Corrections Academy Training
The Moss Group, Inc. (TMG), in conjunction with the Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA), is committed to supporting the development of the essential skills and knowledge needed to reflect the unique and demanding challenges of training today’s corrections workforce. Through the BJA initiative, Improving Institutional Corrections Academy Training, TMG was competitively selected to evaluate the nation’s correctional training academies (funded by a cooperative agreement 2019-RY-BX-K002 through the U.S Department of Justice’s BJA). TMG is conducting a national scan consisting of on-site observations, surveys, and curriculum evaluations to help develop guidance for building and supporting key skills needed for correctional staff to increase public safety by improving outcomes across the corrections community.
Key Objectives of the Initiative
- Establish a set of training principles.
- Develop recommendations and resources to enhance correctional employees’ ability to succeed in their role as public safety partners.
- Identify staff workforce challenge areas and develop appropriate responses and strategies with our federal partners.
COVID-19 has tested each of us in different ways. As a community, we’ve faced a once in a lifetime pandemic and uncertainty. Corrections has been significantly impacted including how staff delivered training and rapidly adapted with the pandemic.
The Heroes campaign is part of the larger Improving Institutional Corrections Academy Training multi-year initiative. In the course of this work, several individuals were nominated as professionals who stood out for their ingenuity, creativity, and ability to continue to deliver high quality training during the unprecedented strain COVID-19 placed on our nation, and agency departments at large. National Correctional Officer’s Week presented a great opportunity to highlight success-oriented practitioners like those you’ll find below who displayed admirable flexibility and determination in their dedication to continuity of service in training for safety and security for their staff and inmate populations.
Stephanie E. Freeman, Director, Office of Staff Development and Training, North Carolina Department of Public Safety, Division of Adult Correction and Juvenile Justice
After attending a train-the-trainer event last year, one of Director Stephanie Freeman’s training teams became the first reported COVID-19 exposures in the North Carolina Department of Public Safety. Understandably, the department made the decision to stop training until test results came back negative. Keep in mind, test results came back a lot slower in the beginning as dealing with the pandemic at this stage was uncharted territory.
The staff was feeling better and ready to work, said Freeman, but we didn’t have test results confirming that we could. At the same time, one of the residential academies utilized by Freeman’s section made the decision to shut down, creating a rippling effect, in which all the overnight locations shut down. Despite this chaotic situation, the vacancy rate and potential impacts of the pandemic meant any delay in hiring new staff was to be avoided at all costs, so Freeman’s directive was to develop a plan to resume training in a commuter model by the following week.
And that’s exactly what she and her team did. Freeman pulled everybody back from overnight status and adapted the juvenile justice curriculum to a hybrid model incorporating telepresence. Training teams dispersed to locations across the state, training smaller groups of trainees. Of course, with any major change conducted in a short time frame, there have been some hiccups. But no one can deny Freeman and her team’s ability to respond to extraordinary circumstances with amazing fortitude, dedication, and pragmatic aplomb. We salute you and your team Director Freeman.
Intake into a penitentiary can be nerve-wracking for most individuals. Add in a pandemic and anxiety goes even higher for both the officers and those under their care. Despite this incredibly stressful time period, two individuals, Sergeant Chad Rittenbach and Officer Justin Heidt of the North Dakota State Penitentiary, are being recognized this week for their steadfast approach to their job and ability to adapt in a constantly changing environment.
Deemed the dynamic duo by our nominating board, these two officers, responsible for intake, had to adjust to change after change while remaining calm, respectful, and responsive to the specialized needs of each individual while mitigating the additional risk of COVID-19. When the pandemic began, the penitentiary stopped allowing new arrivals on March 12, 2020. It wasn’t until May 11, 2020, when they would begin intake for parole violators and later on June 3, 2020, the first new arrivals were allowed into the penitentiary.
With the backlog, Sergeant Rittenbach and Officer Heidt brought in 26 individuals within three days and roughly 37 within five days. According to Rittenbach, the average number of new arrivals in five days, pre-pandemic was 23. In addition to dealing with significantly higher intake numbers, the two officers had to deal with a whole new set of protocols including taking temperatures, rapid testing individuals for COVID-19, quarantining, along with a lot more paperwork. Some normal procedures had to be put off to a later date, such as taking pictures of tattoos, to accommodate the extra administrative work.
Of course, numerous agencies and staff had to adjust and work differently to accommodate the pandemic. Sergeant Rittenbach and Officer Heidt were nominated as heroes because of their positive, can-do attitude, fortitude, and ability to adapt with positive resolve. We salute you Sergeant Rittenbach and Officer Heidt. Thank you for your service!
Similar to many agencies, operations during the pandemic at the Missouri River Correctional Center (MRCC) have been stressful for staff. Throughout these challenging times, Sergeant Stacy Goehring remained dedicated to his job duties and took on additional responsibilities without complaint. As the property officer, Goehring oversees residents’ personal property and state property. At MRCC and throughout the department, the movement of residents within facilities and between facilities looked much different while under the pandemic plan. Sergeant Goehring handled these movements with commitment and composure.
In preparation for a potential wave of residents testing positive this past winter, the decision was made to transfer a group of residents from MRCC to a different facility to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. Sergeant Goehring was tasked with helping the MRCC residents pack their items and prepare to move off site within a few hours. He provided the necessary supplies, knowledge, and flexibility to assist the residents and staff members assisting with the process. He and his teammates then loaded the residents’ personal belongings and transported it to the receiving facility. “None of this would have been accomplished without the help of my fellow team members at MRCC. We all have had to adapt daily with the constant evolving COVID pandemic, and they have been a great team to work with and get through it,” said Goehring. A few weeks later, the residents were returned to MRCC and Goehring led the team that searched the residents’ property prior to it entering the facility – a significant and large task for one person to manage – but one he accomplished with aplomb.
In February, Sergeant Goehring was part of the team that led a facility-wide shake down at MRCC. He led the search teams by providing training to the new cadets from the MRCC and North Dakota State Penitentiary and provided a hands-on property training to provide the staff with knowledge regarding the residents’ property list and disposing of property. In addition to his regular job duties as the property office, he also was tasked with assisting weekly surveillance testing at the facility. Each week, he helped with the flow of people through the testing line, ensuring that individuals knew where to go for testing and that they stayed six feet apart while waiting. Sergeant Goehring also served as a contact tracer and was placed on an on-call schedule to assist with contract tracing during his on- and off-time within all the DOCR facilities. Since then, he has become certified in BinaxNOW testing (a COVID-19 antigen self-test) and is considered a true trailblazer by staff, reported his nomination. “Stacy completed all of these tasks without complaint, just like he does every day. He is a team member who can be counted on to persevere when times are tough. While he is a quiet staff member, when he does speak up, he shows that he is a very effective communicator with sound judgment,” said his nomination. We salute you Sergeant Goehring. Thank you for your service!
Captain David Southwick with the Iowa Correctional Institution for Women (ICIW) exemplifies a corrections professional who is dedicated to training, coaching, and going the extra mile to make facilities safer for those who work and live there. Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, Captain Southwick, who was a trainer in the NIC Safety Matters: Managing Relationships in Women’s facilities curriculum, played a major role in implementing the curriculum at his facility and educating the community about the importance of respectful communication in work with women to support effective gender-responsive and trauma-informed practice.
In addition to his commitment to training in his home state of Iowa, Captain Southwick participated on an NIC training team to train practitioners around the country. His first-hand experience and thoughtful feedback became a huge asset to the team and participants, particularly once the pandemic hit. Due to COVID-19, the National Institute of Corrections (NIC), in partnership with The Moss Group Inc., had to respond quickly to transition the Safety Matters program from a blended learning program to a fully virtual program. Ultimately this transition allowed practitioners from around the country to continue to develop their skills despite the challenges of a worldwide pandemic. Captain Southwick not only contributed to the design of the fully virtual program, but he also worked with his team at ICIW to film demonstration videos designed to enhance discussion of practical application in the field. Clearly, Captain Southwick deserves to be honored for his dedication and above and beyond the call of duty actions to enhance safety and communication for facilities nationwide. We salute you Captain Southwick and thank you for your service!
At the beginning of March 2019, the COVID-19 virus was creeping into Ohio. The Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction’s training academy was at full capacity, beginning classes with upwards to 80 new employees, every two weeks. Over the course of a few weeks, the academy finished out all active onboarding and in-service classes on site and began offering the 120- and 160-hour new employee orientation (NEO) in a blended model.
Called the “hero” and “driving force” of the NEO collaborative process in his nomination, Supervisor Rodney Hedges leads this section. Launched April 20, 2020, and still running, Ohio’s new employee orientation has graduated more than 1,450 new employees to fill vacancies across the state, many of which went to institution’s with critically low staffing numbers. The blended onboarding was possible by offering a combination of online and virtual training sessions for cognitive-based topics and local physical-skills training and testing. Implementing and continuing the initiative has taken collaboration between the training and I.T. staff from the academy and the staff in Ohio’s 28 correctional institutions and six parole regions. Creative alternatives, such as purchasing grappling dummies for all the field sites to allow for defensive tactics demonstrations online, is one of many solutions realized that helped reduce the virus spread while providing a higher quality of training.
While Hedges considers this award a recognition of his entire team and the agency itself, and it certainly is, he is being honored for his dedication and exemplary attitude that shows what can be accomplished despite difficult circumstances. “Rodney was somewhat thrown into this position mid-pandemic when the previous supervisor left the agency. It was a great transition as he had previously been put in a “temporary work level” as supervisor for that section so he had experience taking the lead in the other supervisor’s absence. He is someone the staff look up to as a leader, and came up through the ranks, starting as a correction officer himself,” said his nomination form. We salute you and your team Supervisor Hedges!
Kenyonna Parker, Training and Curriculum Director, Tennessee Correction Academy, Tennessee Department of Correction
The pandemic stopped training in its tracks in March 2020 at the Tennessee Department of Correction (TDOC). Despite that challenge, agency leadership knew they had to continue training new employees to fill the gaps. With the highest staff shortages the agency has ever experienced, “the last thing we needed to face was a pandemic, especially one that could harm our very dedicated and hardworking staff,” said TDOC. Fortunately, TDOC Training and Curriculum Director Kenyonna Parker did not need any prompting to dig in and address this urgent need. Parker immediately began creating strategic schedules, plans, and guidelines to keep instructors and cadets safe. She also stepped in and taught classes, traveling across the state to fill in gaps where instructors were sick or to assist so that the agency stayed within classroom capacity limits.
Like other correctional departments across the country, TDOC prepared for worse-case scenarios. Director Parker turned around a quick, detailed training for the National Guard and she and part of the training team spent a weekend giving the National Guard detailed training and preparation tools for them to be successful in case we needed assistance.
In addition to being a subject matter expert in TDOC curriculum and training, Director Parker, who has a long career with the department and started out as a correctional officer, is known as a consummate team player. Though she operates out of our Tullahoma Tennessee Correction Academy, she spends a lot of weekends working a post for any prison that needs her assistance. She will travel across the state after she leaves her job on Friday afternoon to fill a post. While working in the prisons certainly helps the institutions, Parker also uses that time to learn what improvements, gaps, and strategies the agency can use to enhance the training department.
“Kenyonna deserves this recognition because she is knowledgeable in all areas of correction. She knows the ins and outs of prisons, community supervisory duties, and specialty areas, and will step up and take on any task without hesitation. She won’t steer you wrong and will give it to you straight. I appreciate her and look forward to supporting her in all areas of her career,” said the Staff Learning and Development Administrator. We salute you Director Parker. Thank you for your service!
When Rob Jeffreys was appointed Director of the Illinois Department of Corrections (IDOC) in June 2019, one of his main priorities was investing in the agency’s staff. Less than a year later, the pandemic hit, challenging IDOC and corrections systems nationwide. Even with COVID-19, Director Jeffreys continued to prioritize staff and tasked a team with elevating the training and professional development of the Department’s 12,000 employees. Those team members include: Camile Lindsay, Chief of Staff; John Eilers, Chief of Operations; Shelith Hansbro, Confidential Assistant to the Director; Pat Connolly, Training Academy Manager; and Lindsey Hess, Public Information Officer.
On March 16, 2020, IDOC activated its Statewide Incident Command Center to manage the planning, operational, logistical, medical and communication components of the agency’s response. In response, IDOC established a Population Management Task Force that prioritized eligibility reviews for earned discretionary sentencing credit, granted furloughs and electronic monitoring, resulting in a 25% prison population decline. In December 2021, IDOC implemented surveillance and outbreak mitigation testing strategies. All staff and people in custody are routinely tested. To date, IDOC has administered more than 224,000 tests to staff and 566,000 tests to people in custody – outpacing correctional system testing rates nationwide.
IDOC partnered with advocacy organizations to launch a comprehensive vaccine education program for all staff and incarcerated people. So far, 69% of the incarcerated population and 36% of staff have been vaccinated. Over the course of more than 400 days, the Incident Command team wrote hundreds of plans and memos ensuring detailed direction and transparent communication was provided to all staff, people in custody, families of incarcerated people, and the public.
Over the past year, IDOC’s Training Academy has undergone a complete transformation. For the first time, staff development specialists are in every facility to assist in all facets of staff training. In addition, new cadets spend four weeks being trained at their parent correctional center, which limits their time at the academy, and expands their opportunity to learn at the facilities where they will be working. This change allowed for training to continue while the department was responding to COVID-19. Curriculum was also expanded to allow for more scenario-based training. A Reportable Incident Review Committee was established and tasked with reviewing all use of force related incidents to identify trends and patterns that require targeted training. The academy produced a department-wide training video designed to review officer safety, awareness, and results from complacency. This team also worked to design a new state-of-the-art training facility, which is now under construction.
During the pandemic, IDOC felt it important to address social issues occurring in the nation. The team engaged employees and incarcerated individuals in activities to better ensure all persons are treated with respect, differences are acknowledged, and that individuals feel valued and included.
“When ambition, a strong work ethic, and passion combine, amazing things can happen! Those are the traits these team members possess, and the reason why I appointed them to lead the Department through an enormous transformation. Despite the monumental challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, this team not only persevered, but moved the agency forward in a manner that now serves as model for other states. Their innovation and initiative will continue driving positive change as we work to ensure our staff are given all the education and resources needed to succeed. I’m confident this team will continue knocking it out of the park,” said Director Jeffreys. We salute you IDOC Training and Professional Development Team. Thank you for your service!
Correctional trainers throughout the country have faced unprecedented circumstances created by the pandemic. In Alabama, the corrections academy was challenged to keep training new officers and continue with ADOC’s basic training function. As with many agencies, it was never an option to simply cease training. At the same time, the Training Division staff, already dealing with a complex situation, was asked to step in and help support the Operations Division. Operations, which was experiencing staffing challenges caused by the pandemic, needed to re-open its doors to receive male offenders from county facilities utilizing a new quarantine model. While the ADOC Training Division has always supported the Operations Division, the pandemic created a need for training’s help more than ever before.
Captain Rondell Wannamaker, instrumental in both divisions’ success during COVID, is a clear standout. First, the academy had to come up with a new training model that would allow for ADOC to continue training Post Certified and well as ADOC Certified officers while complying with the everchanging COVID guidelines. This included the implementation of numerous changes surrounding the day-to-day operations of a residential training academy that could not “go virtual.” Right after completing the action plan for the ADOC Training Academy, Captain Wannamaker was asked to take on a new leadership role. In this role, he was to serve as the officer in charge of the new intake facility that was opened very quickly and would serve as the quarantine receiving center for all ADOC male offender intakes.
“Captain Wannamaker has never shied away from any challenging task he has been asked to do throughout his entire carrier. Through years of serving as an example of a true corrections professional, Capt. Wannamaker has always earned the respect and trust of those around him both up and down the chain of command,” said Director Elliott Sanders. “Captain Wannamaker is an ADOC Superstar with a contagious passion for training. He understands the vital and foundational role effective, professional training plays to achieve our transformative vision focused on rehabilitation and public safety,” added Commissioner Jeff Dunn. We salute you Captain Wannamaker. Thank you for your service!
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This program was produced as part of The Moss Group, Inc. Improving Institutional Corrections Academy Training Initiative and was supported by a multi-year cooperative agreement (2019-RY-BX-K002) through the U.S. Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Assistance.