What matters is not what any individual thinks, but what is true. A teacher who does not equip his pupils with the rudimentary tools to discover this is substituting indoctrination [orientation] for teaching.
-Richard Stanley Peters
NEO Training Part 1
NEO, or New Employee Orientation, is what prospective Correctional Officers (CO’s) are subjected to in their first week of employment at Oregon State Penitentiary (OSP). I mention this specifically for OSP because not all Oregon correctional facilities train their employees in the same fashion, nor does each institution necessarily use the same materials for their training; in fact, some institutions do not have a NEO training week. There are both pros and cons to this reality; however, I am primarily concerned with OSP – so the focus will remain on OSP’s version of preparing a prospective CO for the realities of employment in a correctional setting.
Considering the 3″ binder full of OSP’s policies, procedures, and post orders, as well as the Department of Corrections’ rules and regulatory instructions, my peer group’s training sergeant did a pretty reasonable job of covering an enormous amount of disparate information. Unlike New York, new COs in Oregon are not sent to the training academy prior to starting their job. OSP chooses to deal with this lack of training by providing a one week crash course. In Oregon, if a new CO, or in New York’s parlance, a New Jack (a CO still serving their one year of trial [read probationary] service), makes it through NEO and the first few months of “sink or swim,” then the new CO is sent to the training academy. That little gem right there is worth a post all its own!
Back on point! So there we were, my peer group and five days of mind numbingly tedious information interspersed with a few fun moments thanks to our training sergeant. One of the points that were hammered home was the need for consistency. Several of the instructors said something close to, “straight up people, better to be a consistent asshole than to be a wishy-washy chocolate heart.” Often enough that statement was followed up with something along the lines of “mind you, I’m not telling you to be an asshole – only that a consistent asshole is better than an indecisive or inconsistent officer.”
Virtually every OSP post order has some version of this imperative: Staff will be totally consistent and uniform in enforcing all applicable DOC rules and policies and OSP procedures and directives. Somewhere along here I think it becomes obvious why I included the Emerson quotation. I think too, that the Peters quotation starts to make a little sense. The incredible emphasis on total consistency calls to mind the very bureaucrats that most of us despise. That a person would spend more time seeking the right pigeonhole in order to apply a “consistent” rule than to exercise a little creative/flexible thinking in order to find a reasonable solution to a problem should seem absurd to an American! And yet…
Too often, new COs walk away with an overwhelming affinity for the notion of consistency – because it removes the necessity to think and take a risk in decision making. Too often, the people training new COs rely on indoctrination methods rather than sound teaching methods in order to produce an officer with the tools to get at the truth of a matter or to think on his feet. Now then, after making these kinds of observations don’t make the mistake of assuming I think I am the best CO around! There are several officers that I think are better at the job. But the point really isn’t who the best is – it’s how to make us all better at the job.
In a budget crisis, we all know, the very first things to get cut out of the budget are education, training, and “in-service” instruction. It’s cheaper to indoctrinate than teach, and that is simple economics. However, our on-the-job (OJT) training could be much better. Take a look at SB – 257 (which aims at removing academy training) and think about it in practical terms. We do need to work with each other to do the best with what we’ve got! There are two things we can do here.
First, avoid that “foolish consistency.” I made a point of quoting a section common to most of OSPs post orders. The reason is twofold:
- It was one of the most often repeated elements in NEO and OJT, and
- How often the very NEXT imperative was NOT mentioned in tandem with a reasonable consistency.
This is how, dear reader, you know this isn’t just some negative screed. The writers of the post orders knew what a “foolish consistency” was and immediately followed the “consistency imperative” with a “mature thinking” imperative. If both elements were properly emphasized, then the writers had every reason to expect it would help prevent that very “foolish consistency.” What is that next imperative in the post orders?
Due to the large numbers of inmates typically present within the zone of control, it is especially important that all assigned staff exercise self-restraint and maturity of judgment as they enforce guidelines in a timely, decisive, impartial, and unobtrusive manner.
The second thing we can do is advocate for reasonable training. The idea that training can be computer based in an officer’s “spare time on the job” as worked out with his supervisor is – well, errant nonsense seems a kind way to put it. Unless a concerted effort is made by the top of the food chain to take the training seriously by supporting, scheduling, and TEACHING, it hardly seems reasonable to presume the bottom of the food chain will invest any more concern than the top of the food chain. Let’s make the most of our NEO training time (and our in-service training time).
Phew! I didn’t even manage to get to the videos we watched or the environmental conditions of the training… perhaps next week. Until then, take heart Oregon public – OSP truly is full of dedicated officers doing their best with what they’ve been provided, and THAT, is good news indeed.