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Coronavirus Jails And Prisons - Will Correctional Officers Stay?
By Leonard A. Sipes, Jr.
Published: 04/13/2020

Prison guard tower “Police were unable to account for 240 officers on the 1,450-member force following Katrina. The force has been investigating them to see if they left their posts during the storm. The mass firing was the first action taken against the missing officers,” NBC News.

If police officers walked away during a time of extreme danger, will correctional officers do the same?

The very nature of corrections is close contact with everyone in the facility. Inmates bring a wide array of physical and mental health problems into institutions regardless of COVID-19. For many offenders, their confinement is the first medical care they’ve had in years (or decades).

The Coronavirus is sweeping jails and prisons.

The Crime Report

From The Crime Report, “Health experts have warned that a disease outbreak could devastate jail and prison populations. “These prisons are bacteria factories,” said Rick Raemisch, former Colorado corrections director. “I don’t think people understand the gravity of what’s going to happen if this runs in a prison, and I believe it’s inevitable.”

“A situational awareness tool from the Police Foundation has logged 341 exposures to the virus among 15,159 officers in the departments initially responding.”

The Marshall Project

From The Marshall Project, “You’re going to see devastation that’s unbelievable,” says former Colorado corrections chief Rick Raemisch as COVID-19 enters prisons, THE PEW CHARITABLE TRUSTS. At least 11 prisoners in Massachusetts have tested positive for the virus, BOSTON GLOBE. Lawyers seek emergency order to release California prisoners, LOS ANGELES TIMES. Baton Rouge’s jail population falls to its lowest level in a decade after about 100 prisoners are released over coronavirus fears, (BATON ROUGE)ADVOCATE. Nearly 300 prisoners have been released from jails in Franklin County, Ohio, WSYX/WTTE. About 100 released from jail in Rock County, Wisconsin, WKOW.

Running Prisons

I was the director of public information for the Maryland Department Of Public Safety for fourteen years, a combined law enforcement and correctional agency. I learned that running corrections was an immensely complex undertaking requiring knowledgeable people and dedicated staff. Few have a clue as to how hard and expensive it is to run prison and jail systems. Correctional facilities are one of the most controlled environments I’ve been in. There is a collective understanding between staff and inmates that it’s in everyone’s best interest to keep the peace. Dangerous prisoners are often reported to staff by other inmates because they see disruption as collectively threatening to all. No one wants to see things get crazy.

The question is whether correctional officers will stay on the job. Police officers are calling in sick or taking mandated two-week quarantine actions after coming into contact with infected people throughout the country.

Hundreds of cops are testing positive in Detroit and New York. For correctional officers and staff, it’s almost impossible not to be exposed to the Coronavirus, especially if they do not have the right equipment, which few do.

There is, however, new funding for correctional facilities regarding the Coronavirus and corrections.

Federal Funding Is Coming-Roll Call (direct quotes)

The nation’s prisons would get funding and increased priority for protective gear and test kits for COVID-19 under a massive financial rescue package designed to curb the economic damage from the pandemic, while federal courts would get more money and the ability to conduct video or telephone criminal proceedings.

The Senate version of the bill, publicly released Wednesday afternoon, would provide $100 million to the Bureau of Prisons for salaries in the federal prison system to DOJ. The funds would go for correctional officer overtime, personal protective equipment and supplies and inmate medical care and supplies, according to a Republican summary of the bill.

The bill also would provide $850 million for state and local law enforcement and jails through a grant program, Roll Call

A Matter Of Respect

Correctional officers are skilled professionals. They know how to talk their way through endless confrontations. They know criminal psychology better than anyone. They act alone for the most part surrounded by hundreds of inmates. They understand that the right words at the right time delivered in the right way can diffuse explosive situations. Not everyone can do this job. What they do deserves far more respect than most are willing to offer.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the 434,870 correctional officers working in the United States in 2011 earned an average annual salary of $43,550. Officers in the lowest ten percent of this profession earned up to $27,000, while those in the top ten percent earned salaries of $69,610 on average. Some 26,000 correctional officer jobs are expected to become available in the current decade ending 2020.

But the truth is that there are many officers making well below $30,000 a year.


If the probability was high that you will come into very close contact with multiple people with the Coronavirus every time you went to work, would you go?

The 435,000 existing correctional officers and their families are asking themselves this very question right now. Would you risk your life or the safety of your family for $26,00 a year?

Is it a time for a mass release of inmates, especially those deemed elderly or non-violent? Recidivism data indicate that large releases could have public safety implications, Recidivism.

It may be time for emergency managers and law enforcement to ask what contingency plans are available if the majority of correctional officers are out because of exposure. I assume that It would require a response from the National Guard.

I’ve walked through prisons and jails unescorted hundreds of times and in most cases, I felt completely at ease. I’ve also responded to prison disturbances knowing they can turn deadly in a heartbeat.

Correctional officers know how to keep the peace. It’s not something the average cop or guardsman can do. It’s time to prepare for what may be profoundly challenging events.

Previous Coronavirus-COVID-19 Articles

The Coronavirus, Crime And Law Enforcement Responses
The Coronavirus, Law Enforcement, Corrections And Crime
Corona Virus and Emergency Response
Violent Crime Beats Coronavirus As The Number One Issue

See More See more articles on crime and justice at Crime in America.
Most Dangerous Cities/States/Countries at Most Dangerous Cities.
US Crime Rates at Nationwide Crime Rates.
National Offender Recidivism Rates at Offender Recidivism.

The Crime in America.Net RSS feed (https://crimeinamerica.net/?feed=rss2) provides subscribers with a means to stay informed about the latest news, publications and other announcements from the site.

Reprinted with permission from https://www.crimeinamerica.net.

Contact us at crimeinamerica@gmail.com or for media on deadline, use leonardsipes@gmail.com.

Leonard A. Sipes, Jr has thirty-five years of experience supervising public affairs for national and state criminal justice agencies. He is the Former Senior Specialist for Crime Prevention for the Department of Justice’s clearinghouse and the Former Director of Information Management for the National Crime Prevention Council. He has a Post Master’s degree from Johns Hopkins University and is the author of the book "Success With the Media". He can be reached via email at leonardsipes@gmail.com.


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