Prison System Innovates with Online Training and Enhanced Tracking
Case Study - Erie County Prison
About Erie County Prison
The Erie County Prison is the County Jail in the county of Erie, Pennsylvania, home to approximately 280,000 residents. It typically houses between 600 and 700 inmates on any given day. There is a large and varied classification of inmates, ranging from local, minor offenses to high risk felonies and federal offenders. The county jail is where everyone is first processed into the prison system. The jail staff, and all employees, require a wide range of training and system knowledge as they must be prepared to manage every person who comes into the facility, plus every potential scenario.
The Need for Online Training
According to Tony Massaro, the county of Erie Information Technology Manager, the Erie County Prison started out with traditional classroom training and eventually moved to a "jail management system." Essentially, this was a combination of traditional and paper-based training material followed by a series of paper tests. The test results were not stored in a contained system, making tracking difficult and calling for record-keeping improvements.
It was critical that there was a history of testing and results along with the ability to substantiate that employees read and understood the policies and procedures within the jail system. With the "jail management system," the IT department was tasked with building an Access database, moving files within the system and creating spreadsheets. They could not query the training and could not track the data and results as required.
A Single, Contained Online Training Solution
The new training coordinator was focused on taking their training to a single, web-based system, and key in their change strategy was finding a testing program that eliminated paper. They started looking for more inclusive software that balanced with the approved budget. The requirements were an all inclusive testing system, integrated database to track student progress and testing, plus a list of miscellaneous features and functionality that they desired.
Their search led them to FlexTraining, Massaro stated, which offered the most reasonable price and met all of the items on their checklist. Additionally, FlexTraining offered a licensed, "behind the firewall" option, which allowed them to install and maintain the system on their private server.
Massaro went on to state that FlexTraining had everything inclusive in the product and pricing. They now use it for keeping track of new and recurring "policies and procedures" training hours for every employee in the jail system. Typically, this can be 40 to 80 hours per year, per employee. The training topics are mainly security issues, instructing employees on specific inmate situations and scenarios. Policy changes often cause adjustments to courses and tests, and these modifications are easily undertaken in the online training system.
According to Massaro, one of the benefits of FlexTraining is its ability to track, in one program, test results for all of the prison employees. It has also allowed their training coordinator to build creative tests with varied types of test questions.
Learners are notified via their intranet about policy changes and are then notified through the FlexTraining system that updated courses are available along with the required completion timeline. These changes, courses and tests are typically accessed monthly by learners.
Now, instead of issuing policies and having this information separate from test-taking and tracking, it is all included in one application. The jail system has a "mix of hands" to ensure learners have the necessary training materials to view for safety, tactical, self-defense, general protocol and self-improvement, all housed in their online training system.
Some of their training material is PowerPoint presentations converted to Flash movies. They have also converted hand-out policies and procedures into PDF format and integrated these into training courses for easy reference and student take-aways. The online tracking system allows the training coordinator to follow-up one-on-one with personnel that might need individual review and assistance to ensure everyone has the necessary information and meets the specific requirements.
All new-hires must meet 40 hours of training, while new security personnel must go through 80 hours of state mandated training with time-logging and accountability, all available within the FlexTraining system. In general, existing employees may have 4 or 5 tests per month, depending on the department. It is critical that everyone coming to the jail system understands the risks associated with the job as well as the known and varied mindset of the inmate population. Also, liability is a secondary aspect of employee training.
The Erie County Prison training team has introduced a training innovation for their corrections training academy by creating a new, blended training environment, combining traditional training with the FlexTraining online training system.
County corrections officer training from neighboring six counties now meet in Erie County for intensive, in person training, and then take all of the requisite tests on the FlexTraining platform, thereby tracking and storing the results. This has evolved from all trainees traveling to the state capitol for a centralized, traditional training and testing setting. The blend of traditional and web-based training, combined with attendees traveling shorter distances, has reduced class size, made training more local and has decentralized an expansive program. FlexTraining is used for daily, weekly and "final exam" testing throughout the innovative program. It continues to save the county crucial travel time and expenses while enhancing the reliability and integrity of the program.
According to Massaro, the training changes at Erie County Prison focused on finding the right online training system that would create a private, secure training and tracking program. FlexTraining delivered, providing content delivery and testing options, saving time and reducing their training budgets.