Cultural competence is becoming essential in the workplace, especially in a city as multicultural as Toronto is. This was driven home to me recently when I accompanied a friend of Ukrainian origin, who has cancer for the second time, to a doctor’s appointment to discuss treatment options.

During the appointment, the doctor explained the options very technically and in a cold manner. I was there to ask questions and clarify everything for my friend. The doctor seemed totally unaware that she was nervous about questioning him. She was quite concerned about upsetting him and felt he was angry at her. After the appointment she told me it was the first time she had finally understood what was happening. And this is someone who has been here for 20 years and speaks English well.

If this is happening to someone with her language and cultural  skills, how many others are leaving the doctor without knowing what’s happening. And this is happening in all areas of life.

The following article talks of the need for cultural training within the prison system, another area I hadn’t really considered. It is quite shocking how much misunderstanding occurs throughout all areas of society due to lack of cultural awareness and apparent lack of caring, especially in a city which is 50% immigrant.

Cultural Competence in the Correctional System

By Carl ToersBijns

Cultural competence refers to an ability to interact effectively with people of different cultures and socio-economic backgrounds, particularly in the context of penal compliance issues, whether it is situated in a setting related to human behaviors and thoughts within for-profit private prison organizations, and local, state or federal government agencies whose employees work with persons from different cultural/ethnic backgrounds.

In corrections, this goes deeper as it is not only impacted by different cultures within other establishments but also by deep rooted customs and practices often left unchallenged and hardly even spoken of out loud. In this case, ignorance is not bliss, it is a hurdle for effective human resource management styles and should be addressed to avoid hostilities.

Prisons are becoming increasingly culturally diverse. Today, we need correctional officers with better skill sets in communicating, understanding and carrying out the various attitudes, traditions or other customs to put value to the diversity established by the incarceration of various races, ethnic groups and demographics either regionally or geographically.

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