|By Carl ToersBijns, former deputy warden, ASPC Eyman, Florence AZ|
Prison work has been recognized worldwide, like that of the law enforcement officer or LEO, which is very stressful. It is most interesting to compare this job with those of others in the workplace whether private or government funded. Since this job appears to have no real “value” or added merit to those compared to a surgeon, lawyer, office manager or street cop, it is important to seek a fair comparison of jobs responsibilities and duties of other jobs classified as more essential or important in the business world. Correctional officers are always under pressure to do their jobs right. Their anxiety levels are extremely high with supervisors breathing down their necks and micromanaging their every action. In some cases, the opposite is true and the officer must rely on his or her own training, skills and knowledge to handle the situation at hand. Working solo is dangerous but often the case in overcrowded prison systems.
Stress does not stop at the end of the shift. This stress goes home with them and results in finding coping mechanism on or off duty. Every duty and every task is “action” related and often involves interaction with a felon or detainee. In some places there are enough officers savvy enough to maintain order within such hostile places as the chances of getting hurt are high. In other places, it adds to the stress levels. Except for immediate family members, not many have an understanding what comes along with this job and the pressure it has as a situation can change into a matter of life or death within seconds. C/O’s are hard-wired to do a most difficult job without gratitude. Needless to say, this high pressure job does not come with high pay or extensive benefits that other jobs have. Working inside these concrete pressure cookers they survive because of their training, their instincts and their ability to handle the situations. Using analogies of other trades, a correctional officer has to deal with the skills of first aid practices like a medical aide dealing with life and death as first responders. Hired to perform security functions, they often work more than 8 hours a day.
Post Trauma Stress Disorder and frequent exposures to communicable diseases are common bringing infections or bacteria home. Their decision making skills determine the success or failure of their organizational mission statement. An internal or external [community] critical incident or disaster can create an atmosphere of blame and finger pointing prompting investigations. Having to maintain order using structural guidelines of hundreds of policies and procedures, they must endure pressure on their shoulders to ensure compliance with all levels of orders. Handling their jobs entails the use, skill and knowledge of computer technology. Although already multi-tasking because of staff shortages, the correctional officer must know how to properly operate a workstation and its related software. Learning the technology is expected. They must ensure timely accurate data entries to record events entered into an mass automated information system centralized to function as a server for all connected by their intra-net or internet. PC malfunctions can often impede their ability to get their job done on time and creates needs to stay over to ensure completion before going home.
Timely performance of security and other delivery oriented services e.g. food service, medical, mental health, education, maintenance and others, the correctional officer deals with the responsibility to ensure compliance during the shift. Dealing with critical “what if’s” they must be alert and on their toes at all times they are hired to perform essential security functions that often includes decisions or decision making that involves either hostilities, loss of property or the accountability of property. Their investment to ensure an orderly system is in place to deliver mail, clothing, property or legal papers based on a commitment to get the job done. In some cases, their decisions can make the difference between asset turnovers and loss of essential services mandated.
Often put in situations where their report writing skills must be adequate to answer their supervisor’s tough questions about issues or problems reported or observed. They must handle a crisis with precision or face the consequences of failing to contain or isolate the situation allowing escalation or loss of control of the condition. Working and incurring repeated fatigue while working, they risk losing a job that carries so much liability and so much responsibility daily. Taking in consideration the salaries of the CEO or top executive, attorneys or paralegals, public information system managers or data entry, mid-level operations or project managers, finance or business managers, the compensation system escapes these hefty salaries and without reservations, we must acknowledge that those that work as correctional officers are indeed positions that have “added value” to their professional employment status.
Editor’s note: Carl ToersBijns (retired), worked in corrections for over 25 yrs He held positions of a Correctional Officer I, II, III [Captain] Chief of Security Mental Health Treatment Center – Program Director – Associate Warden - Deputy Warden of Administration & Operations. Carl’s prison philosophy is all about the safety of the public, staff and inmates, "I believe my strongest quality is that I create strategies that are practical, functional and cost effective."
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