Why you should thank a correctional officer

Protecting the public by managing offenders in safe environments is not just the common goal during each shift, but the promise of commitment made by these public servants

National Correctional Officers' Appreciation Week is an opportunity to thank those who place themselves in harm's way, every day, in order to support the mission of prisons and jails across America. Protecting the public by managing offenders in safe environments is not just the common goal during each shift, but the promise of commitment made by these public servants.

To accomplish this mission, correctional officers are never just "guards," an outdated but still frequently used word to identify their occupation. Instead, these professionals serve in a variety of roles to ensure the safety and good order of the institution. After extensive training, they perform as counselors and communicators, record keepers, referees and negotiators, bus drivers, locksmiths, laundry and food service workers, recreation specialists, property managers and first responders. They manage control centers and ensure key and tool inventories reconcile.

In many states, correctional officer wages are low, and big gaps exist in the ratio of staff to offenders. Despite the evidence and best practices, government budgets simply do not support funding for full staffing compliments, leading to fatigue, poor staff morale, too much overtime and the risk for shortcuts and human error. Unfortunately, daily shifts are often poorly constructed with critical posts in danger of being collapsed. Shortcuts lead to an increase in incidents. Low wages can equate to low performance and inability to recruit and retain the best of the best.

Prisons and jails never close, and families of corrections staff learn to relinquish precious moments when Mom or Dad is working. Holidays, school band concerts and Friday night lights are typical activities correctional staff miss throughout their careers. For many families, the struggle to find overnight childcare is impossible, so extended family members pitch in and become a part of the public-safety mission too. Corrections staff report to work, regardless of weather conditions or their own children's school schedules. A host of contingency plans become a part of daily life, due to their ongoing commitment, dedication and loyalty to the agencies they serve.

For corrections staff, danger on the job can never be understated. While taking universal precautions to prevent the spread of communicable diseases becomes routine in the institution, there is an ongoing risk of physical assault. When offenders assault staff with bodily waste, health may be compromised and prompt treatment is required. Further, the most seemingly insignificant items can be retrofitted into weapons, and adequate self-defense training is essential.

The general public has little knowledge of the daily challenges facing correctional officers. Likewise, they are unaware of the vast number of other employees required to sufficiently staff a facility. Medical personnel, teachers, case managers, maintenance staff and others work hand in hand in order to ensure policies and procedures are followed, with safety and security being the number one goal.    

All corrections staff need the public's thanks and appreciation, and with all the apparent challenges to the job, why do men and women choose to be correctional officers? One reason: pride in work well done and an incredible understanding of how professional offender management protects all Americans.

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