Yes, corrections officers are law enforcement officers
Corrections officers are part of the united blue family; don't isolate them
A riot has broken out in the mess hall and, within seconds, two suited teams stand at the ready. In a military fashion, the team members enter the mess hall and form a line between order and chaos. Before marching forward, they wonder if today will be that tragic day. They clash. Inmates fight to gain ground, but the suited teams armed with batons maintain control. Lives are saved as inmates who are not involved are quickly escorted to safety. Those who chose to riot are subdued and escorted to medical for evaluations. Today, the line could not be broken.
For the moment the riot has been quelled. The suited teams hang up their gear and movement within the prison goes back to normal. Today they were lucky. Tomorrow, who knows?
Walking the thin blue line
Within these walls, and defined by many as turn keys, jail guards or overpaid babysitters, are men and women who live and die by their sworn oath to protect and serve, men and women who have earned their badges and belong to the brotherhood/sisterhood of law enforcement professionals. They are correctional officers.
They stand tall in the face of adversity and risk their lives to maintain an environment that is conducive to rehabilitation. It's an environment that promises hope to the hopeless.
Recent cries of civil unrest on the streets have become the center of attention as small portions of the citizenry take an aggressive stance against their protectors. This may feel a little strange to those on the outside, but to correctional officers, this defines their existence. It is an existence that is centered on a subset of society who wishes to violently break away from authority and find utopia among the subsequent chaos and disorder that would presume. Law and order is all that these officers have to maintain control over a subset of society dominated by hatred and greed.
Don't call us "prison guards"
There are some who will read this article and quickly belittle what correctional officers do from a perspective that is far removed from the dangers that lie within. Their limited knowledge of who correctional officers are will cast doubt in the hearts of others who believe and have faith in the services they provide. By remaining on the outside, those with a negative view will always be limited. But, if they could experience the correctional officers' world, unrestricted from the dangers that wait, they would see firsthand that corrections has evolved. It's a noble and honest law enforcement profession.
Jails and prisons are no longer considered warehouses with little personal interactions limited to a simple turn of a key. Inmate rehabilitation has now become the main focus and interpersonal staff interactions with the criminal element are made every day.
Correctional officers' level of control relates to their ability to enforce the rules and regulations that govern a community in constant movement. They are the "keepers" who remain surrounded by the "enemy." They remain weaponless as they walk the tiers. Their ability to communicate becomes paramount.
The pressures of being a correctional officer
Correctional officers need to remain firm, fair and consistent in their dealings with the inmate population. They need to show no fear in a world that is dominated by predators and aggressors. They are the law within these walls and anything less than direct obedience from the inmate population is seen as a threat to their existence.
Their interactions with the offender population consist of multiple elements that define the role of a law enforcement professional, minus the recognition. These professionals stop assaults, prevent suicides and homicides, suppress gang activity, seize contraband, conduct investigations, make arrests, and, most important, prevent escapes. All of these elements assist other law enforcement agencies in maintaining a safe and secure society. It's by this definition they have secured their place in the law enforcement family.
But there may still be some who deny corrections is law enforcement. They maintain a perspective in which corrections and law enforcement remain unequal and any chance to create a sense of equality gets push aside. As law enforcement across the country is under attack, this kind of mockery is misplaced.
Don't isolate corrections
In the eyes of those who oppose, correctional officers become a reflection of the criminal element they supervise. This reflection presents a major conflict because it separates them from their brothers/sisters in blue and brings them closer to the offenders in their charge. The more they stand in isolation, the more they begin to question their importance. It is within that last statement that some may mistakenly see being a police officer as a step up from working in the "tombs."
As law enforcement professionals, correctional officers run parallel with police officers and their contribution to society is embedded in the personal sacrifices that they make on a daily basis to maintain their sense of control over the "kept" and ensure that those who are locked away, are given the chance to become productive members of society.
Even though correctional officers may stand unrecognized by those who remain outside, they are still motivated to do their job by their sworn duty to protect and serve. Being a professional means you do the job because the job has to get done. Correctional officers make sacrifices the public may never know and may never care about. They risk their lives every day in service to the public.
In their fight, they have lost many, but continue to remain strong. Failure to recognize their importance is a failure to recognize a brother or sister who would die for the same things those on the outside represent. Embrace the complete circle of law enforcement and acknowledge those who lurk in the shadows and perform their services in the dark. Embrace them as law enforcement professionals and see them as they see you: one united blue family.