When a BC Correctional Officer in Kamloops wanted to work with inmates to create a safer, more engaging environment, she started by delving into research about successful initiatives in other communities. Encouraged by management and supervisors, she then pitched the “Right Living Approach” to her co-workers. “An overwhelming number of staff responded, a result both of how well she prepared and her passion for the issue,” says Stephanie Macpherson, Provincial Director of BC Corrections’ Adult Custody Division. “We opened a unit earlier this spring and the feedback from staff and inmates has been unbelievable.”
That kind of initiative reflects BC Corrections’ emphasis not only on supporting inmates, but also staff – providing opportunities for them to explore their passions and grow in their career.
Empowering staff for positive change
This focus on leadership, progressive ideas and professional development is part of what makes BC Corrections an attractive job prospect for many – timely as the organization is hiring in many regions.
“For me, the focus is all on the people,” Macpherson says. “I tell our wardens, ‘If you take care of the staff, everything else will fall into place.’”
Modelling a ‘people-first’ approach to inmates
“We are a ‘people first’ organization – which means we are always thinking of the people when we make decisions, and as we develop our principles, values and goals. People matter, whether it’s the inmate in our custody or our staff who want to help support that person in custody who wants to turn their life around. We invest in our staff to ensure our organization is agile, responsive and able to excel in pursuing its mission of public safety.”
This people-first approach extends to staff’s interactions with inmates, including a shift from a “supervisory” focus to exploring how to help. “Part of our job is to care, and how we care is a big part of that,” Macpherson says. “When someone comes through our door, it’s our job to help them figure out how they got here and how to not return. Our staff don’t judge people, they accept them where they’re at and help identify and build upon their strengths.”
The Right Living Approach in Kamloops is a perfect example. Participating inmates make decisions about how their living unit will operate, electing a leader and working together to build a smooth-running community. In this mutually respectful environment, inmates can open up with staff and each other about their life experiences – about the path that brought them to prison – and with that vulnerability and empathy the healing process begins.
“With open communication and a community built on respect, look at the opportunities we have to help them,” Macpherson says.
A trauma-informed approach, with greater awareness of mental health issues, helps Correctional Officers form relationships with vulnerable people who often haven’t had a role model before.
“Coming to us from all walks of life and with many experiences, our Correctional Officers are leaders who work to make a difference,” Macpherson says, highlighting the value of respect, communication and listening.
“Some of our most effective staff are women and we need more – their emotional intelligence and communications skills are often so strong.” Beyond appealing locations and flexible work schedules that encourage a work-life balance, many officers appreciate the opportunity to explore professional interests while making a difference.
“Our staff can be involved and be leaders at all levels of the organization: they are in charge of their career paths.”