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What COs should remember during National Correctional Officers Week

Correctional officers and other treatment and support staff put themselves in harm’s way to advance a mission of protecting the public, staff and inmates


The value that corrections staff have on providing a public service is largely unknown to the public they serve.

Photo/Michigan Corrections Organization

“Historically, correctional officers have been viewed as ‘guards,’ occupying isolated and misunderstood positions in prisons and jails. In recent years, the duties of these officers have become increasingly complex and demanding. They are called upon to fill, simultaneously, custodial, supervisory and counseling roles. The professionalism, dedication and courage exhibited by these officers throughout the performance of these demanding and often conflicting roles deserve our utmost respect. The important work of correctional officers often does not receive the recognition from the public it deserves. It is appropriate that we honor the many contributions and accomplishments of these men and women who are a vital component of the field of corrections.”

– President Ronald Reagan, National Correctional Officers Week Proclamation 5187, May 5, 1984

What correctional officers Do Is Important

National Correctional Officers Week recognizes those individuals who take on the often difficult task of working in the field of corrections. Perhaps no law enforcement entity is more underappreciated than the correctional officer.

The value corrections staff play in public service is largely unknown to the communities they serve. As the public shows their support of law enforcement, the correctional officer is often forgotten about or simply left out of the discussion.

Those working in corrections often find themselves in a thankless job. They walk through the gate into the dangerous walled or fenced cities each day where others simply drive by and stare wondering what life is like inside. They witness first hand things most people only see on TV, and that those who witness them, would rather forget.

Correctional officers and other treatment and support staff put themselves in harm’s way to advance a mission of protecting the public, staff and inmates, while at the same time helping offenders to change their behavior to become better human beings. The task of returning individuals back to their communities better than when they left becomes more of a daunting challenge as departments are tasked with doing more for less.

While recognizing National Corrections Officers Week, take a moment to pause and remember that:

  • Each day across this country, correctional officers enforce laws within their facilities, yet some deny their role as law enforcement officials.
  • Each day across this country, correctional officers, armed with little more than a can of pepper spray a pen, walk a beat surrounded by violent criminals, yet some question their courage.
  • Each day across the country, correctional officers offer aid and assistance and direction to those who are unable to help themselves. They constantly place themselves in danger to protect individuals whom society has discarded, yet some question their compassion. All of this is done behind the walls hidden from the public’s admiration and while being outnumbered 30, 40, 50, or even 100 to one.
  • Each day across this country, correctional officers work double shifts, miss out on family events and explain to their children why they will miss another game because they have to work, yet some question their dedication.
  • Each day across the country, too many correctional officers go to work thinking that they are unappreciated and that what they do doesn’t matter.

the importance of your mission

It is crucial that during this week that honors corrections professionals, we remember the importance of our mission. By standing watch, walking beats and patrolling fences, we ensure the safety of our communities by limiting the freedom of those who have harmed them. Then, in what seems to be an even more difficult task, we send people back to their communities better than they were when they left them. In my opinion, perhaps no one in the law enforcement community does more to ensure our communities live without fear.

To the corrections officers across this country, I say this: The public looks to you for safety and protection and this is no small task. It is a task to be proud of. What you do is important. What you do matters. Don’t forget that.

This article, originally published May 2, 2016, has been updated.

Rusty began his career in 1997 working as a correctional officer at a men’s medium security prison. While working in the prison, he also served as K-9 sergeant, lieutenant and captain. He was a member of the Correctional Emergency Response Team for 15 years and held law enforcement instructor certifications in defensive tactics, chemical agents and firearms. In 2013 he became a full-time academy instructor where he instructed courses in several topics within the field of corrections and law enforcement. In 2019 he moved to his current position where he serves as a Department of Public Safety Bureau Chief. Rusty received his Bachelor’s degree in Criminal Justice Administration from Bellevue University and completed graduate work at Fort Hayes State University. Rusty can be contacted by email.