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Corrections: A High Calling - Part II
By Mike Raneses, Parole Agent, California Department of Corrections & Rehabilitation
Published: 02/06/2012

Correctionsofficer
In our last article, we began to lay the foundation for the case that working in Corrections, because it is a vital component of the criminal justice system, is more than work, but it is a calling, a High Calling. We examined the very nature of work itself, that work was designed by God to be more than drudgery, but to fulfill the very purpose of man. This week, we will focus on the specific High Calling of working in the criminal justice system as an integral component of the governmental structure God created

Why Government?

The Bible, specifically the Book of Genesis, lays the foundations for the origins and purpose of human government. God created the first human couple from which all of society originated. He also placed man in an environment of rich material resources to develop and improve his well-being. Since God is the benevolent source and provider for human society, He also designed the working plan for the good of man. God created man in His own image for fellowship, with the intent that man be in such close communion with Him that His ways would be naturally our ways. Due to man's disobedience in "doing his own thing" instead of God's will, his close communion with God was broken. God then, in compassion, and understanding of human nature, provided the discipline and structure of human government.

God, Government and Criminal Justice

The criminal justice system is the "up front" and most visible manifestation of government and, more specifically, governmental authority. Does God respect government authority? How does God's view of government authority apply to criminal justice? Does God allow the criminal justice system to use force, including deadly force? In the Bible, God gives answers to these questions. Consider these excerpts from Romans, Chapter 13, which specifically address government authority and the enforcement of law:
"Everyone must submit to governing authorities. For all authority comes from God, and those in positions of authority have been placed there by God. So anyone who rebels against authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and they will be punished. For the authorities do not strike fear in people who are doing right, but in those who are doing wrong. Would you like to live without fear of the authorities? Do what is right, and they will honor you. The authorities are God’s servants, sent for your good. But if you are doing wrong, of course you should be afraid, for they have the power to punish you. They are God’s servants, sent for the very purpose of punishing those who do what is wrong. So you must submit to them, not only to avoid punishment, but also to keep a clear conscience.”
Romans, Chapter 13
It is significant to note that these verses on government authority, and those who enforce that authority, were written during the time of Roman government rule. The Roman government was not a democracy, and was known for the viciousness of its soldiers. In spite of all this, God said what He did about His support of government.

The Nature of Authority

It is clear from the Bible that there is no authority except from God, and that God establishes government for His purpose. Think about it, serving in the criminal justice system in the Corrections setting, enforcing the laws established by your state and local jurisdiction, ultimately means that you are working for God!

Before going further it is important to define and understand authority. Authority is the lawful right to enforce obedience. It is the power to influence or command behavior. An important aspect of authority is that it is given or surrendered; authority can never be taken. This does not mean that force and authority are incompatible. Force may be used in order to cause someone to submit or surrender to authority.

In order for you to have authority over someone they must be compelled to submit to your authority. For example, when a correctional officer gives a command to an inmate on the yard, or a parole agent enforces a condition of parole, does the offender comply because “Bob Smith” is giving them orders? No, the offender complies because Officer Bob Smith acting as a representative of government is giving them orders. Apart from the governmental authority that "Bob Smith" represents, "Bob Smith" has no authority.

The High Calling of the Public Trust

The Bible has established that lawful force to exercise authority, up to and including deadly force, is acceptable.

In the Book of Romans that we referred to above, God's Word says that the government is a minister, a helper to those who do what is good. But to those that would do evil, they should be afraid; because the government does not bear the sword for nothing.

In the time that the book of Romans was written the sword was carried by the Roman soldiers. The Roman soldier was charged with protecting the citizens of Rome, and upholding the laws of Rome. In many ways the Roman soldier was the equivalent of the modern day law enforcement officer.

The Roman soldiers were given the authority by the Roman government to use force, including the sword which represented deadly force in order to exert the Roman government's authority over those that lived within the control of Rome.

Based on the Biblical example, modern law enforcement officers, including corrections professionals, may also use force in order to protect those that do good, and to exert the government’s authority over those who would do evil. This force can include the use of a gun which represents the modern sword, or other weaponry used by the agency. However, the force used by the law enforcement professional must be within the constraints of the authority given by the officer’s governing authority.

Think about it. How many professions in our society are given the authority to legally take human life? The answer, of course, is the military and the criminal justice system of which we in Corrections are a part. We, through the authority delegated to us by the public we serve, hold the power of life and death as a public trust. Ours is indeed a High Calling, and must never be taken lightly!

Next time, we will focus more specifically on the High Calling of Corrections, and how we can make a positive difference as corrections professionals.

Corrections: A High Calling - Part I

Corrections: A High Calling - Part III

Corrections.com author, Mike Raneses, is a 40-year criminal justice veteran with service as a Deputy Sheriff, Probation Officer, and most currently as a Parole Agent with the California Department of Corrections & Rehabilitation. Also serving as a Professor of Criminal Justice with the University of Phoenix, he resides in Tustin, CA with his wife Ruth where they lead Corrections Staff Fellowship, an organization designed to help staff maintain their faith and values while walking “The Toughest Beat in the Nation.”

Other articles by Mike Raneses


Comments:

  1. jamestown0509 on 03/15/2012:

    Damiross I believe some of the comments you made are not based on facts just supposition. Just as some police officers abuse their position, COs in some jails and prisons abuse their authority. This is not the majority of officers in any way. Almost all officers are held to a higher standard just as police officers are and accountable to their superiors and the general public who pays their salaries. I do agree that if you respect an inmate for the most part they will respect you as an officer. The most important job we teach new recruits in corrections is to use effective communication with inmates and staff. The biggest stumbling block to communication is not listening and just talking. With respect to taking of personal property officers have a right to confiscate personal property if it is in violation of SOPs and department policy. For example excess mail, newspapers, books, magazines can be confiscated, bagged and placed in the inmates property bag along with a receipt for same. I do not agree that medical care is substandard at all. Almost all county jails have either a MD or a physician's assistant and nurses on staff to tend to inmates medical issues. In addition a staff forensic nurse and psychiatrist are there to address problems with mental health inmates. For dental issues inmates are given two choices. Repair or fill the cavity in the tooth or at their discretion have it extracted. Jails are not required to do normal hygiene care like routine cleaning or expensive repairs such as root canals, or crowns. The public pays for all medical care and all dental care, not the inmates. As for you last comment about "guards" treating inmates like animals that's absolutely not allowed in any jail or prison in the USA. Correction Officers are certified peace officers and we are professionals. I suggest that if you really want to know what its like to be a CO, not a guard as you say stay 24 hours in a real jail and you will get a very first hand look at what COs have to do every day. 22 years as a Correction Officer and supervisor.

  2. ronmacksj on 02/12/2012:

    I'm an MSW and work in mental health in state prison in CA. I agree completely with what LisaS says about the system. She must be a joy to work for. It is a shame how some employees treat inmates in prison, so I'm not surprised that attitude exists in the community too. In offering therapy, the most valuable thing I offer inmates is that I treat them with respect and as human beings. Of course, if an inmate tries to take advantage of my kindness, I have to maintain boundaries. I find that almost all inmates are reasonable if I am reasonable with them first. I was raised to give respect in order to get respect and that authority is earned, not given (I know, I'm old school and a soft hearted social worker :-) LOL

  3. LisaS on 02/08/2012:

    I work in community corrections (probation/parole)as a one of the Deputy Chiefs in our District. The POs I supervise are a mixed bunch. Some really want to help their offenders and will do everything they can....until they start working harder than the offender and then we go back to Court. I have others that treat their offenders as lower class citizens. If I hear one more time "I'll just lock you up...." I think I'll snap! As a supervisor, I can head off some of this, but to think that statement will procuce change...really??? Our Department is trying to move in a direction that utilizes EBP and motivational interviewing. Doubt that statement fits! But I still hear it, I still see POs having offenders take off a whole day of work to report in because they will not stay past 4pm. They will yell at offenders who test positive on a drug screen....they're addicts...positive screens can happen...refer for treatment (and we have treatment providers in-house) don't yell at them and tell them you will lock them up. I could go on and on with things I hear professional grown adults say to other grown adults, using their "authority" as a means to change behavior. Like I tell my staff....you are just one poor choice away from the other side of the desk! How would you like to be treated if you were there or a family member was????

  4. damiross on 02/06/2012:

    Unfortunately, there are many, many guards who do NOT see it has a higher but rather has a way to be high priced bullies. They demand respect from the inmates yet they do not give the same respect to the inmates. It's a two-way street. Respect is not something you get by being a bully. As an example, at a prison I'm familiar with it is not unusual for the guards to take the personal property of inmates even though they are authorized to have it. This is not state-issued property but property that the families have bought for their loved ones. Medical care is better in some backward 3rd world country than it is in prison. Got a tooth cavity? Let's yank that sucker out! Need medicine? We'll get it to you in 2 or 3 weeks. The justice system in America is broken. Part of the reason is because of lawmakers and district attorneys who want to appear tough, esepcially on victimless crimes. The other part is the so-called correctional system. Most of them treat inmates as less than human beings. In fact, if I treated my cat the way the guards treat the inmates I'd be in prison! Being a correctional officer may be a "high calling" but many are just professional thugs who have no regard for anybody but themselves.


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