The job market for corrections officers in Michigan is booming, and Mott Community College student Steven LaMay of Flint is already reporting for duty.
LaMay, who is studying Criminal Justice at MCC, recently completed Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC) training enabling him to begin work as a corrections officer at the Thumb Area Correctional Facility in Lapeer while continuing his education.
“There is currently a big hiring push in corrections due to a large number of retirements,” said Mary Cusack, Dean of the Fine Arts and Social Sciences Division at MCC. “Up to 2,500 corrections officer vacancies are expected to exist in the next five years. The Michigan Department of Corrections is hiring up to 30 people per month to work in its facilities. It is a huge area of job growth,” she said.
To meet the high demand for corrections personnel, MCC is applying to the Michigan Correctional Officers Training Council (MCOTC) to become an approved site for the 320-hour Corrections Training Program beginning with the Winter 2015 semester, which is required training for individuals interested in entry level corrections officer jobs at state facilities.
“The Training Council is working with four-year colleges and community colleges statewide to offer the 320-hour training program and recruit candidates,” said Cusack. “We’re excited with the prospect of offering that opportunity in this community.”
MCC already offers the Law Enforcement Regional Training Academy (LERTA), a 15-week intensive training program that prepares students to take the Law Enforcement Licensing Examination. The LERTA training program, commonly known as a “police academy,” meets the Michigan Commission on Law Enforcement Standards (MCOLES) training requirements. The new Corrections training program would be offered at the LERTA facility at MCC’s Southern Lakes Branch Center in Fenton.
“It takes a lot of infrastructure to offer the MCOTC’s Corrections Training,” said Cusack, “MCC is able to leverage our existing resources because of our partnership with the police academy. Additionally, we are well-situated to ensure that students have access to jobs locally due to our proximity to the prison facilities around us.”
Not only is the corrections field growing, the demand for female corrections officers is extremely high. “It is a great field for women,” said Cusack, “there are many opportunities for women at facilities that house female offenders as well as other facilities within the Department of Corrections.”
Applicants for jobs as corrections officers must complete a minimum of 15 credits of approved coursework. They then go through the Department of Correction’s recruiting process to attain approval to attend the training academy.
Candidates must first complete six weeks (280 hours) of training, which includes classroom content about corrections processes and procedures, physical conditioning and defensive tactics, and equipment and firearm training. Upon successful completion, candidates are offered a position at a state correctional facility. When they accept the position, they become employees of the Department of Corrections, and receive two additional weeks of paid training through the college.
Upon completion of the final two weeks of training, candidates report to their employer/facility for two months of on-the-job training. The final step is an eight-month probationary employment period to complete the initial year of employment, according to Jai Deagan, Michigan Correctional Officers Training Council Liaison. MCC currently offers the 15-credit certification program in Corrections that qualifies students to apply for entry-level jobs as corrections officers. In Fall of 2014, MCC is adding a 31-credit Certificate of Achievement and an Associate of Applied Science in Corrections. Analyzing trends in corrections employment, Cusack and Jimmie Baber, Criminal Justice & Corrections Program Coordinator at MCC, developed the curriculum for the Corrections degree to give students more opportunity for career advancement and career transition.
“Retirement at a relatively early age is common for people working in corrections,” said Cusack. “If they start this career young and put in 25 years, they may be back in the job market in their late 40s and early 50s. We developed an associate’s degree corrections curriculum that will enable them to pursue a bachelor’s degree and have a new career after retirement,” she said.
The Corrections Program was designed to help students achieve success in steps. After completing the recommended 17 credits or minimum 15 credits, they work through the recruiting and approval process to be accepted into the training academy. While they work through that process, they can be completing another semester of coursework. “After those two semesters, students have earned the Certificate of Achievement,” said Cusack.
Students who successfully complete the corrections training academy earn an additional 13 credits toward their degree. The final seven classes in the curriculum can be completed online or on campus, giving students maximum flexibility to finish the associate degree while they are working.
“The great thing about this program is that you don’t have to be done with school to get a job,” said LaMay. “These programs enable you to get a job and continue to go to school to finish a bachelor’s degree program.”
“Occupational experience is not enough anymore,” said Baber. “You need a four year degree to move into another area of criminal justice after working in corrections.” Students who continue on for a bachelor’s degree while working in corrections might consider related human service fields such as sociology, social work, counseling and criminal justice. “A bachelor’s degree will help you move up professionally. It opens up opportunity for promotions within corrections as well as the opportunity for career changes,” Baber added.
“It’s a good time for corrections. There is an opportunity to move up quickly and make a good salary,” Cusack said. “But we hope that students think long-term, that they continue their education, and combine that with their experience in corrections to bring about positive changes in the field of human services.”