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What is a corrections officer worth to the taxpayers? Part II

Part two of a two-part series looking at the value corrections officers provide to society

In the first part of this two-part article, we looked at why understanding the worth of a corrections officer to the taxpayers is of vital importance to the public, politicians, administration and to officers themselves. We then took a broad look at a variety of ways — beyond paychecks — to literally place monetary value on what it is that correctional officers do for their communities.

However, in order to effectively answer this question, we need to break down the job and look at it in detail. In other words, what would the correctional officers’ annual “bill to the customer” — the tax paying community members — look like if a line item approach were used? What if we broke it down like a hospital bill where every aspirin, procedure, bandage, and bed pan are listed?

What are the costs of doing business to the corrections officer that even they rarely think about? What are the services that officers routinely provide that are taken for granted?

Let’s start with the annual personal cost of doing business for a corrections officer. Grab a sheet of paper and write down what you would charge (annually) for each of the following.

Annual charges to the taxpayer for what the CO gives up:

Not being able to eat at just any restaurants because many ex-inmates that don’t like “cops” work in restaurants and they would just love to spit in your clam chowder:


Running into recently-released inmates while out trying to have fun with your family:

Getting phone calls or having people drop by who know you are a cop and think you can help get there husband/wife out of jail:

Explaining (over and over) to your kids why you don’t want your name in the phone book:

Having your wife/husband be afraid to leave the house because of your job:

Seeing things maybe not even a proctologist would see — sometimes during a couple dozen strip searches a day:

Hearing the “F” word used by one person more than 18 times per minute — in all suffix forms and even prefix forms:

Collecting rotten, urine-soaked clothing with decayed flesh stuck to it from a drunken transient who has just vomited on his or herself… then searching it:

Having someone spit on you, bite you or throw their body waste on you a couple times a year. Then waiting for the lab results to come back on your blood work after you have been exposed to bloodborne pathogens:

Having someone threaten your life so often that you become callused to the remarks and routinely laugh about them:

Having a proven criminal threaten to go to your house and burn it down and have their way with your wife/husband:

Working eight hours in an area where someone has been smearing his feces everywhere:

Being exposed to toxic chemicals brought into a facility on people who manufacture drugs for a living:

Observing peoples’ private parts as they provide a urine specimen — at a rate of up to 20 people per day:

The risk of having someone pay money to have you killed, and explaining this risk to your spouse:

Giving up your rights to work “normal” hours:

Listening to very mentally ill people scream at the top of their lungs and rattle their cell door bars all night long while the rest of the county sleeps:

Never feeling comfortable with someone behind you — on duty or off:

Losing 17 years of your life expectancy:

Being sued at least twice in your 20-year career:

Always having to be careful about who might be following you home:

Never walking into a public place without studying everyone’s face for possible ex-inmate threats:

Part of your daily routine is the possibility of fighting for your life - even on your “down” days:

Working in a public job where you are constantly asked to do more with less while your salary is published in the newspaper:

Being seriously assaulted on an average of at least twice in a 20 year career:

Being lumped in with all of the bad cops in the country, which tend to get the media’s attention:

Having anarchists threaten to “pick you off” in the parking lot at shift change:

Having certain gangs take oaths to kill you and your coworkers:

Being lied too as regularly as being told the truth:

Knowing that 90 percent of the people you deal with in your life are anti-social deviants who don’t respect what you stand for, don’t want to be where you are making them stay, and don’t want to do what you are asking them to:

Watching the same people fail and re-offend and go to jail for the 10th or 20th time — in other words, loosing faith in people:

Being expected to stay physically fit, and keep your defensive tactics honed, on your own time as part of your job throughout your entire career:

Being expected to represent your employer 24 hours a day by keeping your life “unsullied”:

Having a divorce rate 39 percent higher than the general population:

Waking up in the middle of the night with pepper spray in your eyes or other sensitive areas:

Experiencing the undying gratitude of the public as you are called a “f-ing pig” on your way out the door from work:

Being in an occupation that consistently ranks as one of the highest in terms of rate of suicide:

Sub total:

How high is your total so far? How much did you charge for loosing 17 years off of your life span? It’s tough to quantify not watching your grandchildren grow up — very sobering.

Beating the odds

Before I get back to the annualized list of charges to the taxpayer, let me challenge you to beat the odds mentioned above through the following practices:

  • Keep officer safety issues at the top of your priority list
  • Educate yourself about your enemy — stress — and learn how to manage it
  • Stay healthy; diet, exercise a lot, rest, and recreate
  • Work on your marriage even when you think everything is going right
  • Raise your kids like you will never have a second chance
  • Most importantly, keep the center of your life outside of your occupation

Annual charges to the taxpayer for what the CO does for the community:

A young lady is able to sleep at night because the man that raped her is behind bars:


A little boy has a father who has decided he needs to get serious about life now because of the counseling he got from a CO in jail:

A man who just beat his wife is taken off the streets and held behind bars long enough for his wife to get to her parents house:

A young man who randomly kills a kind elderly grandmother is held behind bars, taking him out of society:

A man stops selling drugs partly because of the mentorship he receives at the Community Corrections Center:

A man who kills an infant by beating him against the wall is held in custody and kept from the opportunity of ever doing it again:

A former prostitute, who looked at COs as mentors while in jail, gives up drugs and goes back to school, becoming a productive member of society:

Not everyone in jail is a sociopath — the care and feeding of neighbors, family, and friends who find themselves in jail:

Preventing several dads, mothers, sisters, brothers, sons and daughters from killing themselves in jail every year:

Preventing several dads, mothers, sisters, brothers, sons and daughters from taking drugs and drinking alcohol at least temporarily every year; giving them the opportunity to start over:

Giving the community a sense of safety and security:

Making the difference in society between anarchy and order:

Always being there no matter the hour of the day or the day of the year:

Sub Total:

The annual total value per corrections officer that I came up with using this method seven years ago was about $750,000. Now that I am a grandfather, with only nine years of life expectancy left according to the statistics, I would double that amount.

Facing reality

For someone like myself in administration, this subject is not popular to bring up around union contract negotiation time. However, as much as I believe COs are worth the money, I’m not suggesting here that corrections officers should be paid the figures that I suggest above. That would not be realistic and no economy on the face of the earth could support it. Further, my point here is also not to make anyone “feel sorry for” COs.

My point is simply to express the extreme good deal the tax payers are getting for their money and that there is no way to adequately compensate the professional men and women who sacrificially staff our correctional facilities every day.

Doug Hooley started his career with the Lane County Sheriff’s Office in 1988 as a Deputy Sheriff assigned to the Corrections Division. He is now a captain in charge of a 507 bed facility. He serves on numerous criminal justice teams and boards including the Drug Court Advisory Board, the Children of Incarcerated Parents Committee, the Adult Offender Public Safety Coordinating Council Committee, and the local Supervisory Authority Team. He served on the team that developed Lane County’s evidence based approach to adult corrections and participated in the development of the risk assessment tool Lane County uses to determine overcrowding releases. Doug was responsible for forming the Lane County Jail’s Special Operations Response Team in 2006