Key Concepts in Correctional Facilities

Those who study criminal justice and correctional facilities should have a firm grasp of the key concepts involved in each. Here, we will examine some of the essential ideas that are necessary for those working within corrections to understand. 

Basic Terms Within Correctional Facilities

According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS), the word “corrections” can be defined as the supervision of persons who have been arrested for, convicted of, or sentenced for criminal offenses. There are two types of correctional populations: institutional corrections and community corrections. 

At the end of the year 2020, there were 5,500,600 persons supervised in adult correctional systems in the U.S., per the BJS. This number was 11 percent lower than the same time a year before. This was due to the fact that both community corrections populations (which declined by 6.6 percent) and incarcerated populations (which declined by 18.9 percent) were reduced in 2020, largely due to the COVID-19 pandemic causing early releases. 

Institutional corrections include facilities in which inmates are supervised, confined, secured, and housed. They may include federal prisons, state prisons, and local jails.

Community corrections, also known as community supervision, are situations in which offenders are supervised in the resident population as opposed to in secure institutions. The two main types of community corrections supervision are probation and parole. 

Custody means that a state or the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) has physical hold over a prisoner within a correctional facility. Custody may be maintained by a local jurisdiction, a state, or the BOP. 

Prisoners are inmates who have been confined to long-term correctional facilities run by the state, federal government, or private agencies. Those who are sentenced to prison are usually felons who have received a sentence of one year or more of incarceration. Some states, however, have an integrated prison system in which prison and jail inmates are confined together. 

Jails are typically run by local law enforcement and hold prisoners who have received shorter sentences of one year or less, as well as those who are awaiting trial for an offense. 

Concepts In Which Correctional Officers are Trained

Correctional facilities can be dangerous for both inmates and correctional officers who work there. For that reason, correctional officers must be trained in and highly familiar with certain concepts, tactics and techniques to protect themselves, their fellow officers, and inmates. These include:

Defensive Tactics

Correctional officers must know how to use defensive tactics, which usually involve using one’s bare hands or light equipment on those who pose a physical threat. Inmates who assault other inmates or correctional officers are often subjected to defensive tactics. Training in defensive tactics makes it easier for correctional officers to disable counterattacks, subdue or immobilize an attacker, but not to permanently disable or kill them. 

Use of Force

The use of force may be considered by correctional officers in certain situations, usually emergencies. These may include riots and violent situations that endanger life and property. In situations in which use of force is warranted, correctional officers may use such force without waiting for backup or emergency teams to arrive. The correctional officer must take full responsibility for their actions and must know their own rights and responsibilities when using force, as well as the rights and responsibilities of the person being subjected to that force. After such an event, supervisors of correctional officers will review situations in which force was used to make sure that proper protocol was followed. 

Non-emergency situations may call for a calibrated use of force, in which the timing and level of force are planned before they are used. This could include things such as a planned cell extraction for an inmate who has not complied with rules. In these situations, appropriate force must still be used, and the inmate’s health must not be compromised. 

Restraining Devices

Correctional officers may need to use restraining devices from time to time. Physical restraints are used to subdue, control or contain prisoners exhibiting violent behavior. Restraining devices include: handcuffs, leg irons, restraint chairs, electronic restraints such as taser guns and stun shields, and chemical restraints like tear gas and pepper spray. The most serious restraining devices the must be reserved for use only in extreme cases include K-9 units, rubber truncheons, and firearms. Restraining devices may not be used solely as instruments to punish offenders.

Cell Extraction

If an inmate is not cooperating with the rules, correctional officers may need to use cell extraction to remove that inmate from their cell. This is a planned use of force, as described above, and is done by teams of officers working together to make sure that neither the offender nor any officers are hurt in the process. Cell extractions must be authorized by supervisors and/or prison administrators, as well as being documented and reviewed. Restraining devices are typically used by correctional officers during cell extraction.

Inmate Transport

From time to time, inmates must be transported from the incarceration facility to another location. This movement may involve the inmate’s return to the facility after a court appearance or receiving medical attention, or may involve a one-way trip such as being transferred to another incarceration facility. Correctional officers participating in inmate transport must be trained to take necessary precautions to avoid injury to themselves or the inmate, ambush, hostage taking or escape in these situations.

Firearm Usage and Safety

Some, but not all, correctional officers carry firearms while on the job. Most correctional officers are instructed in the various types of firearms they may be called upon to use, and how to use them safely. If they will be authorized to carry a firearm, a correctional officer will be trained thoroughly in its use. Training includes time spent on the firing range, cleaning and caring for the firearm, and proper discharge of the weapon. 

Security Procedures

Each correctional facility has its own security procedures which correctional officers must follow. These dictate how inmates and their cells must be searched, how inmates must move from one place in the facility (such as their cell) to another (such as the cafeteria), how the intake process works when an inmate enters the facility, and how the release process works when inmates are released from the facility. Correctional officers must also learn what to do in case the facility is locked down, in the event an inmate escapes, or in the event of a fight between inmates. 


New correctional officers must be taught how to properly communicate with fellow officers as well as inmates. Many inmates will attempt to manipulate or deceive new correctional officers, so this training is vital to success in the job. Proper interpersonal skills when giving inmates orders and directions are necessary. It is also important to learn how to communicate with your fellow officers, supervisors, and guests to the prison. Correctional officers must also learn how to properly write reports to clearly and concisely present necessary information.