Little delivered the graduation address for Correction Academy #50 at the Peace Officers Standards Training facility in Meridian. In his remarks, Warden Little described three functions a correctional officer must perform to further the Idaho Department of Correction’s mission of promoting a safer Idaho by reducing recidivism. Here is a transcript of his remarks.

Welcome. It’s good to see so many new faces.

I’m going to steal from all of our wardens who have already given [graduation addresses] in the past. We were talking earlier. I do remember my graduation. I remember – we didn’t have OC in those days. We had CS. But I remember gas. I remember PT. But for the life of me I don’t remember the speaker.

So, I understand.

The nice thing is you guys have been prepared to come out to the facilities and work one-on-one with offenders and other staff and to become part of a great organization that really does give a service to our community.

But really what is that job that you’re going to go out there and get involved?

Our mission statement says we’re supposed to “promote a safer Idaho by reducing recidivism.”

Okay. We know what that means for case managers. We train them. They’re skilled. We know what that means for drug and alcohol counselors. They help get over addictions and learn how to live clean lives.

But what does that mean for correctional officers?

“Promote a safer Idaho by reducing recidivism.”  How do you guys reduce recidivism? 

I want to talk about that just that little bit.

As a correctional officer you have been taught, you’re going to be taught, how to provide a safe, secure environment.  But again how is that fit in for reducing recidivism? 

One of the main things I have done in the course of my career is I was very involved in reading everything I could get in psychology and criminal thinking and those kinds of things.  And one of the things I came across was Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.  

And the thing that he said is that you cannot move up in this hierarchy of needs until you meet a certain level. The first level being food, water and shelter. If you don’t have food, water and shelter you’re not going to think about anything but that.

So once that’s met you can move up to the next level of existence and that is security. We want security. We want to feel safe in our environment. We want to feel that we can get up and go about our lives without fear of something happening to us. And if you can’t meet that, you can’t think in terms of relationships with other people. You can’t think in terms of how to better yourself.

So what is your job in reducing recidivism?

It is providing that safe and secure environment so that offenders can give some thought to,“Wow, this isn’t working in my life; what do I have to do different?”

Unless they feel secure and unless they feel safe, they’re not going to put a whole lot of thought into that. They’re going to lay in bed at night with their eyes open, and they’re going to be afraid to walk around.

That’s where you come in. That’s your biggest part of this whole thing, is providing a safe and secure environment. So how do we do that?

I’ve come up with three things that are really essential for you as an officer to provide that environment.  Because don’t fool yourselves.  You guys are the front lines. You guys are the boots on the ground walking the tiers, talking to offenders.

So how do we provide that safe and secure environment?

I know you’ve been taught – one of the things that’s really important is presence. Lots of presents. Gifts. Especially to your warden. That helps.

[Audience laughs]

Presence.  You’ve been taught that the first line is -- even in use-of-force incidents -- is presence. That you’re there. And not just in body. But you are there, you’re engaged. You’re present.

It’s real hard in this profession to separate your lives sometimes.

But, I can’t remember where I heard this. But a fellow was talking about coming to work.  I think he worked at Max (Idaho Maximum Security Institution) or ISCI (Idaho State Correctional Institution). And he stated that on his drive to work he got himself in his work mode, and he hit that front gate, and when he hit that front gate he had his correctional face on.  He was ready to go to work.  His dad face and his husband face and his spouse face was left at home. But when he got to work he was an officer. And that’s important to remember. And then, when he walked out of the gate, the officer face stays there, and as you drive home, you put on the mom face or the dad face or the son face or grandpa face.  You become that face.

So there are two worlds you’re going to live in here. And if you can’t separate those, it gets tough. But the main thing that you have to remember when you are at work is that you are present, you are there.

You’re not just walking by those doors -- kind of looking in and looking in and looking in. You’re seeing what you’re seeing when you look in that window. When you walk on a tier, you take it all in.  You know what’s going on out there.

Somebody asked me in a class a while back -- What do you do when you’re in a unit all day? What do you do?

You do the same thing as the inmates. You watch. Because when you walk in that tier and you scan that tier, I guarantee every time you can come up with two things you probably should address right out of the gate. Two guys over here just turned their backs to me when I walked in the door. Two dudes over here that just came out of the bathroom. Two guys in the bathroom together. You might want to check it out.

Presence. Be there. Be on the job. Number one thing

Number two – professionalism. 

You guys have some great training. You guys have some great opportunities. But like I said when you go out there, you’re supposed to be watching your offenders. Guess what they’re doing?

When you walk out, they see that black shirt. What do they do? They’re watching you. They’re watching you, and they’re watching how you address other offenders. They watch how you address other staff. They watch how you treat people in that restrictive housing cell.  And one of the things you can do is set an example.  By being professional in everything you do.

Unfortunately this bleeds over into your civic life, also. You should be professional in your community. You should be exemplary in your actions and your neighborhoods because you’re now wearing a badge, wearing a uniform. You speak for the department.

I have a letter I want to read.  It’s real hard to read. And I’ve read it a couple of times. I might stumble a little bit.

The first line -- all you people in the back, don’t roll your eyes and say “Oh, here it comes.”

Here’s a fella -- we put him in restrictive housing. He came to our facility brand new to corrections. He hadn’t even been in jail before. But he committed a felony, and he got locked up, and he came to our facility right out of RDU (Receiving and Diagnostic Unit). And they think he was with us about a week, and we ended up putting him in segregation for a class-B offense.  And this is his letter to our deputy warden, well it’s actually to our staff.

“I just wanted to show my gratitude for the way I was treated this past week.”

And right here, everybody is going, “Oh boy, here comes the sarcasm.”  Right?

“As you may or may not know coming to the hole is not a very fun experience. There are a lot of things that go through your head. And things I have had to come to terms with over this past week.  And without the help of coffee.

”All jokes aside, even though I am a criminal, and I was being disciplined for wrongdoing, I was treated with kindness and care.

“Not only was I surprised, because I was expecting the opposite. Needless to say, it made my time here far more tolerable. And for that I thank you.

“Well, Merry Christmas, Happy New year and keep it up. You guys are doing a great job.  And at least one survivor has noticed.”

And this was to all the staff and the sergeants that were working in segregation.

When you start reading that you go, “Okay, here comes the sarcasm.” And I read that, and I thought, “Is this a joke?” I have been working 20 years, and I haven’t seen anything like this. Is this a joke? No, that’s serious.

The deputy warden made a copy of this and sent it out to our staff and said, “Hey thanks guys, because I can tell you I’ve talked with this inmate and he was serious.  He appreciates the way he was treated, contrary to the way he thought he would get treated going into restrictive housing. You were professional.  You treated him with kindness. You treated him like he was a human being and I appreciate that.” 

You’ve heard it said before. When you’re out there walking those tiers, when you’re out there dealing with offenders, when you’re out there dealing with people with problems, think about how you would want your brother, sister, wife, husband, father treated if they were in the same situation.  And that’s the way you should be treating people, professional at all times.

You come through basic training, and you have all that cool stuff, right?  OC training. That’s not so much cool.  But it wasn’t PowerPoint, right?  AT (arrest techniques).  That’s cool. Yeah, that’s fun. I used to do AT on my kids.  I don’t suggest that. The fun stuff, right?  What are some of the other -- Oh, firearms.  I love firearms training.

But the training you have that’s probably the most important is communication. Because that’s the thing you’re going to use every day, all day long. Remember that training.  That’s the thing you have to fall back on to remain professional, dispassionate and objective in your job.

Number 3 -- partnerships.

So we have that presence – be on the job, right?  You’re going to be professional all the when you’re out there working on those tiers, walking those tiers, because you’re the front line. You’re the one that offender sees every day. The other thing you have to remember is partnerships.

Who are our partners? Well, we have the people that are working with us on the shift. They’re our partners, right?  My sergeant, he’s my partner. But we also have those folks that are in treatment, delivering programs every day.  Helping work through problems that offenders have.  Getting them ready for release.  Those folks, they’re huge partners for you.   And sometimes they need you. You know, “I need so-and-so brought up to my office, I need this.”  Whatever it is.  Sometimes they need you walking through their groups just to make sure that everything is okay. And you just kind of walk through.

But partnerships are important.  And then there’s the partnerships out in the community that, at this point, you probably won’t have a whole lot of communication with those folks.  But we have a whole lot of partners within the facilities. 

We have education staff, treatment staff, food service staff. We have all these people working in a facility that make that facility run.  And we’re all in it together. We’re all partners. And we’re all working for one another.  And that’s one of the things that I like working out at SICI.

I’ll hear a radio call in my office, “Hey I need somebody at the back gate.” And boy, within a second or two, you hear somebody say,”I got it.” And he might be a food service officer. It might be somebody who’s not assigned an R and E position at that time. And I’m sure that’s the same at every facility because we’re all doing this together.  We depend on each other. We depend on each other to watch our backs. To make sure that everything is cool. That we’re safe.

So you’re role in reducing recidivism is, number one, to provide that safe environment, with your presence.   Number two, to model professional interactions with inmates, with co-workers. A number three, work as a team. Always work as a team.

We’re excited to have you on board. We’re looking forward to having you get out there. Other wardens said it here in our morning meeting, and I just want to reinforce, and I think I’m speaking for every one of us that, every one of us wardens has an open-door policy.  We’re willing to listen. We want to know what’s going on in our facilities, and what’s happening out there.  And most importantly we want to know what’s happening with you.  So don’t get that “Oh, I can’t get up there, it’s the warden’s office.”  If you have something you want to bring up come on up and talk to us.

Congratulations and welcome aboard.

Story published: 04/28/2015

Remarks by Judge Patrick Owen

Fourth District Judge Patrick Owen administered the Oath of Honor. Here is a transcript of his remarks.

I know a lot about the offenders whose custody you will be entrusted to here very shortly. I read thousands of pre-sentence investigations which detail the broken lives that many of the persons who end up in your institutions.

A very significant number of them have serious substance abuse, alcohol issues. There are significant numbers that are plagued with mental health issues. Many of the offenders have not had the benefit of the education that we all provide our children, which many of you have benefited from.

Regrettably, many of the offenders have not acquired to this point in their life many pro-social attitudes.  A lot of them come from dysfunctional families and are in the process of creating more dysfunctional families. A lot of them come from very difficult backgrounds.

I don’t say that to make any of you run off and reconsider your current prospects but simply to say that I admire and respect each one of you for the career path that you have taken. 

I’m now going to read to you the code of ethics, and then I’m going to administer an oath

This is the Idaho POST Council code of ethics. The POST Council code of ethics was established to provide moral and professional guidance to all officers employed by Idaho law enforcement agencies. These include agencies providing any and all activities pertaining to crime prevention and reduction, and all law enforcement, including police, courts, prosecution, correction, probation, rehabilitation and juvenile delinquency.

I will now read the POST Council code of ethics.

Each applicant shall attest that they have read, understood and will abide by the POST Council code of ethics and standards of professional conduct. The Council’s code of ethics is applicable to all Idaho graduates from the POST academy. To fulfill this requirement for POST certification, the class will now swear before those in attendance to the Idaho POST Council’s code of ethics.

Will this graduating class please stand up, face me, raise your right hands to be sworn and repeat after me.

I do solemnly swear that I will support the constitution of the United States, the constitution and laws of the state of Idaho, and the Idaho POST Council’s code of ethics. I will faithfully discharge my duties as a peace officer of the state of Idaho and political entity I represent according to the best of my ability. So help me God.

Class president's remarks

The president of CO Academy #50, Nathan B.Hohnstein, addressed his classmates during the ceremony.  Here is a transcript of his remarks.

I want to thank you all for coming to support this amazing group of people.

They say that the only reason we look behind us is to see just how far we've come.  Well today is no exception as we look back on what we have achieved. 

These people, who I have come to call friends and colleagues, have overcome many obstacles and have formed many bonds.  

Whether it's been our after work study groups or cheering each other on while being blinded by O.C., I know that that encouragement will continue as we leave here. 

When times get tough, I know that each and every one of you have my back and I have yours. That is what it means to be a correctional officer. We are a family. 

Even though we are saying goodbye to some, I know that I am excited for the new challenges that await us all. 

As I stand here absolutely terrified, I am reminded that we, Class 50, firmly face what society fears. Ihope that each and every one of you live your life to the fullest and never look back. 

Thank you.

Print this pagePrint this page