The work of a prison officer is often misrepresented in the media and the plethora of popular crime shows.
Yes, it involves supervision and security, observation and assessment, and appropriate response to prison incidents. What is less well-known is that prison officers are also responsible for prisoner rehabilitation encouraging prisoners to establish goals for themselves and to begin engaging in positive behavioural change. Prison officers provide prisoners with leadership, advice, support and guidance. Having a positive impact on the prisoners lives, and seeing their behaviour change for the better, can be very rewarding.
The Department of Justice wants people who demonstrate good judgment and have life experience which includes good interpersonal skills, empathy and cultural awareness. They need selfconfidence, initiative and good problem-solving techniques. Many prison officers come from the customer service industry where they were already using good problemsolving skills. Prison officer Steven Stirling had headed up a bank customer service team for 10 years and was in hotel management before that. Reinventing himself as a prison officer was due to a friend on his team who had done the same and had recommended it.I work at the Melbourne Assessment Prison in accommodation, he says. All male prisoners being incarcerated for the first time come to us to be assessed by various teams. As well as ensuring the prisoners are well maintained, we provide support to prisoners and become mentors for them, especially those coming in for the first time as it can be quite daunting.We are there to listen and assist.Providing some guidance then usually helps make it easier for them.
The Department of Justice provides all necessary training for prison officers with both pre-service and ongoing training programs. When offenders have been sentenced to community service, or have been released on parole, the goal is to ensure they do not re-offend and that parole conditions are strictly observed. Community corrections officers take on a caseload of offenders in the community.They are carefully selected and given extensive training before taking on this important role. They need maturity, professionalism, dedication and personal integrity, and must be able to actively contribute to the team.
Community corrections officers come from many backgrounds: teaching, management, social work, criminaljustice, administration. The entry levels and career pathways are also varied.Operations manager Paul McLean was a supermarket manager when he met someone from the Department of Justice at a barbecue, who told him about the work of community corrections officers. I was interested in the job because it looked like a challenging role that was also meaningful and offered me the chance to give back to the community,he says. You can deal with some difficult offenders and the decisions you make really affect their lives. But I enjoy the challenge and no one day is ever the same.There is plenty of opportunity for advancement. Having built up a wealth of experience in case management and front-line offender management, Mr McLean is now training for a more senior operations manager position by taking advantage of the many opportunities offered by the Department of Justice.
The Reinvent Team would like to thank The Age/My Career for the article Saturday, 11 June 2011.