A prisoner in stripes behind bars, a locked door, and a “guard” on the other side with a set of keys. This is the general conception of corrections with the lack of transparency there is about the profession.
What this doesn’t capture is the entirety of the service corrections professionals conduct, and the challenges they face in such a noble and overlooked profession. It might take a person nine months to get hired on as a corrections officer, where it may only take one shift to realize it takes a certain character to effectively work behind the walls.
Our facilities are scrambling to retain quality staff, yet the ones who push through for the long term are nearly being pushed to their end. In an ever evolving profession fighting to stay in compliance with new laws, standards and practices, our facilities are overpopulating, while remaining understaffed, causing the current staff to be outnumbered and overworked; sometimes 74 inmates to one officer, and that officer being mandated to work a 16 hour shift for coverage.
Studies show that the average life span of a corrections officer is 59 years of age, and the suicide rate for corrections professionals is 39% higher than any other profession. The PTSD rate in corrections is over double than what is found with military veterans due to the cumulative vicarious trauma as well the individual critical incidents. Whether it is cutting down an inmate who has just attempted to hang themselves, or protecting yourself from an inmate who has just assaulted you, each day is just as unpredictable as the next. The implicit effects of hyper-vigilance are very real, and often remedied with caffeine and a jaded sense of humor, while the toll it takes on that person and their family is unrepairable.
A corrections professional can’t forget some of the things they’ve seen dealing with some of the most dangerous members of society, however, many that are successful in this profession are only successful because they remain rooted in purpose and the cause they serve. Having the right heartset and mindset is everything if you want to survive in this career field. However, it is also the responsibility of management to proactively invest in the needs, safety and well-being of their staff.
Crime isn’t stopping, mental illness is rising, and the opiate epidemic and use of illicit drugs is bringing officer safety and liability through the roof. The individuals in custody are becoming more challenging to deal with and the risks are becoming greater, yet as easy as it is to put heads in beds as an industry, our agencies can’t fill the staffing vacancies, nor can they retain the staff they have.
This has certainly been one of the biggest challenges in corrections this past year for both the staff and the agencies. It is going to take some serious attention and work for the professional to unite and put a stop to the understaffed, outnumbered, overpopulated and overworked problem we have. It is plain unsafe, and along with integrity, safety is the something that should never be compromised.