The vital (and hidden) role of sheriff’s correctional deputies

Sheriff’s correctional deputies aren’t nearly in the public eye as often as LEOs, firefighters or EMS professionals, but they still play a vital role in public safety

By Joe Walker, C1 Contributor

If you ask nearly anyone what they think of when they hear the words “public safety,” the first thing they respond with is a police officer. Ask again and you may get a couple of additional answers such as “fire rescue” or “EMS.” However, most people are totally unfamiliar with another vitally important, but mostly forgotten, role in public safety: the sheriff’s correctional deputy.

What does a sheriff’s correctional deputy do?

Sheriff’s correctional deputies have a very important and vital role in public safety. So why are they “mostly forgotten”?
Sheriff’s correctional deputies have a very important and vital role in public safety. So why are they “mostly forgotten”? (Photo/Joe Walker)

In Michigan, sheriff’s correctional deputies are all sworn deputy sheriffs who are tasked with the care, custody and control of pre-trial detainees and sentenced inmates within county jails.

Pre-trial detainees are those individuals who have been arrested and/or charged for committing crime, however they have yet to be convicted in a court of law, and are currently awaiting their adjudication by the criminal justice system.

Sentenced inmates are individuals who have been convicted of and found responsible for committing crimes and are now serving out their sentences as determined by the courts.

How do you become a sheriff’s correctional deputy?

The Michigan Sheriff’s Coordinating and Training Council (MSCTC) was established following the signing of Public Act 125 of 2003. The MSCTC establishes and oversees minimum mandatory recruitment, training and occupational certification requirements for these special deputies. For example, pre-employment hiring standards require that an interested person complete and successfully pass the following prior to being offered employment by a sheriff’s office:

  • Criminal background check;
  • Mental fitness evaluation via written examination and examination by a licensed healthcare professional;
  • Successful completion of the Local Corrections Officer Physical Ability Test (LCOPAT).

Once a potential recruit is successfully hired, they must complete a 160-hour local corrections academy within one year of their hire date.

Deputies receive academy training in many areas including the following:

Deputies are also required to complete at least 20 hours annually of in-service training commensurate to their job duties to maintain their occupational certification.

Many sheriffs’ offices throughout Michigan require newly recruited deputies to complete several weeks of on-the-job training with a Corrections Training Officer (CTO). During this time the recruit will be trained on everything from daily operations, policy and procedure, building security, custody and control of inmates, and how to respond to a variety of incidents and emergencies.

Daily routines the recruit will be trained in include:

  • Oversight of inmate meal distribution;
  • Inmate uniform/linen distribution and laundry services;
  • Inmate medical care and treatment.

Deputies also closely supervise inmate rehabilitative programs such as Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, general equivalency diploma classes, parental education classes and religious services.

What are the characteristics of a successful sheriff’s correctional deputy?

Problem-solving skills are a must in this environment as the inmates and their various groups within the jail population don’t always play well together.

Just as sheriff’s road patrol deputies patrol the streets, sheriff’s correctional deputies patrol the halls, dorms and regions of the county jail, an underworld unknown to most of citizens.

Deputies must be skilled communicators and have the gift of discernment, especially when dealing with the more manipulative inmates and criminals of the jail population.

Disagreements and in-fighting are commonplace and deputies must always stay on their toes to diffuse situations should they become volatile.

Deputies regularly conduct investigations to get to the heart of these problems that often involve extortion, gambling, and contraband.

Deputies are not only required to manage the general inmate population within the facility, they are also required to manage mentally ill pre-trial detainees and sentenced inmates. Often, deputies are required to break up fights and physically restrain violent and assaultive inmates.

What risks do sheriff’s correctional deputies face?

Deputies work in an environment where they could be assaulted at any time, including by inmates armed with makeshift improvised weapons such as “shanks” or “shivs” or other similar weapons. Deputies are also required to prevent these same inmates from hurting themselves. Some of these inmates are known to carry infectious diseases such as HIV, AIDS, Hepatitis C, MRSA and Tuberculosis.

A study by the National Criminal Justice Reference Service (NCJRS) showed that corrections officers often manifest their stress in the form of physical illnesses such as hypertension, heart attacks and ulcers at higher rates than police officers. Alcoholism and divorce rates are higher for those officers working in a corrections environment than for the population in general.

In conclusion

Sheriff’s correctional deputies have an important and vital role in public safety. So why are they “mostly forgotten”?

Their beat is largely “out of sight, out of mind” to our communities. Sheriff’s correctional deputies aren’t nearly in the public eye as often as police officers, firefighters or EMS professionals. They are always confined to the county jail, their area of patrol.

It’s time that we recognize these largely unknown public safety professionals for the critical service they provide and the sacrifices they make for the betterment of our community.

About the author
Joe Walker is president of the Ottawa County Deputy Sheriff's Association in Michigan.

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