Why COs hate being called 'guard'

COs responded to why they prefer 'correctional officer' over 'guard'

If the public only knew how much correctional officers hate to be called “guards.” In my opinion, the public still thinks that COs do nothing more than just turn keys and stand idle in a world that doesn't move. I have a feeling that if they had a better understanding of what we actually do, then maybe they would no longer call us just guards.

So, in an effort to educate the public, I went to those in the field and I asked them, “Why do you prefer to be called a correctional officer as opposed to a guard? This is what they had to say:

Brandy Bennett: We do not just "guard." We put our lives on the line every day. We fight, we council, we resolve serious conflict on the fly. We are threatened every day, we are assaulted, we are away from our families for extremely long periods of time with little to no gratitude. We are lied on, we are thrown in with nothing but keys and a radio for protection. We deserve more respect than we get. We don't expect a thank you, but the least we can be called is what we are and what we do. We are correctional officers. Don't call us guards.

Inmates pass a correctional officer as they leave an exercise yard at the California Medical Facility in Vacaville, Calif.
Inmates pass a correctional officer as they leave an exercise yard at the California Medical Facility in Vacaville, Calif. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)

Russ Hamilton: I am not real hung up on labels, but the amount of training required, and the type of effort required to do this job, should bring an acknowledgment of the achievement of that title. The spent blood and sacrifices of the profession warrant such courtesy. We expend a great many things in dealing with our wards, inmates, charges etc. Blood, lives, time, and other values are a currency or treasure that we have spilled or invested in our line of work.

Jose Dominguez: There's a lot more we do then just opening and closing gates. It's like human resources and public relations rolled into one.

Robert Stallworth: Guard signifies the past, a connotation that corrections, as a profession, has not evolved and new methodologies within corrections have failed and things remain the same. Correctional officer means the evolution of the profession has become, in fact, more professional in its approach, not only for the safety and security of the staff and inmates, but beyond to foster rehabilitation and remain an advocate for re-entry, in the hopes of reducing recidivism. Just my two cents…

John Ithell: Corrections (or prison) officer indicates a professional status and position. "Guard" ascribes an unskilled low status one.

Richard Burns: Care, custody and control officer is way too long.

Dr. Michael Pittaro: The term “guard” is an outdated term that when used in corrections truly negates what the men and women working in corrections actually do, day in and day out, to keep our communities safe. The dedicated men and women in this profession ensure the safety and security of everyone in the prison, but they also keep the surrounding communities safe through the confinement of law violators. Correctional officers are professionals who, by definition, have traditionally served in a custodial role; however, in contemporary society, they also actively serve as agents of change by assisting in all rehabilitative efforts as well as preparing the prisoners for reintegration into the communities knowing that more than 90% of those sentenced to prison will one day leave prison.

Therefore, correctional officers do far more than simply “guard” the prisoners. Today’s correctional officers are highly trained professionals with the skill-sets to effectively manage the inmate population while simultaneously providing prisoners with the opportunities to change their ways through therapeutic, evidence-based programs. In addition to keeping our communities safe, correctional officers are part of a larger team of correctional professionals who are committed to their profession despite the inherent dangers of working within any prison. Correctional officers are therefore public safety professionals and should be respected as such.

Anthony Palazzolo Sr.: I have been a security guard in the past (Wells Fargo & G4S) . A guard is to make sure the company's property doesn't get damaged or stolen and to stop people from damaging property or people. But it was always stressed, “don't put yourself in harms way.” If there was force needed to be used you called the authorities. That being said, if you had guards in prison and if they needed to call the authorities, like I stated above , who would that be: a state-certified CORRECTIONS OFFICER.

Joseph Pangaro: As a street cop, I have always seen the men and women of corrections as partners in law enforcement. You work the toughest precincts in America! You are indeed officers!

Anthony Gangi: The word correctional officer highlights our journey and promotes our evolution. I embrace the title because it highlights our professionalism and our dedication to the public that we humbly serve. If we are to ever move forward and be recognized as law enforcement professionals, the public must see us as officers and embrace what we have become. We are no longer just “turn keys,” we are law enforcement professionals.

ERozmin-Sensei Lakan Dalawa: A guard sits and watches a door, a correctional officer addresses the issues behind that door.  

Allen Steinhart: It’s in the job title. The only thing I guard is the backs of my fellow Officers.  

Gary York: The correctional officer is an exceptional man or woman. A correctional officer must be able to save lives, stop bleeding, and start breathing at a moment’s notice. An officer working alone in a dorm with one hundred inmates must make split second decisions that would take a lawyer months to decide. Male or female correctional officers must be able to handle inmates twice their size and half their age. A correctional officer has to be a good listener, counselor, social worker, diplomat, tough guy, emergency medical technician and a hero. 

Sherry Sandler: Correctional officers have a far more complex role than that of a "guard." Just as police officers uphold the laws within our communities, correctional officers uphold the laws within the prison community. Police officers have many different types of interactions with community members. The same is true for COs. They provide positive reinforcement for inmates that are participating in school and programming. They write charges to hold non-compliant inmates accountable and correct inappropriate behavior. When the prison staff and inmates are at risk of harm, highly trained COs respond swiftly. They are an integral part of this prison community. They work tirelessly to preserve a safe environment that promotes rehabilitation. 

Closing Thought

Correctional Officers are law enforcement professionals and have earned their spot through the sweat, blood, and tears of the many who sacrificed their lives in order to maintain safety and security (both inside and outside the wall). To limit who they are by calling them “guards” is insulting and shows no respect for the work they accomplish in the shadows of law enforcement.  

This article is an effort to educate the public about the brave men and women who work behind the wall. Remember, they are the last line of defense between order and chaos and they risk their lives every day protecting and serving the public. Give them the respect they deserve by calling them correctional officers and acknowledging their role in law enforcement.  

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