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Occupational Hazards, Correctional Officers
By Carl ToersBijns, former deputy warden, ASPC Eyman, Florence AZ
Published: 11/28/2011

Danger sign Reading the numerous comments by readers posting on stories regarding jail, prison or criminal events makes me realize that the majority of people out there in our civilized world have no idea or concept of the job description that entails being a detention officer or a correctional officer. They really don't understand the scope of duties, tasks and the risks correctional officers engage in when working with potentially violent offenders whether pre-trial or convicted on felonies that often results in prison terms. In fact, it is reasonable to conclude that many have no idea of the challenges correctional officers and their families face while on the job or even at the end of their shifts. Basically speaking, they face challenges to their safety, their health and their wellness when working inside such a controlled environment or workplace.

Escorting or supervising prisoners can entail physical risks that range from being shot or shot at, slips, falls, serious or minor musculoskeletal injuries and exposure to sharp objects of instruments, puncture wounds from darts and spears aimed for the eyes or stab wounds resulting from prison made knives, to heat, cold stress as well as fire hazards and toxic fumes. Direct or indirect impacts on their health can be either biological or chemical exposures, communicable disease or infections and series of trauma stress that may cause loss of sleep and the rest cycle. Every day they risk sabotage or deliberate food or water contamination as most of the meals are prepared by private contractors supervising prison labor. Most of all, their mere presence inside one of these penitentiaries can aggravate their pre-existing health conditions that may have been inflicted at their birth, the growing years in school or sports, during their service in our armed forces, or subject to violence in the workplace.

Readers are readily willing to write comments such as "if you think the conditions are horrendous or it is unsafe...wait...wait for it.... then QUIT!!! Duh! Where do you think you are working? The Ritz Carlton?" The comment is self-explanatory but the train of thought is out of touch with reality. The bottom line is that correctional officer’s performance, duties and risks are either ignored, second guessed, degraded or often criticized for doing their jobs under circumstances many choose not be informed of, engaged in and never admit they don't care.

Public safety inside prisons by many citizens consists of an "out of sight, out of mind" approach that will never give the community an accurate reflection of prison and what kind of mistreatment public service employees endure on a daily basis that impacts their own personal lives. More now than ever before [with overcrowded jails and prisons] will a correctional employee admit to and take the time to realize that this role as a public servant has so many risks involved. Apteral, once it is all said and done, they all blend into one concern - coming home safely after the end of the shift and try to normalize their lives with their family and friends who support them through severe trials and tribulations that will never be understood unless you walked these tough beats inside the penitentiaries or jails.

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."

Other articles by ToersBijns:


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  2. fgrubb on 12/25/2011:

    What a wonderful article! There are way to many people out there that do not have a clue of what goes on behind the fences or walls of a correctional institute. When I hear the news media saying how terrible conditions are, I have to think to myself they really do not have a clue Inmates get 3 meals a day free housing their medical and Dental practically free plus some will get free lawyers. They also have a grievance process if they feel they have been treated unfairly. The people working inside these facility's are constantly played by the inmates they have to look over their shoulders and be willing to defend themselves to there supervisors daily not to mention inmates lying about some employees just because they do not like them. I work in the medical dept. in my prison and have been assaulted, was stuck with a needle in Jan of this year had to do the whole HIV regiment because as much we try to hide it the HIV population and Hep C run rampant in prison. I just wish the news media would be fair the whole way around.

  3. gabriellepowell on 12/07/2011:

    Thank you for this wonderful post. It became an eye opener that working in a correctional facility is not that easy. Corrections officer face serious and violent prisoners on a daily basis. Indeed, they have essential but hazardous jobs. When a correction officer is working in a facility where the population remains static, he or she can develop a mental profile of each inmate and learn how to communicate with that individual. Moreover, when dealing with mentally ill, correction officers must be ready at any time to defend themselves, because mishaps could mean treatment that may equate to See? The stress and the danger of the job is high. Confrontations with inmates can occur regularly, which often puts the correctional officer in harm's way and causes anxiety. That's reality, and now we already know.

  4. PVSP_CO on 11/29/2011:

    Thank you for your insightful column. It's great to be recognized & appreciated.

  5. davidshope on 11/28/2011:

    Thank you Carl ToersBijns for your always insightful unveiling of the truth that lies behind the prison walls. Carl highlights the issues inside correctional facilities masterfully from his years inside, in a way not many others can. I truly appreciate the passion and expertise Carl displays as he brings common sense solutions to provide for both officer, staff and inmate safety. As Carl often writes, it is the culture of a facility that permeates through the practices. The culture of excellence Carl ToersBijns promotes, is one that will improve the lives of all within the prison walls.

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