As a supplement to yearly training, the Washington State Department of Corrections created specialized restrictive housing training for correctional staff assigned to work in the Intensive Management Units (IMUs) and other restrictive housing units (RH)—as per DOC policy, this includes anyone assigned to work in a specialized unit three or more days a week. Officers receive the Restrictive Housing Field Officer Training (FTO) booklet, a handheld steno book, as a part of their training materials. The booklets serve as a reference guide and provide resources such as policies, guidelines, and required assessments for corrections officers based on the department’s regulations. It also provides supervisory staff the opportunity to assess their officer’s proficiency in essential skills for work in RH units. Officers that complete the booklet receive recognition from the department.
The Restrictive Housing Training Program is committed to helping Correctional Officers cultivate their skills and attain their keys for success through continuous training, peer support, and regular reviews to improve overall facility integrity and excellence.
WA DOC leadership created the FTO booklets in collaboration with the Restrictive Housing Steering Committee—an internal board made up of representatives from all DOC facilities with RH units, including security and administrative staff, charged with evaluating and transforming the use of restrictive housing within the WA DOC. The FTO booklets align with the department’s strategic goals, including their commitment to reduce their use of restrictive housing and acknowledge the critical role of security, mental health, and administrative staff in achieving and maintaining these reforms. Materials in the booklet help supplement the training new officers receive in the training academy and helps expose both seasoned officers and recruits to the expectations for the use and operation of RH units.
In August 2019, the department began to pilot correctional officer training seminars hosted by a Correctional Program Manager and Captain, using the FTO booklets—starting first at Stafford Creek Correctional Center. The department first prioritized training for correctional staff that work in the facility’s IMUs, with a long-term goal to provide the training to all security staff—to emphasize the idea that conditions in the general prison population often contribute to the conditions in RH units.
Content in the FTO booklet mirrors the phases of in-person officer training. Each phase covers specific topics essential to working in RH. For example, phase one of the training includes the following topics:
- Unit movement, counts, daily reports, and processing incarcerated individuals
- Unit services
- Cuff port safety/awareness, strip searches, and restraints
Other training topics cover programming, individualized plans for incarcerated people, no-contact visitation, managing transgender, intersex, gender-nonconforming people, and emergency response procedures.
Each section includes overview pages on a specific topic with crucial points from department policies and a page for the officer’s notes. Each participant is paired with a mentor and must complete an assessment by demonstrating knowledge of a skill, practice, or policy and receive a signature in the booklet from a supervisory staff member (any Sergeant, Lieutenant, Captain, or Correctional Unit Supervisor) and their direct supervisor.
The booklets also include general resources useful for all correctional officers in the department, such as crisis response, department values, core competencies, and staff wellness and psychological support.
The department has received positive feedback from the RH FTO booklets. As of December 2020, the department has provided RH FTO booklets to all staff in RH in nine of WA DOC’s facilities. Three officers have completed the training to date. Though the program has just begun, the department hopes to have more staff complete their booklets.
Creating a companion booklet for RH training underscores the department’s commitment to RH reform and widespread culture change through the staff and the safety of those who live and work in these units by requiring RH staff to be proficient in the department’s policies and practices. The booklet’s success would not be possible without the contributions from officers themselves who participate in the Restrictive Housing Steering Committee and the support of various facility and department leadership.
Agencies that create RH training booklets should create a sustainable model for updating booklets to align with regular policy updates to ensure that the booklets reflect the most recent department regulations.