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Why correctional professionals shouldn’t be overlooked

Correctional Officer’s Week is a time to remember and reflect on those corrections professionals who bring light to those dark places where others fear go

“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, Corrections Week Proclamation 5187, May 5, 1984

The corrections field is a vital component of the law enforcement and criminal justice communities. Unfortunately, the contribution that corrections staff make toward public safety is often overlooked or forgotten about. Still, each day men and women all around the country courageously walk into prisons and jails surrounded by individuals that society has often discarded. The contributions made by corrections officers and corrections staff across this country are rarely seen by the public. Acts of bravery, acts of sacrifice and acts of kindness go unnoticed as these professionals walk their beats, simply doing the right thing each day. Correctional Officer’s Week is a time to remember and reflect on those corrections professionals who bring light to those dark places where others fear go.

For those that have worked in corrections for many years and those who have come before them, your service is appreciated and your bravery admired. For those just entering the profession, we look to you as the new energy that will steer our departments and our profession into the future.

Corrections staff have long had an incredibly difficult and daunting task. Not only do they work in a career that many do not want to do, but they voluntarily work around people that are often feared by society. A day in the life of a corrections officer may mean seeing the worst that humankind has to offer. Violence, conflict, mental illness and those disturbing scenes that are usually reserved for television and the movies are a reality for those working in our facilities each day and serve as a daily reminder of the dangers that exist within our communities. They see, hear and experience those things that many people would prefer to ignore.

One thing that corrections staff sometimes forget is that what they do matters. Whether working in a security capacity or in a support services role, your job is important and what you do is important. You fulfill the mission of corrections departments all over the country by protecting the public, staff and even offenders and are on the front lines of the war on crime. At the same time, you are charged with helping individuals effectively reenter society. Again, what you do matters.

An interaction with you may be the first time in an inmate’s life that they interact with a positive, pro-social, productive member of society. An interaction with you may be the first positive experience that an offender has had with a member of the law enforcement community. Helping people change is more than holding them to a higher standard than they hold themselves or expecting more out of them than anyone else has ever expected out of them. While those things are important, it’s really about practicing what you preach, as you lead by example and model the way to success. Each day thousands of people working in corrections do exactly those things, and for that I say, “Thank you.”

The field of corrections is founded on the guiding principle that people have the ability to change, if given the opportunity. The philosophy of corrections maintains that each one of us can have a positive and lasting impact on those they are charged with managing each day. The manner in which we treat people and carry out our duties serves as a reminder of the way people should be treated. The character and integrity exhibited by corrections professionals serves as a reminder of the qualities that each person can possess, even if those qualities have previously escaped them before.

It is interesting that in a country that is founded on liberty and freedom, your job serves to limit the freedom of those who have harmed our communities. It’s crucial that during this week honoring corrections professionals we remember how important that mission is. By standing your watch, walking your beats, and patrolling your fences, you 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, your job is about sending people back to their communities better than they were when they came to us. In my opinion, perhaps no one in the law enforcement community does more to ensure our communities live without fear. 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.

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.