Corrections officers, thank you for your service, courage and commitment
There's no better time than National Correctional Officers Week to recognize the dedication of correctional personnel working in our nation's jails and prisons
As another National Correctional Officers Week approaches, this is a great opportunity for those working in corrections to reflect on the job that they do and the value that their career provides to public safety.
It’s also an opportunity for those who don’t work in corrections to reflect on the value of an area of the criminal justice system that’s often forgotten.
I would also like to personally reflect on the occupation that was a part of my life for more than two decades, and to offer my appreciation for the sacrifices made by those who work inside our nation’s jails and prisons each day.
A senseless act
Having written articles in the past observing National Correctional Officers Week, this one is especially meaningful to me. My home state recently lost a correctional officer and a registered nurse in what can only be described as a heinous, senseless and cowardly act perpetrated by two offenders housed within the Iowa prison where they worked.
Correctional Officer Robert McFarland and Nurse Lorena Schulte had their lives taken as they served their community and served the interest of public safety. These two public servants represented what is good and decent about society and humanity, and they represented what is good and decent about the profession they represented.
Whether their duty to serve was born out of a desire to protect others or to help change lives, both Officer McFarland and Nurse Schulte demonstrated courage each day as they walked into the place where most fear to go, to do a job most fear to do. They fulfilled their duties with pride, professionalism and integrity.
Society rarely sees the risks
The inherent risk of working in corrections may seem obvious considering the backgrounds of many of those housed within jail and prison facilities. However, these risks are often masked from the public, which rarely sees or hears about the hundreds or thousands of staff assaults that take place each week in correctional facilities across this country.
The view that most Americans have of the correctional system comes from exposure to movies and TV shows where the prison culture is often sensationalized and where corrections staff are frequently portrayed as villains rather than the heroes they actually are.
Prison assaults on staff are rarely in the full view of the media and are often handled through an internal administrative disciplinary process. It’s likely that, even if they received coverage in the media, assaults on corrections staff would eventually become “white noise” to the public as the frequency of violent acts carried out on jail and prison staff would occupy entire news segments on a daily basis. This fact is not a reason to ignore the job of corrections, instead, it is the very reason that we should celebrate those working within the profession.
A critical role in public safety
The role that corrections plays in public safety is among the most important that exists. Prisons and jails are tasked with housing those who have violated society’s norms or those society fears present a threat to the public. Once locked away, even the most violent criminals are often erased from the public’s memory. The thought is that once confined, these perpetrators will never again present a threat to the public. Never again to present a threat ‒ except to those tasked with working around them each day.
Not only are corrections staff tasked with housing those who society fears the most, but they are also expected to do so in a fair, ethical and humane way. They’re expected to remove emotion from the knowledge they have of the crimes committed by those within their care and custody. They’re expected to carry on with business as usual in the face of verbal insults, threats, assaults and after having lost a fellow staff member. A brother. A sister.
Corrections staff do this difficult job every day across this country not because of the recognition they’ll receive from the public or the media, but because it’s their job and it’s the right thing to do. To understand the value of those serving within the misunderstood profession of corrections, I can’t help but think of a saying that goes something like, “Character is the person you are when no one but God is watching.” This is corrections: hidden from view, without recognition, they still carry out their duty to serve.
To those working in corrections, thank you. Thank you for your service to the public. Thank you for the role you play in public safety. Thank you for the courage you display every day. Thank you for your impartial treatment of those within your care. Thank you for upholding the Constitution by ensuring the ethical and humane treatment of those within your custody.
To the public, I would offer the following. Those who work in corrections are not disposable heroes. Their safety matters. Their lives matter. Their job matters.
To those correctional staff who’ve lost their lives in the line of duty, and to Officer Robert McFarland and Nurse Lorena Schulte, your sacrifice matters.
And finally, to all corrections staff past and present, on behalf of my family and colleagues working in other segments of public safety, thank you for your service.