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Letter: It's National Correctional Officers Week

Joe Henry

Hubbard County Detention Center

Program Director

In 1984, President Ronald Reagan signed Proclamation 5187 creating "National Correctional Officers Week." The first full week in May has since been recognized as National Correctional Officers' Week to honor the work of correctional officers and correctional personnel nationwide.

Most people can't imagine what it is we as Correctional Officers do, the work environment that we perform our assigned duties in, or the people we come into contact with on a daily basis. A correctional facility can be one of the most stressful places to work imaginable.

Every day we go to work in a place where society has decided to lock up the worst of the worst. Correctional facilities are dangerous and disturbing places. The bureau Of Labor Statistics states that Correctional Officers have one of the highest rates of non-fatal on-the-job injuries.

Why do we get up everyday and willingly come to work in a place like this? I've asked myself this many times over the years and have not come to any definitive conclusion. It's a challenging career and not everyone can handle the work we do. Everyday we face the threat of violence, verbal and physical assault. We must be prepared to deal with human waste and infectious bodily fluids. I've seen new hires confronted with what we face everyday and leave after one day on the job.

I've questioned my own sanity in continuing to do this job. Ultimately I know I'm doing something important and performing a vital service to my community. I'm proud to wear the uniform and serve the people of Hubbard County.

I ask you to think about these things over the course of this week and if you come into contact with someone who works in a correctional facility, maybe tell them that you appreciate what they do. To my fellow correctional officers believe me when I say that I appreciate what you do. Also know that when things go bad I have your back as I know you have mine.

The Forgotten Cop

What would the average citizen say if it were proposed that police officers be assigned to a neighborhood which was inhabited by no one but criminals and those officers would be unarmed, patrol on foot and be heavily out numbered? I wager that the overwhelming public response would be that the officers would have to be crazy to accept such an assignment; however, as you read this, such a scenario is being played out in all areas of the country.

We are correctional officers, not guards (who are people that watch school crossings). We work at minimum, medium and maximum security correctional facilities. We are empowered by the state to enforce its penal laws, rules and regulations of the department of corrections. In short we are policemen.

Our beat is totally inhabited by convicted felons who, by definition, are people who tend to break laws, rules and regulations. We are out numbered by as many as 50 to 1 at various times of our workday and, contrary to popular belief, we work without a side arm. In short, our necks are on the line every minute of every day.

A correctional facility is a very misunderstood environment. The average person has very little knowledge of its workings. Society sends its criminals to correctional facilities and, as time passes, each criminal's crime fades from our memory until the collective prison population becomes hordes of bad people being warehoused away from decent society in a place where they can cause no further harm.

There is also the notion that prison inmates cease to be a problem when they are incarcerated. Correctional facilities are full of violence perpetrated by the prison population against the prison population and facility staff. Felonies are committed daily but are rarely reported. They are called "unusual incidents" and rarely result in criminal prosecution. Discipline is handled internally and, as a rule, the public is rarely informed of these crimes.

In the course of maintaining order in these facilities, many officers have endured the humiliation of having urine and feces thrown at them. Uncounted correctional officers have been kicked, bitten, stabbed and slashed with home made weapons, taken hostage, murdered and even raped in the line of duty, all while being legally mandated to maintain their professional composure and refrain from any retaliation which could be the basis for dismissal from service. In addition to these obvious dangers, correctional officers face hidden dangers in the form of aids, tuberculosis, hepatitis and other communicable diseases.

Courts are now imposing longer sentences and the prison population is increasing far beyond the system's designated capacity. As the public demands more police on the street, governments everywhere are cutting police in prison where violence reins supreme, jeopardizing all of those working behind prison walls. Although you will never see us on "Rescue 911" or "Cops," we are law enforcement professionals.

We are the "Forgotten Cops," hidden from public view, working a dangerous beat, hoping to someday receive respect and approval from the public which we proudly and silently serve.

- Author unknown (paraphrased)