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Why ethics, integrity are essential attributes of a correctional officer

COs are minimally supervised and possess immense discretion – it is important to remember that great responsibility comes with the authority we are given


Every day we show up for work, we must remind ourselves to always be on our A-game no matter how we feel.

There has never been a harder time for law enforcement to stay out of the negative limelight. The public continues to see daily stories about misconduct of police and correctional officers. As much as we would like for the media to cover more positive stories about us, our reality is that there will always be those who cloud the reputation of good officers.

Policing and corrections are far different than they used to be. With officers losing their lives at an alarming rate, police officers are constantly trying to do things to put a positive spin on their daily job. Correctional officers are doing the same. Stories about what are officers doing wrong tend to gain national attention while there are few stories about the officer who takes money from his pocket to buy a homeless person a pair of shoes or a hot meal.

The negative stories are emblazoned in our minds. Not too long ago, national media covered the Clinton Correctional Facility escape for days, which included reporting of staff involvement in two inmates breaking out of prison. So, how do we undo the damage immoral officers have done to those of us who are in the profession for the right reason, who are ethical and have morals and who work hard? That is the tough question we should be asking and doing our best to answer.

Duties of a CO

Law enforcement is a job that tests your patience; you’re often manipulated by offenders on a multitude of levels. But every day we show up for work, we must remind ourselves to always be on our A-game no matter how we feel.

In corrections, we constantly hear the words “excessive force,” “neglect,” “death in custody” and “sexual misconduct.” This is a job where we are usually minimally supervised and possess immense discretion. It is important to remember that great responsibility comes with the authority we are given. We must always use our best judgment.

This is not to say that we don’t mess up. We all have and may again, but we should aim to always remain a step ahead. Inmates have nothing but time to find a way to get under our skin. When you find yourself in a tough spot where you may have made a mistake or did not use your best judgment, what should you do?

CO ethics and integrity

No officer is perfect. We all make mistakes. Sometimes we find we may have made a bad decision or done something we should have done different. Sometimes we may be facing trouble, but nothing is worse than lying. Lying can cost you your job.

No inmate is important enough to rob you of your freedom, career or dignity. It is a choice to do the right thing or not.

I always operate on a right versus wrong mentality. It is about standing behind our departmental policy, speaking up if medical is not tending to an inmate correctly or making sure we are doing our job satisfactorily. I make sure I am thorough so when dayshift relieves me, the officers do not have to clean up something I could have taken care of on my shift. Simply taking an extra few minutes to wrap up your work can alleviate issues later.

Just recently, a developmentally disabled inmate who is hard to understand told my partner and I that this was the first time he felt the cops were his friend. He said, “I know you’re not my friend, but you help me.” This could have an impact once he is back into society and sees a police officer – it might change how he sees cops in a positive way.

There are times when you have to harshly speak the truth to an inmate. Or go hands on with them. But make sure you’re having positive interactions as well - you never know how much those moments may impact a criminal’s view of law enforcement.

I cannot fight evil like I wish I could. I would eradicate it and gladly surrender my job to a kinder, less violent world. Because I can’t do that, I fight evil by being the opposite of criminals. I fight every day to remain as ethical and moral as I was brought up. I strive to be the good in the world. I stand tall because I wear my uniform with pride. And no inmate is ever going to take that away from me. I refuse to allow anyone or any inmate to label me as weak, corrupt or vulnerable.

I recently came across a list of 10 things that require zero talent which we all can apply to our jobs:

1. Being on time

2. Making an effort

3. Being high energy

4. Having a positive attitude

5. Being passionate

6. Using good body language

7. Being coachable

8. Doing a little extra than what’s required

9. Being prepared

10. Having a strong work ethic

Every day I show up to work, I work to the best of my ability, always remembering those officers killed or injured in the line of duty. I stand tall for them. As I began writing this article, I thought about how good officers can undo the damage immoral officers have done to our reputation, and the truth is that I don’t have to undo anything. And neither do you. Just work hard, be honest and show up ready to fight the good fight. And if you’re going to be the thin silver line, be it wholeheartedly.

Harriet Fox is working as a Correctional Officer in a county jail in California. She is a Jail Training Officer, Emergency Response Team (ERT) member, Honor Guard member, and has worked as an Intake Classification Officer. Having an inquisitive mind, Harriet is intrigued by the criminal mind, gangs and mental illness within the walls of the correctional system. Prior to becoming a Correctional Officer, Harriet had the opportunity to delve into the law enforcement field experiencing positions including: Reserve Police Officer, 9-1-1 Communications Dispatcher, Crime Prevention Officer, and Police Cadet. Almost twenty years into a law enforcement career, Harriet is still passionate about the work and interested in always learning. Harriet is the bestselling true crime author of The Alcohol Murders: The True Story of Gilbert Paul Jordan. Harriet is also published in Justice Shall Be Served: An Anthology (written by police officers, correctional officers and military personnel). Both books can be found on Harriet has a Bachelor’s Degree in Criminal Justice with a minor in Sociology.