20 May, 2023
Insight into what it takes to be a correctional officer
To many, when envisioning a custodial correctional officer at Lotus Glen Correctional Centre, they picture a tall, buff, security guard that guards prisoners within their jail cells. This myth is far from true, as Express cadet journalist ELLIE FINK found out when she spent time “behind bars” of the maximum-security prison with fresh and seasoned correctional officers, learning who they are, what they do and why they do it.
IT takes a special person to work behind the razor wire fence of Lotus Glen Correctional Centre as a custodial correction officer (CCO) as so many aspects of personality and strength come into play.
CCOs act as “role models” to prisoners and help them grow, rehabilitate and learn throughout their time in prison whilst also ensuring their safety as well as the safety of staff and visitors.
Every CCO coming into Lotus Glen is put through a 10-week course where they learn the ins and out of the prison whilst completing a Certificate III in Custodial Corrections.
Once trainees have obtained their certificate, they are able to work in correctional facilities across Australia and can include adult or youth centres.
For five days a week, the trainees spend their time in the training block, T Block, located in the centre of the prison where they undergo theoretical and practical work.
Currently, there are nine CCOs in training from a diverse range of backgrounds, all with unique personalities and goals in mind.
Although the staff in the prison believe there is no such thing as a “perfect” CCO, there are several aspects to becoming a successful officer.
Two of the nine trainees, Alec and Darren, have already spent a week in the prison and have fallen in love with the job.
For Alec, becoming a CCO means giving back to the centre that has given her loved ones great employment opportunities whilst making a difference to those who reside in the facility.
“I have many friends who work here and they all couldn’t stop talking about how much they loved it here and how good the work/life balance is,” she said.
For Darren, his history in the referral service at Lotus Glen and in the navy motivated him for a change in lifestyle. He saw the potential and opportunities available and decided it was time to take the leap of faith.
Throughout their training, Alec and Darren have touched on the important theoretical side of their roles, including law and legislation, and will participate in work experience towards the end of their certificate training.
Both Alec and Darren have begun employment Lotus Glen with differing goals and ideas of what makes a good CCO.
To Darren, his ability to be kind, respectful and open to learning new things is what makes him a great advocate for the role.
“I think being open to learning about qualities and values and respecting others and working ethically without bias,” he said.
“I think our main role is to help prisoners get through their time here and be that middle person to see that their requests are going through and they are receiving the services they’re entitled to.”
Bias is an important aspect that CCOs must consider when they begin training at any correctional facility in Queensland.
Staff members do not know why each prisoner is in the facility or what crimes they have committed, ruling out the chance for any biased behaviours towards inmates while promoting a fair and safe environment.
The ability to not be biased also comes with a sense of empathy towards each individual, a trait that Alec has vowed to utilise in her job every day.
“I think having a sense of empathy is good because the guys in here have gone through things we cannot imagine,” she said.
“I think it is really important to consider when you’re thinking about why someone might do some of the things they do.”
Once Alec and Darren have completed their training, they will be able to go into the prison as qualified CCOs like fresh graduate, Dylan.
Dylan has been qualified for four weeks after making a huge career change from mechanic to CCO, his motivation to help people and make a difference led him to Lotus Glen.
The leap from a qualified mechanic of 10 years to a graduate CCO on the grounds of a maximum-security prison was huge but Dylan has enjoyed the challenge the new role has provided.
Although he may be a fresh CCO, he is not short of stories to tell and has already been exposed to the good, the bad and the ugly when it comes to working behind bars.
A recent incident proved to him just how important his training was and how crucial his role as a CCO is when it comes to protecting those within Lotus Glen.
“In my second week in my unit, I did have an incident happen and obviously, when prisoners are acting up, the adrenaline pump you get is unreal,” he said.
“But falling back on my 10 weeks in training, I was able to call the relevant code and de-escalate the situation whilst waiting on the other staff.
“Looking back, there are things I would change but at the end of the day, I did what was needed at the time to get the situation sorted and keep the other prisoners safe.
“Throughout my time in the course, I didn’t see much of that but once you graduate, anything can happen.”
Throughout his employment, Dylan aspires to take his career further with the big goal becoming a SERT officer.
In order to get CCOs up to scratch before making their way onto the floor, seasoned officer of 23 years, Cam, has taken on the role as trainer.
Starting out as a CCO himself, Cam is no stranger to the 10-week course which aspiring officers undertake and is keen to watch this group learn and grow.
Being in their shoes only two decades ago, he hopes he can impart some of his wisdom upon them.
“I still remember my first day very clearly and remember being nervous,” he said.
“Over time, a personal achievement for me is going from a quiet and introverted person to an assertive and charismatic person and that’s because in this job, you have to have great communication skills.
“(During the 10-week course) they are given a foundation, lots of knowledge in communication skills and teamwork but the main learning comes in the nine months after when they are on the ground.”
Through training in the centre, CCO trainees get the opportunity to experience more than CCOs at the Brisbane Queensland Correctional Services (QCS) Academy would.
Although the training course at Lotus Glen takes two weeks more than the one at the academy, the experience within the prison itself gives trainees a further understanding of how QCS operates.
Throughout Cam’s time as a CCO, he has been able to debunk the myths that are fuelled by the incoming trainees and the general public.
“The main message I have (for the trainees) is to dispel all the myths about corrections – it’s not ‘Prison Break’,” he said.
“It’s an awesome job but it’s not a normal job, you have to make sure you have pride when you put your uniform on and that you are a CCO.
“You’ve got a huge amount of responsibility and we are here for a reason and that is to look after the prisoners, provide services, safety and security.”