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Correctional Officers and Labor Day
By Carl ToersBijns, former deputy warden, ASPC Eyman, Florence AZ
Published: 09/05/2016

Workers Labor Day, the first Monday in the month of September, is a creation of the labor movement and is dedicated to the social and economic feats and successful attributes of the American workers. It constitutes a yearly celebration as well as a national tribute to the contributions all workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country and as detention or correctional officers, your contributions run deep and silent without the recognition of other law enforcement agencies or entities. In this matter, you stand alone as we recognize your contributions do matter.

Often forgotten and commonly referred to as the ‘forgotten cops’ corrections and detention officers perform their duties under very multifaceted and difficult conditions. As the statistical analysis conducted are revealing, officers are working longer hours now as well as being shorthanded in an already overcrowded and hostile workplace and charged to manage or supervise a wide array of special needs prisoners ranging from the predatory species to the seriously mentally ill offenders.

The strongest tribute we can give these officers is respect – for a job well done. Given the unique psyche of these officers, we have to respect the increasingly heavy moral and legal burdens imposed by the systems that oversee such statutory responsibilities and recognize this profession to be an area where decisions and performances require unique skills and expertise knowledge on human behaviors of those incarcerated. The priority that prison administrators place on promoting orderly and safe institutions has generated numerous stressors that correlates to the various prisoner cultural diversities, individualities or non-compliance of rules and regulations. Officers are forced to cope with countless incidents of inmate collaborative [manipulation] or confrontational characteristics, constant changes or upgrade features of facility environments and their associated technologies and of course, the upper managing practices – all relevant to an orderly and safe operation of a jail or prison. Related specifically to management practices is the fact how inmates perceive the rules designed to maintain facility order and the correctional staff who enforce them.

That is, for all practical purposes, whether inmates perceive the rules of a facility and its staff as legitimate. Whether inmates perceive the rules of a facility and its staff as legitimate could be linked to the chances of misconduct via inmate (dis)respect toward authority. In today’s trend of incarcerating younger offenders, this is a big challenge. Despite the theoretical and policy relevance, however, this particular issue has received little empirical attention in the prison industry, putting correctional officers in a continued risk of being threatened, assaulted or targeted for misplaced anger and other emotional or institutional reasons.

Not every person is suited to be a correctional or detention officer. The kind of mental and physical preparation for working inside jails and prisons are detailed and refined for handling all those complex issues that arise in these settings. This psyche deals with the penal structure ranging from the processes involved in the booking, detoxification, court hearings, convictions and incarceration and then elevated into chapters or concerns in law, human rights, ethics and organizational cultures and priorities.

Closer and further examinations reveal dealing or handling a broad array of management issues, emergencies not limited to levels of custodial care, medical and mental health care, malingering of systemic addictions and adversities and much more. Their knowledge of this unique formulary management is unquestionably deep and intense to handle their daily duties and tasks assigned.

More than just ‘prison guards’ or even street cops, they deal with repetitive critical incidents of aggression, sexual assaults or rape, extortions, hostage situations, various types of injuries or fatalities stemming from accidents, homicides and suicides, as well as other behavioral e.g. antisocial personality misconduct and behavioral challenges that is barely covered in their training. This demand or requirement forces them to deliver and perform unique situational and critical assessments as well as various treatment needs of many distinct inmate populations.

In fact, correctional officers are ardent in spirit to apply current and best practices in an environment that would cause failures if not for their individual devotion, dedication and commitment on the job. The range of tasks, responsibilities and duties covered and the high number of successful and prominent contributors applied to this profession sets them apart from other available law enforcement resources.

Officers assigned at all stages of their careers have demonstrated the willpower to gain the depth of understanding and practical information they need to approach all of the common operational and functional systems of their organizational, and ethical challenges they face. Not much has been said about the negative impacts of working inside such a negative and stressful environment.

This professional group keeps their heads above the morality of the job’s expectations with their own personal emotions close to their hearts but seldom speak out about self-inflicted damages created by the very nature of their work scope and responsibilities. Stress, sleep deprivation, physiological and psychical harm is seldom addressed until it’s too late as silence runs deep among the rank and file that keep our jails and prisons running.

Corrections.com author, Carl ToersBijns, (retired), has 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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