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Correction News

November 2000

Officer Mentor Program Receives Rave Reviews
By Tracy Little

The first day on a new job is difficult for anyone, but the first day as a correctional officer inside a facility with convicted offenders can be downright scary.

A new program aimed at helping new correctional officers ease the transition to a prison work environment under the guidance of a trained mentor officer is drawing positive reviews from staff and administrators alike. The Correctional Officer Mentoring Program or COMP officially began August 1 and already 700 correctional officers and 75 program coordinators from across the state have completed a three-day mentor training program, which includes topics such as ethics, communication, leadership and motivation.

One new officer said she was pleased to know she wouldn’t face her new job assignment all alone. "I was happy when I found out I’d have a mentor," said Correctional Officer Angela Tharrington of Warren Correctional Institution who was matched with Correctional Officer Marcella Brinkley. "She was a great help to me, especially in teaching me how to respond to inmates and understanding the chain of command. Without (Officer) Brinkley’s help I don’t think I would have been as prepared for the challenges of this job."

Also at Warren, Correctional Officer Cynthia Roberts, on the job since early September, received some valuable training from Correctional Officer Linda Byrd. "I was kind of relieved to know there would be a mentor. Sometimes you are just put on a job and expected to figure it out," Roberts said. "With the things Officer Byrd taught me, I felt I was ready the first day I worked alone. I was ready for the challenge."

At Johnston Correctional Institution, Correctional Officer Malic Vann had received some tips about working inside a prison from his mother, who works at N.C. Correctional Institution for Women in Raleigh. "My mom had tried to prepare me, but I was glad to have Mr. (Gary) Woodall as my mentor," Vann said. "Probably the most important thing he helped me with was basic interaction with the inmates – how to act and react in different situations."

Out west at Craggy Correctional Center, Correctional Officer Tom Henry is thankful to have his job as a correctional officer. After working nearly 30 years in the manufacturing industry, he decided to give corrections a try. Henry said his mentor, Officer Gene Thomas, carefully explained rules and regulations. "I wouldn’t be able to perform some things today if it hadn’t been for him. Whether you’re 8 or 80, there’s always anxiety about something new. The mentor helps erase fear of the unknown," Henry said.

Although on the surface it may seem that the mentees get the lion’s share of benefits, the mentors say they also benefit from the program. Officers interested in becoming mentors must apply for the position and those selected receive an in-range salary increase.

Mentors say the program enables them to learn new skills and also develops a stronger workforce, which ultimately aids every employee. "I think this is good program and wish it had been around when I was hired six years ago," said Brinkley of Warren CI.

Woodall, a mentor from Johnston, agreed that the program has much to offer everyone involved. "A lot of what I learned when I came on board was trial and error. This program helps reiterate the right way to do things," he said. Woodall added that he was impressed with the training program for mentors, which he found very useful.

Correctional Officer Van Franklin of Craggy CC summed up the sentiments of many. "The program helps new staff achieve proficiency quicker than if they were on their own. I didn’t take this for the money, it’s more to benefit the new people coming in and myself. Having better trained staff makes it easier for me to do my job."

Although the program’s primary goal is to ease new officers’ transition into the workplace, administrators also hope it will help improve officer retention, promote job satisfaction and enhance employee morale.

"I think it will help retain officers," said Wade Hatley, an assistant superintendent at Craggy, who oversees the program there. "I think the new officers will have an opportunity to see the dedication and work ethic of their mentors, and that’s bound to have a positive impact."

Sgt. Steven Smith of Johnston CI and Lynn Henry of Warren CI, both facility mentor coordinators, agreed. "The mentors remember what it was like when they first started," said Henry. "They’re dedicated to improving the work environment for people coming in today."

"It can be overwhelming for somebody to just walk in off the street into this job. This gives new staff someone they can work with who has qualities they can emulate their entire careers," Smith said.

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