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Breaking down the correctional officer oath

Recommitting to our oath can help us stay stronger and healthier and survive this job long enough to retire in good physical and mental health

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Following our oath and creed are vital to an officer’s individual success, as well as maintaining the public’s trust.

Photo/Gary York

Being a correctional officer is not easy and we face many dangers. Correctional officers face inmate attacks, as well as experience high rates of post-traumatic stress disorder, alcoholism, chronic stress and depression. Correctional officers also face many temptations from inmate manipulation.

So, what can we do to stay stronger and healthier and survive this job long enough to retire in good physical and mental health? Let’s break down the correctional officer oath and see what it has to offer that will guide us to having a successful career.

The following elements of the Correctional Officer Oath are Non-Negotiables

Following our oath and creed are vital to an officer’s individual success, as well as maintaining the public’s trust.

As a correctional officer, I regard myself as a member of an important honorable profession.

It is all about attitude! Bringing a positive attitude to work will open your mind to further productivity and success. That positive attitude reflects your strength and knowledge that the inmate population will notice. Officers with a negative attitude not only drag themselves down but open the door to inmate manipulation. When inmates want to “down a duck” they search for the officer with a negative attitude and low self-esteem. A positive attitude can add years to your life and help improve your health. Hanging with officers who have a positive attitude helps lower rates of depression and gives us a greater resistance to illness.

I will keep myself in the best possible physical position at all times.

Physical activity helps us in so many ways. Correctional officers must be able to run to help a fellow officer in danger. It is hard to help if you have no energy after running to an emergency call. We rely on each other for protection and being in the best physical condition you can be can save your own life or another person’s life. In order to survive an inmate attack, an officer may have to defend him or herself for 30 seconds to three minutes until backup arrives. It would be wise to exercise. Exercise also benefits your brain health, helps manage your weight, strengthens bones and helps relieve stress. It also helps in developing a good attitude.

I will perform my duty with efficiency at all times.

Work efficiency in corrections is important to our safety and security. We strive to maintain a secure prison or jail with as few incidents as possible. However, in the environment we work in, we know danger is always lurking around the corner and anything could pop off at any given moment. With this in mind, we must stay alert and aware. Knowing your environment and your facility’s policies and procedures can help you maintain efficiency and effectiveness. Always keep your head on a swivel and stay alert. Being one step ahead of the game will keep you and your fellow officers safer.

I will be exemplary in my conduct, edifying in my conversation, honest in my dealings and obedient to the laws of the city, state and county.

Good conduct does not only mean compliance with agency rules and regulations, it means exemplary behavior and fidelity during your time of service with your agency and community. If an officer is loyal, honest and obeys state laws then that officer is in the right state of mind to do the job correctly. Corrections has a multitude of tasks, dangers, risks and temptations that can lead one down the wrong path. Staying on the right path will help an officer deal with the many obstacles we face in corrections and make the right decisions. Integrity is the key; disassociating yourself from all forms of corruption and unethical conduct will help you through your career path with dignity and honor.

I will regard my oath as I regard my sacred honor.

An officer must uphold the oath and allegiance to the agency and community. Public trust is a critical component for the success of the agency and the reputation of the correctional officer uniform. Unprofessional officers not upholding the oath hurt our relationship with the very people we serve to protect. We take an oath, swearing to protect and serve, anything below that is unacceptable. When you swear to the correctional officer oath you are saying you will give your uncompromising and complete devotion to your uniform and badge. Your honor depends on you.

I will not, in the performance of my duty, work for personal advantage or profit.

This is self-explanatory but let’s discuss. As trusted public servants, correctional officers cannot use their position of authority to coerce or solicit an inmate or an inmate’s family for favors, gifts, money, or sexual favors. This can also extend outside of the prison or jail by accepting gifts or profits from businesses or private entities as a favor.

I will at all times, recognize that I am a public servant.

It is a very difficult time to be a public servant. No matter how hard or difficult times may get you have sworn an oath to be a public servant. You must always recognize what you signed up for. Deciding on being a dedicated public servant is a choice. If you made that choice you must uphold the oath and recognize your duty to the public.

I will give the most efficient and impartial service of which I am capable at all times.

What more can we ask for? Being efficient makes a person highly productive. Focusing on the job is part of being efficient. In corrections, if you lose focus you can miss a sign of danger and get hurt or manipulated by an inmate. Staying motivated, responding quickly to calls and not procrastinating on tasks will enable you to be efficient. Remaining impartial in corrections means performing your job without bias or hostility toward any one person or group. Staying on track and being fair, firm and consistent is the key.

I will be courteous in my contacts at all times.

How we conduct ourselves in uniform reflects not only on the individual but the uniform, badge and agency as well. From working well with our co-workers to answering outside calls from the public, how we speak and represent ourselves can make a huge first impression on our citizens and our staff. Pride in service also goes back to having a good attitude which makes a happier you. Professionalism and civility are keys to success.

I will regard my fellow officers with the same standards as I hold myself.

Protecting the interest of your fellow officers is very important. Working in corrections is consistently ranked as one of the most stressful jobs. All the more reason for frontline staff to work together and help each other. Part of responding to the call of duty is helping your fellow officers when they need help or assistance. Showing you care for their safety and well-being builds respect both ways. Stop and ask yourself this one question and you will know what needs to be done: How do I treat my fellow officers?

I will guard my fellow officers’ honor and life as my own.

Protecting your fellow officers with respect, loyalty, integrity, selfless service and personal courage is everything you can do to prove you value your fellow officer as much as yourself.

I will be loyal to my fellow officers, my superiors and my institution.

Bearing true faith and allegiance means believing in and devoting yourself to your fellow officers and superiors. This indicates true loyalty and support for the overall well-being of everyone. Being a team player and knowing we are protecting each other builds safety and morale. Being supportive of fellow staff members when they are struggling is also a very important element of loyalty.

I will accept responsibility for my actions.

Being accountable for your actions shows integrity and builds trust among your peers. Blaming others and making excuses for a mistake or wrongdoing you may have been a part of will be noticed and it will look bad on you as a trusted officer. “It is not my fault” or “Not part of my job” are the wrong answers. Accepting responsibility makes you stronger and more respected in the long run.

I will do only those things that will reflect honor on my fellow officers, my institution and myself.

Doing the right thing when not being watched demonstrates your honor and loyalty.

How do we make this work?

Everyone in the chain of command must follow the non-negotiable guidelines above. The chain must be strong enough to complete our missions with honor and respect. There will always be a break in the chain from time to time but if quickly repaired we can move on and continue to serve with pride.

Gary York, author of “Corruption Behind Bars” and “Inside The Inner Circle,” served in the United States Army from 1978 to 1987 and was honorably discharged at the rank of Staff Sergeant from the Military Police Corps. U.S. Army Staff Sergeant Gary York completed the 7th Army Non-Commissioned Officers Leadership Academy with a 96.6% in the Train to Train method of instruction. Gary received the Army Commendation Medal and Soldier of the Quarter Award while serving. Gary was a Military Police shift supervisor for five years.

Gary then began a career with the Department of Corrections as a correctional officer. Gary was promoted to probation officer, senior probation officer and senior prison inspector where for the next 12 years he conducted criminal, civil and administrative investigations in many state prisons. Gary was also assigned to the Inspector General Drug Interdiction Team conducting searches of staff and visitors entering the prisons for contraband during weekend prison visitation. Gary also received the Correctional Probation Officer Leadership Award for the Region V, Tampa, Florida, Correctional Probation and he won the Outstanding Merit Award for leadership in the Region V Correctional Officer awards Tampa, Florida.