The correctional officer is an exceptional man or woman. A correctional officer must be able to save lives, stop bleeding, and start breathing at a moment’s notice. An officer working alone in a dorm with one hundred inmates must make split second decisions that would take a lawyer months to decide.
Male or female correctional officers must be able to handle inmates twice their size and half their age. If an inmate attacks an officer, then the officer is viewed as a coward if they do not react. If the officer protects himself or herself against great bodily harm then the officer is a bully. A correctional officer has to be a good listener, counselor, social worker, diplomat, tough guy emergency medical technician and a hero.
Correctional officers have one of the highest rates of injuries and illnesses resulting from confrontations with inmates. They have one of the highest rates of being injured at least twice during their career than any other profession. With all the obstacles a correctional officer must face — the men and women wear the uniform proudly and continue to protect the inmates and fellow staff members from harm as well as the community. The correctional officer also feeds their family on a low end salary.
Correctional Officers Under Attack
Officer Sara Jones was making her rounds in the male dormitory when she heard an inmate cry out, “Help me — help me”. Officer Jones went to the cell door and the inmate said “I can’t breathe — I can’t breathe”. She opened the cell door and the inmate ejaculated on her uniform.
Officer John Smith was off duty and in civilian clothing at a gas station when a former inmate approached him and said “I told you I would get you one day, mother fucker”. Before the inmate could strike, Officer Smith defended himself by knocking the inmate to the ground. Police arrived on the scene and took both the former inmate and Officer Smith into custody. Luckily Officer Smith had written an incident report when the former inmate threatened to harm him while incarcerated at the prison. Police obtained a copy of Officer Smith’s report and charged the former inmate. Officer Smith was not charged with any crime.
Officer Smith did the right thing documenting all threats made to him at the prison. He sets a good example at work and is honest. He is aware of his surroundings both on and off duty and works out to stay in shape in order to protect himself. A correctional officer’s job can be dangerous both on duty and off duty.
Officer Johnson was off duty in Ybor City, Florida departing a local restaurant after dark. As he approached his vehicle, three men grabbed him, beat him and robbed him. As the three men started to depart one of the men found Officer Johnson’s correctional officer badge in the stolen wallet. The suspect yelled out, “This mother fucker is a C.O.” The three men walked back and beat the off duty officer to death. This is just another example of the high risk of being a correctional officer.
Yes the above scenarios are true and the names have been changed to protect the innocent.
The job has many dangers and risks such as being physically assaulted by an inmate who wishes to inflict great bodily harm upon you and in some cases even kill you. There is the risk of being raped — and not just for female officers but for male officers as well. There are documented cases for both male and female officers being raped by inmates. Officers have urine, feces, food and other foreign objects thrown at them on a regular basis.
Training to be a Professional
Correctional officers are required to have a clean record with no history of crime before being considered for employment. They must have a minimum of a high school diploma, pass a background investigation and complete a physical examination which includes drug testing. Many agencies conduct a polygraph examination, psychological examination, pre-weapons qualification and a physical fitness test before an applicant can be considered.
After being selected for employment, new recruits must attend the Correctional Officer Academy and successfully complete training in a vast amount of areas. Anyone who does not pass all areas of academic and physical training must pack up and go home — in the Army we called this the “Duffle Bag Drag”, failure to complete required training.
The rigorous training includes defensive tactics, weapons qualification with shotgun and handgun, use of restraint devices, inmate transport techniques, proper radio transmissions, emergency signals and emergency and crisis intervention.
Correctional officers are expected to perform life saving measures on an inmate or fellow officer such as cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR), which is also known as rescue breathing, to buy time in order to save a person’s life until medical personnel arrive. Officers must know how to use the Automated External Defibrillator (AED) as well, which is a portable device that checks the heart rhythm and if needed sends an electronic shock to the heart to try and restore the heart’s normal rhythm. Basic wound care and immobilization techniques are also taught and performed hands on for qualification in the first responder field.
Basic firefighting techniques are also taught and must be performed correctly by the new recruits to include knowing how to use the self-contained breathing apparatus and all the firefighting protective equipment.
Classroom academics consist of basic law studies which are qualified with a written examination. Inmate manipulation, ethics and interpersonal skills are taught qualified with a written examination.
After all the academy requirements are successfully completed training is not over by a long shot. A State examination must be taken consisting of everything taught in the academy and a minimum score of eighty percent is required to pass. After passing the state exam, it is time to report to the prison or jail for some real world training.
From this point forward it will be hands-on training inside the prison walls. It is time for real-life scenarios with real convicted felons of who are ready to test out the new rookie to see if he or she is weak or strong. The first year will be the toughest learning experience ever for the rookie trying to prove to the supervisors he or she can perform their duties with honor and not fall victim to an inmates trap or manipulation.
If all of this training is not sufficient, add in the fact that annual re-certification training and testing for each officer must be completed to ensure everyone is up to date with both current events and new standards. If anyone tells you being a correctional officer is an easy job they have never tried it. I have seen many intelligent people fail in certain areas of training due to the lack of common sense or the physical ability to complete particular hands on tasks such as weapons qualification or defensive tactics. Common sense and the ability to think on your feet are two very necessary characteristics that a good correctional officer needs to survive on the job. Throw in honesty and integrity and you now have a professional.
The Silent Risks Officers Face
There is also a silent but deadly enemy placing officers in danger and at risk in the jail and prison environment. The culprit is communicable diseases. Many of the inmates have lived a rough life outside of prison using drugs and needles on a regular basis and having multiple sex partners who also use drugs and needles. All of these people bring many diseases into the environment. Diseases such as — tuberculosis, AIDS, hepatitis and different types of staph infections including, methicillin-resistant staphylococcus Aureus, (MRSA). MRSA is a bacterium responsible for a variety of infections known to be very difficult to treat in humans. The number one risk for MRSA is hospitals and the number two is prisons and number three is homeless people. Correctional officers are subjected to all three environments working hospital watches with inmates and homeless people who enter the prison system.
Staff shortages due to budget restraints, low pay, forced overtime and high turnover ratio rates make the correctional officer job even more stressful. Working with inexperienced and overstretched staff will create a dangerous work environment. An officer working double shifts week after week becomes tired and worn out. The alertness wears off and inmates realize this and use it to their advantage. The shortages pose a danger to the good officers who stay on the job.
Safety for everyone in the prison becomes a big issue. When the experienced people retire or leave early because of being overworked the prison has a rise in new recruits with no experience Add the twenty to thirty percent staff shortage with inexperienced officers and the danger factor rises. It is imperative that we find a way to repair the critical need of maintaining experienced staff to guide and instruct new officers.
With all the stressors inherent to the job and the statistics to back them up, our state governments continue to freeze pay raises, cut benefits and weaken retirement plans. When will they wake up and see who is protecting them and the community. Correctional officers are professionals who deserve respect from the state and the people they work for.
We have earned the right with blood sweat and tears to be “Correctional Officers.” We are not “Guards” — we are highly trained professionals.Thank you to all the hardworking, honest and loyal correctional officers throughout our country who work day after day with the risks and dangers the job surrounds us with. To all of our fallen officers killed in the line of duty, we salute you and your families. “You may be gone but you are not forgotten.”
Everyday that a correctional makes the decision to go to work could be the distinction between life and death. Many people do not realize the unseen dangers lurking behind the stereotypes of the job. Watching over inmates and criminals a person must be ready for anything. At any second throughout the day an inmate could start a riot and the correction officer would have to step in and
split it up. The danger of anything close to this happening will eventually cause stress in even the most lighthearted people. Along with the stress from fear of possible dangerous situations, correction officers also receive stress from their long and tiresome work hours. Often times the correctional officers are on call, even during the holidays, this interferes with their family and personal lives.</p> <p style="text-align: justify;">Also, the correction officers often do not feel as if their family could relate to what they are going through and so they do not talk about it creating a rift within their family relationships. This split between personal lives, family, and work is almost always a cause for stress. There are new programs being set up to help deal with the stress created on the job, but this does not always help and the programs are not always free. There are high hopes to make advances in these programs to make them relatively low in cost and effective.</p> <p style="text-align: justify;">“Correctional officers are the gatekeepers of the prison system. They watch over convicted criminals as these criminals serve their time in prison” (“What’s correction officer,” n.d., p. 1). Any amount of time spent with criminals can be taxing on a persons stress levels. Imagine being right next to a convicted murderer and knowing that it is your job to control them if they get out of line. Any human being would be scared at the thought of a minute next to these criminals let alone eight to twelve hours a day for years. Correction officers are truly brave people who help to keep our prison system safe.</p> <p style="text-align: justify;">Correction officers prevent fights within a jail or prison and keep the convicts from getting out of hand. There job can be seen as that of a babysitter for the felons. This close proximity to dangerous people causes a majority of the correction officers to drop out and search for a new job having been unable to handle the stress of their present one. Some of the stress that is felt by the officers is that which is caused by a poor public image. It is a common myth that correction officers beat the inmates. This leads people to believe that all correction officers are violent in nature which is absolutely not the case. In most cases the criminals antagonize the officers hoping for a beating to change up their boring scheduled lives.</p> <p style="text-align: justify;">All criminals are different however, especially between the jails and the prisons. “Inmates in jails may present different problems for officers than prison inmates because so many jail detainees have just come into the facility right off the streets” (“Correctional officer stress,” 2010, p. 2). This difference in behavior between the two criminal classes could mean life or death for the correction officers. Many of the long-term prisoners pay no attention to punishment choosing rather to disrespect the authority of the correction officers and frequently harming them. “Inmate assaults against correctional staff in State and Federal prisons have increased and the number of attacks have jumped by nearly 1/3” (“Correctional officer,” 2009, p. 1).</p> <p style="text-align: justify;">Overcrowding within prisons has not helped the odds for the correction officers to make it out of their jobs unscathed. With risks such as riots or hostage situations everyone in the jail knows the disasters that may come with these volatile conditions. Statistics have shown that “attacks on correctional officers jumped from 10,731 to 14,165 in a five year period” (“Correctional officer stress,” 2010, p. 1) (see graph above). Many of the correction officers going into these prisons are blissfully unaware of half of the danger they are going to find. There is no training for everything that you will see within the prison or jail and how to deal with any emotional distress that comes with it. “For most police officers, the thought of touring the yard of a maximum security prison may seem like a deer visiting a gun store” (“Correctional officer,” 2009, p. 1). Not only do correctional officers have to witness all this confinement and anger they also do not have the privilege to see the positive changes that occur in detainees. Most of the criminals are in and out of one jail or prison within a short period of time leaving the correction officer constantly having to deal with new detainees.</p> <p style="text-align: justify;">“The effects of stress on correctional officers can degrade their ability to perform their responsibilities in the prison in ways that compromise safety, cost, and create more stress” (“Correctional officer,” 2009, p. 3). Symptoms of stress include backaches, headaches, stomach problems, strokes, high blood pressure, heart attacks, and possible suicide. Physical illnesses such as heart disease or eating disorders are also caused by stress. Stress also often damages family relationships causing the person to become distant or violent. “An inherent source of stress for correction officers is supervising individuals who do not want to be confined” (“Correctional officer stress,” 2010, p. 1).</p> <p style="text-align: justify;">Imagine working with thousands of people for 8-12 hours that are not trustworthy, that suspicion that anything could happen at any moment can carry with you into your daily life and cause an enormous amount of stress. In fact, many officers do not pick up the phone just in case they are being called to work extra. Other officers seek solace in the job, finding that they are alone more often and are experiencing marital problems. A brutal cycle will start to appear as more and more problems come up. “The effects of stress may accumulate until you cannot take any more and explode unable to hold your world together” (“Correctional officer,” 2009, p. 4).</p> <p style="text-align: justify;">Even top administrators experience stress. They are often times saddled with a 24/7 commitment to the job and have to carry a beeper around the clock in case they are needed. Having to compete all the required paperwork and still finding time to supervise other officers is often s source of stress for administrators because it is often difficult to balance the time between the two. If they do manage to get all the paperwork done but don’t make it out into the line officer’s view there could be major drawbacks. One such drawback being that the line officer’s will feel alone and become angry towards the administrators blaming them for all of their problems since they are not putting themselves at risk just the line officers. Another stressor for administrators is “attempting to follow unclear policies and procedures and frequent modifications to policies and procedures as top-level supervisors change their minds or are replaced” (“Correctional officer stress,” 2010, p. 6).</p> <p style="text-align: justify;">Admitting to a problem and seeking help for that problem is viewed as weakness; we often suffer needlessly in silence and take our family with us (Smith, n.d., p. 2). The best time to institute organizational change is after a critical incident when administrators and local government leaders will want to be seen as individuals who care about the well being of correctional staff (“Correctional officer stress,” 2010, p. 5). Many agencies are just now realizing they need to consider the impact of work related stress (“Correctional officer,” p. 4). Program costs for stress help programs or just general therapy may vary, but can be virtually free with the help of volunteers. Clinicians and peer supporters in correctional officer stress programs may be especially vulnerable to burnout because much of the counseling they do and support they provide revolve around issues of injury and death (“Correctional officer stress,” 2010, p. 4).</p> <p style="text-align: justify;">An example of a stress program would be the Employee Assistance Program (EAP) which is a service that is contracted by the state that helps employees cope with problems. Another stress program is called the Peer Support Program (PSP) and it includes non-clinician employees helping other employees deal with problems. Clinical Incident Stress Management (CISM) is also a stress program, this program is a combined effort of professional and peer support. CISM usually deals with pre-incident prevention and stress inoculation. All employees receive training on these topics. A CISM program policy and procedures manual, applicable to the agency, must be established (Ream, 2006, p. 2). The best results are achieved if team membership is voluntary (Ream, 2006, p. 2). CISM program services should include:</p> <p style="text-align: justify;">1. On scene support (usually provided by peer support members),</p> <p style="text-align: justify;">2. Brief intervention to assist employees in making the transition from the traumatic event back to routine or stand-by duty,</p> <p style="text-align: justify;">3. Defusing (a three phase group crisis intervention provided immediately or within 12 hours after the event to mitigate the effects of the stressors and promote recovery,</p> <p style="text-align: justify;">4. Debriefing (a 7 phase group crisis intervention process to help employees work through their thoughts, reactions, and symptoms followed by training in coping techniques,</p> <p style="text-align: justify;">5. Individual intervention if a single or small event and a group intervention is not possible or additional assistance is deemed necessary after group process,</p> <p style="text-align: justify;">6. Significant other or family debriefing,</p> <p style="text-align: justify;">7. Line-of duty death support (defusing provided immediately after event),</p> <p style="text-align: justify;">8. Team member recommends and instructs employee to access additional support through EAP or other resources,</p> <p style="text-align: justify;">9. Follow up (team leader contacts employee and or the supervisor a few days after team services.</p> <p style="text-align: justify;">(Ream, 2006, p. 2).</p> <p style="text-align: justify;">Stress Programs also improve relations with the union because they will be working together. They save money by encouraging people to talk instead of call off and become hermits. “Most correctional officers will not seek help until it is absolutely necessary. They wait until the stress buildup has created a crisis and they can not function because of it” (“Correctional officer,” 2009, p. 4).</p> <p style="text-align: justify;">“Any organization or social structure which consists of one group of people kept inside who do not want to be there and the other group who are there to make sure they stay in will be an organization under stress” (“Correctional officer,” 2009, p. 2). With the help of stress relief programs and a better understanding within the officer’s homes of what it is these officers do, it is hoped that stress levels will go down. It will be years until the programs that deal with problems and stress within the workplace can be perfected, but at least it is a step in the right direction. These people take risks everyday keeping our prison system safe. It’s about time that we did something to help protect them. It is true that all stressors will never be alleviated, but there are ways to deal with them and reduce the effect they have.</p> <p style="text-align: center;">References</p> <p style="text-align: center;">_Correctional officer: one of the toughest jobs in law enforcement_. (2009). Retrieved from http://www.criminaljusticeoffice.org/story.html</p> <p style="text-align: center;">The Counseling Team International, (n.d.). _Correction officer stress_. Retrieved from http://www.thecounselingteam.com/</p> <p style="text-align: center;">Udechukwu, I, Harrington, W, Manyak, T, Segal, S, & Graham, S. (2007). _An Exploratory reflection on correctional officer turnover and its correlates_. Retrieved from http://www.entrepreneur.com/tradejournals/article/print/175557556.html</p> <p style="text-align: center;">Smith, M. (n.d.). _Corrections corner: issues specific to corrections officers_. Retrieved from http://ww.heavybadge.com/correct.htm</p> <p style="text-align: center;">_The Website to find correction officer schools and college: what’s<br /> correction officer?_ (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.criminaljustice-schools-degrees.com/correction-officer.html</p> <p style="text-align: center;">Ream, J. (2006). _A Comprehensive critical incident stress management (CISM) programming a correctional system: it’s more than dealing with workplace violence_. Retrieved from http://www.aaets.org/aricle88.htm</p>