May 4th- May 10th was National Correctional Officers and Employees Week. Three sheriffs and a warden wrote about this stressful, demanding, overlooked and underappreciated job:
“Maintaining a safe atmosphere for all individuals within correctional facilities is paramount, and takes constant vigilance. The result is a work environment that can be unpredictable and volatile, particularly with increased rates of incarceration for those suffering from mental illness and substance abuse. Research has shown the job takes a toll on the physical and mental health of those in this field. Correction officers are likely to be seriously assaulted multiple times during a 20-year career and face a life expectancy of just 59 years. A 1997 report found the rate of correctional officer suicide to be 39 percent higher than the rest of the working-age population. And in a recent 2012 survey conducted by Desert Waters Correctional Outreach, 27 percent of correction professionals indicated they were suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. These are staggering statistics that demand attention and further research.” – Peter J. Koutoujian Middlesex County sheriff from the Boston Herald.
“This is an appropriate time to make the public aware of the job that dedicated corrections officers perform. It’s not a job you go to for prestige. It’s not a job you take to become wealthy. It is more demanding than any law enforcement job and, for stress, it’s second to none. From your first day to your last, you are studied and observed by accused and convicted criminals. They are looking for that weakness that gives them the upper hand so you can be compromised. The vast majority of officers never violate the trust we have in them, but the majority of press goes to those who do and get caught.”- Warden Robert Balicki from the South Jersey Times.
“Day in, day out, 24 hours a day, corrections officers across this nation are tasked with one of the most demanding jobs in society —keeping a watchful eye on the thousands of people entrusted to their care. Theirs can be a thankless job, mostly out of the public eye, and greatly misunderstood. It’s not an easy job; those who choose this career path must possess a great deal of patience, understanding of both the law and human nature and endure lots and lots of training to be effective, successful and remain safe.”- Rick Whitney, Allegany County Sheriff from the Olean Times Herald.
“On April 29, we held our Olmsted County Sheriff’s Office Awards Ceremony. Four detention deputies — Joe Borchardt, Jenny Strader, Vicki Jo Thiesse and Rick Trogstad — received “Life Saving Awards” in special recognition of stopping detainees from committing suicide…These four incidents happened from November 2013 through March 2014. Each of these incidents involved different detainees who attempted to hang themselves inside their cells while using sheets or blankets as nooses. Of the four people that were saved, one thanked the deputy who saved him, and another told the deputy “He stopped him too quick.” The stress doesn’t go away for our detention staff as new people replace the ones that leave our facility. Our focus on direct supervision principles, best practices and Department of Correction rules is and has been a high priority for all of our staff. Keeping order, preventing assaults and doing work to change future behavior are all on the task list for our staff. They have a very tough job, and they do their work very well every day.”- Dave Mueller Olmsted County sheriff from the Post Bulletin.
Photo by Angela Rowlings with the Boston Herald, portraying Middlesex Sheriff Peter J. Koutoujian in recreation area of the county jail.