Are Corrections Officers First Responders?

To many, this is a silly question. To some, it is almost insulting that you would even question it. The answer is without a doubt “yes”. Similar to asking whether or not corrections is law enforcement as the final spoke of the criminal justice wheel, the CO has a very critical place in the realm of law enforcement as a first responder behind the walls.

There is little if no transparency of what actually goes on behind the walls. Just misguided and misinformed perceptions based off of tv shows and movies. There is a stigma of being the washed out cop, or the red headed stepchild that we own partial responsibility for. However, it doesn’t discredit the nobility of what we do, nor the fact that if it wasn’t for corrections, law enforcement would just be a catch and release program.

Whether we are a corrections professional in a jail or a corrections professional in a prison, we are a first responder, bottom line.

From being that officer managing a POD of inmates and witnessing and responding to an inmate who has just jumped off the top-tier head first. To being the first officer to respond to a cell and cut down a lifeless inmate hanging by a bedsheet. To being the first to respond to an inmate who has just overdosed on drugs and providing CPR for several minutes until medical aid arrives. To being the first to respond to an inmate who is choking on food, and conducting the Heimlich maneuver as other inmates just watch. To being the first to respond to a unit or cell to control a violent inmate who is undergoing excited delirium, high on drugs and an immediate threat to himself or others. To being spit in the eyes by a hepatitis C carrying inmate and fighting with them until backup arrives. To being the first officer to respond to an assault or riot where an inmate has just been stabbed more than 80 times by an edged weapon made in the facility. The list goes on, as some of these can be daily occurrences.

We literally spend over half the year behind the walls in uniform responding to crisis, ensuring that the safety of our staff and our inmates and security of our facility is not compromised. When we are not responding, we are waiting to respond. Hypervigilance implicitly takes its course. This is on top of all the ongoing nuisance inmate attempts to manipulate you as you are outnumbered 74 to 1. This is on top of the threats you have just received in regards to you and your families safety. This is on top of being overwhelmed by the task demands and expectations of this ever evolving profession fighting to stay in compliance. This is on top of actually trying to make a difference in some of the lives of the inmates we supervise in helping them reenter the community. Most importantly, this is on top of doing our best not to personalize conflict or compartmentalize recent crisis, staying professional, objective and rooted in purpose.

We are Corrections Officers, and we are first responders. As the final step of the criminal justice process, please respect us as the first responders we are; analogous to our brothers and sisters on patrol and fire.


Brandon Anderson

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