2 minute read

Prisons: Correctional Officers

The C.o. And Rule Enforcement, Organizational Culture, Changes In The Correctional Officer Role

Correctional officers (C.O.s) are "people workers" who interact with prison inmates on an intensely personal level, in an environment of close physical proximity over long periods of time, while functioning as low-level members of a complex bureaucratic organization (Lombardo, 1981). C.O.s are the primary social control agents in the prison because they are responsible for regulating inmate behavior through direct supervision and the enforcement of rules and regulations. They function within a paramilitary organizational structure that requires them to wear military-type uniforms and carry firearms and other weapons during specific types of assignments. This organizational structure is autocratic in nature and C.O.s are required to follow loyally a rigid chain of command that is organized in terms of military ranks: officer, sergeant, lieutenant, captain, and major. These ranks form a command and control structure that has the power located at the top. Power and communication flow down the chain of command with every person in a subordinate position expected to obey without question the orders of their superior officer(s). The primary criteria for promotion in corrections is time in rank and job performance. Formal education is less of a consideration. The minimum requirement for employment as a C.O. continues to be a high school degree or a graduate equivalency diploma (GED). Therefore, most C.O.s have a limited formal education and the majority of supervisory (commissioned) officers are not college educated.

The correctional officer occupies the unique position of being both a manager and a worker. C.O.s are low-status workers, the lowest subordinates in the chain of command. However, they are also the primary managers of inmates. Because they occupy the lowest level in the correctional hierarchy C.O.s are under the constant scrutiny of commissioned officers in much the same way as inmates are under officer scrutiny. Because contraband is always a major security concern in a prison, C.O.s are subject to random searches as they enter the institution in the same way that inmates are subject to random searches as they go about their business. Officers are subject to administrative disciplinary action if they violate any of the rules and regulations contained in the code of ethics or conduct that managers use to define appropriate correctional employee behavior.


Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationCrime and Criminal Law