Corrections Community


Many people in Corrections use a hat as a metaphor for the role(s) of an officer. It’s often referenced when professional responsibilities which appear to be in opposition to each other are brought up. The hats are commonly labeled Social Work and Law Enforcement. Imperfect terms to be sure, but you get the idea.

While a Parole and Probation Officer may dedicate time and effort teaching skills or motivating a person they supervise, there are also times when they need to impose a consequence and even arrest that same person. For anyone struggling to understand how we can be effective in both situations, it makes sense to think in terms of hats. we must cease to be one thing (take off a hat) in order to become another (put on a new hat). At least, that’s what they tell me.

I suppose before I go any further I should clarify a few things. I really like the term professional identity when I think about this topic for a few reasons. Professional, because we are referring to who we are as a corrections or probation officers, not our personality. And identity, because we’re considering our purpose, our overarching goals, the why behind our actions. When I think in those terms, it makes less sense to me that I would change who I am professionally or reconsider why I do the work I do just because the circumstances in the moment call for a different course of action.

The topic of professional identity is nothing new to Corrections. The 2018 paper, Probation Officer as a Coach made a significant impact on myself and many of my colleagues, contrasting the characteristics of a coach and referee to illustrate the types of identities we in corrections can adopt. But while there are some who embrace the role of a coach (and by contrast a referee), many of them still believe in the two-hat system, they’ve simply re-labeled the hats.

My takeaway from the article above is not that we are sometimes coaches and sometimes referees. I think the constant swapping of hats/identities under those terms can actually be debilitating over the span of a career. It can provide an excuse to ignore one aspect of the job in order to exercise the other. And when you pit evidence based practices (EBP) against the concept of accountability (typically believed to be more closely aligned with community safety), most officers choose the latter, which explains a lot of the resistance to EBP in corrections.

The reality is, we are neither social workers or law enforcement officers. Influencing people to change their behavior is always the goal, whether you need to perform an arrest or introduce a cognitive-behavioral intervention. Personally, I believe we should embrace the professional identity of a coach, honoring both accountability and support for the people we supervise. But this post isn’t an argument for becoming a coach, the linked article does a far better job at that. I simply believe we all have to make a choice on who we want to be in this field. When you do that, things become a lot more clear. Just make sure the identity you embrace aligns with your leaders, the values of your organization and the community you serve.

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