Training staff on policies and procedures, Part 3: Documentation

Part 3 of 3

Read Part 1: Training staff member on policies and procedures: Development
Read Part 2: Training staff members on policies and procedures: Plan into action

In the first two articles in this series, I discussed the issue of training correctional staff members on agency policies and procedures. The two key purposes of such training are: (1) to be sure that staff members are properly prepared to do their jobs; and (2) to serve as a key tool in liability risk management — that is, to help defend against allegations of failure to train in the event of a civil lawsuit.

The first article discussed the importance of training staff members on the cognitive aspects of policies and procedures — that is, knowledge of the contents of policies. The second article discussed the other two elements of such training: (1) training on key psychomotor skills necessary to implement, or carry out, policies and (2) training on good decision-making so that staff members can properly apply policies and procedures. This article focuses on documentation of training staff members on policies and procedures.

Documentation of all categories of correctional training is very important. A key operational reason is so that there is a good record of the training that has been given to staff members. Such a record better enables management and training staff to know what staff has been trained to do, and to better plan for future training.

Another very important benefit of training documentation is that it helps in liability risk management. That term — liability risk management — refers to a series of activities designed to accomplish two key goals: (1) minimize the likelihood of lawsuits in the first place; and (2) if lawsuits do occur, maximize the likelihood of successfully defending against such litigation. Good liability risk management means being proactive—thinking ahead to possible negative or undesirable outcomes and then taking steps, in advance, to prevent those outcomes from occurring, to the extent possible. The other side of that coin is that being proactive will result in positive, desirable outcomes.

This is a key reason for having good policies and procedures, and for training staff members on those policies and procedures. That is, we know that if there is a civil lawsuit against the jail or prison, the plaintiffs’ attorneys will, as part of the discovery phase of the lawsuit, almost certainly request policies and procedures that may be germane to the issue(s) at hand in the lawsuit. In doing so, they will be trying to determine if they can make a case for "failure to direct" — management’s not meeting their obligation to formally inform staff members about what to do and how to do it.

We also know that plaintiffs’ attorneys will likely request agency training records, to see if they can make a case for “failure to train”—management’s not meeting their responsibility to adequately train staff members in areas of knowledge, psychomotor skills, and/or decision-making that may be causally related to the issue(s) at hand in the lawsuit. Because we anticipate that plaintiffs’ attorneys will request policies and training records (among other things), we prepare in advance (proactively) for that eventuality so as to be able to show that we did the right thing, thus lessening the likelihood that they will be able to prevail with claims of failure to direct or to train.

Moreover, it is best to be able to produce training records, when requested during discovery, as quickly as possible. If the records are produced quickly, and they are good records, then often the plaintiff’s attorney will decide to either not continue with the lawsuit or at least to drop the “failure to train” claim. On the other hand, if there is not good documentation, or a delay in producing training records, that helps the plaintiff’s attorney make the case that things were not done properly.

What are the types of training records that should be maintained? In general, documentation of any training should minimally include information on the following: names of all staff members involved; dates and time frames of the training; subjects and topics of training; curriculums (what was taught); lesson plans for each segment of training; method(s) of training—that is, instructional strategies; and names, affiliations, and qualifications of instructors. Training records should also include copies of any handout materials used, or at least a list of such handouts and a clear indication as to how to locate these, should that need arise.

There must also be titles or descriptions of any audio-visual aids used, including PowerPoint presentations, videos, and so on. If copies of these are not actually included in the training files, there must minimally be a clear indication in records as to where these audio-visual aids are located or available. This is something that is too often overlooked. It is not uncommon in lawsuits for attorneys to request copies of such items, to see exactly what was taught. Thus, they must be somehow available or retrievable. With PowerPoint presentations, it is a good idea to maintain both electronic versions of these and hard copy handouts in training records. If students in training receive hard copy handouts of PowerPoint presentations (always a good idea), copies of these must be maintained in records.

There must also be good documentation of evaluation of training. If cognitive knowledge tests were used, training records should include copies of all such tests as well as the test results for each trainee. If psychomotor skills testing was done, there should be information on that: the checklists or other evaluation instruments used, indication of the criteria for acceptable performance in all skills, and the results for each trainee. Similarly, if scenarios were conducted to evaluate ability of students to apply knowledge and skills and to make proper decisions, there should be records of the scenarios and of the results for each trainee.

It is an excellent idea to videotape formal training events. This is easy enough to do, and it provides a foolproof record as to exactly what occurred during a training session. If there is any question during a deposition or other legal proceeding about what was said or done during training, videotape is a perfect record to bring forth.

These are general guidelines as to documentation of any training of staff members in a correctional facility, ranging from basic (recruit-level) training to FTO or in-service training. Training records should be maintained in such a way that they are easily accessible. There should certainly be an individual training record for each employee, which includes basic information on training that the employee has received.

In regard to training staff members specifically on agency policies and procedures, the same basic guidelines apply. In addition, it is also important to document the specific version of each policy that was the focus of training. This is important because there are typically different versions of policies that were in place during specific time frames. There should be no uncertainty about which version of a policy staff members were trained on. If there is any such uncertainty, that could be a problem in the event of litigation.

For example, suppose one version of an agency’s use of force policy was in effect from September, 2006, through October, 2007. A revised version then became effective on November 1st, 2007. The first version of the policy did not authorize use of electronic control devices (such as the Taser®) by staff members, whereas the revised version does. All staff members in the correctional facility were trained on the new use of force policy during November of 2007.

In January, 2008, there was an incident in the facility in which Officer Smith used an ECD to control an inmate. The inmate was injured during the incident and sued for inappropriate use of force. During discovery the plaintiff’s attorney requests copies of the use of force policy and training records for the involved officer. It would be critically important for those training records to clearly indicate that Officer Smith received training in the revised use of force policy — the version that became effective in November, 2007. If that is not clear, then the plaintiff’s attorney might be better able to advance a claim based on insufficient training.

Thus, documentation on training of staff on policies and procedures must be specific. It is not enough to simply document that an officer received training on the agency’s use of force policy. Instead, the documentation must indicate that the officer was trained on a specific version of the use of force policy. In regard to the above example, Officer Smith’s training record should make clear that he was trained, on a specific date, in the use of force policy that took effect on 11/01/07.

Records on training on policies and procedures must also be specific as to the nature and details of the training. Was the training initial orientation training, FTO training, in-service training, roll-call training, computer-based training, and so on? Who were the instructors? What was the instructional methodology? What instructional materials were used? For example, did trainees receive a copy of each policy that was the focus of training? All of this must be clearly indicated.

There should be an evaluation component to training of staff on agency policies and procedures, as with other types of training. This does not have to be complicated; for most policy issues, a simple test consisting of a few basic questions on the cognitive aspects of the policy is probably sufficient. If there is not some kind of evaluation component, management cannot prove that staff members actually knew and understood policy issues. For example, management can say that Officer Smith went through training in the revised use of force policy, and can even show that such training specifically covered the new policy provisions on use of electronic control devices. But how can management show that Officer Smith actually understood the policy provisions on use of electronic control devices unless it can be demonstrated that he was tested to see if he did.

But even that is not enough. The revised use of force policy now authorizes use of a new intervention option — electronic control devices. Thus, management has to ensure that Officer Smith not only knows and understands the cognitive part of the policy regarding this option, but also that he is able to properly apply the psychomotor skills and decision-making skills associated with electronic control devices. He must be trained on these skills and evaluated to be sure that he is able to properly apply the skills, and the results of such evaluation must be included in training records.

By being thorough and accurate in regard to all documentation of training, including training of staff members on agency policies and procedures, managers and training coordinators of correctional agencies will not only be acting more professionally in general, but will also proactively be doing what they can and should to better manage potential liability risk.

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