THE ROLE OF A CORRECTIONS OFFICER – A GUARDIAN AND A WARRIOR
As a Corrections Officers, we take pride in the profession we work in and the cause in which we serve. Corrections plays a vital role in the realm of law enforcement as the final step of the criminal justice process. We have been entrusted by the law, to uphold the law behind the walls. This runs deeper than being a “guard” or “jailer”, which is often what we are referred to as. Also, we are not JUST Corrections Officers, WE ARE Corrections Officers, and we are proud of that title. We don’t treat our career as a stepping stone job into law enforcement, or a fallback job for washed out cops who couldn’t cut patrol.
As Corrections Officers, our role in Law Enforcement is unique, and our career should be recognized for the noble professional it is. Understaffed, overpopulated, outnumbered, and managing over 70 plus inmates without the reliance of a firearm. It is us, the inmates, and our ability as leaders to manage them through the power of influence, practical wisdom, respect, courage and effective communication. It’s no easy task, but it is a necessary one that takes a special character with a unique skill set to do the job safely and effectively.
Our job isn’t to impose punishment, that’s for the courts to decide. Our role is also not to demonize and mistreat anyone, instead hold them accountable, keep them safe and perpetually attempt to influence change. Our role as a Corrections Officer is one of many hats. We are the first responder to every crisis that occurs behind the walls: suicides, suicide attempts, assaults, fights, homicides, overdoses and sometimes riots. The list goes on as some are daily occurrences. We are at times the fill-in mental health providers and the only medical staff on site. While we are at times disciplinarians, we are also teachers, role models and counselors for individuals who have lacked that kind of figure in their life. We are not just guards, rather guardians. Defenders, protectors and keepers, and not to forget warriors, who are tactically sound and equipped at all times to always win every fight for a good cause.
The risks and rigors of our ever-evolving profession continue to rise, while corrections remains out of sight and out of mind. Our training and skills continue to adapt, fighting to stay in compliance with the changes and demands of our evolving profession. The rise in mentally ill inmates has risen to over 60% in our jails and over 50% in our prisons across the country. The heroin and opiate epidemic has created a revolving door to our jails with heightened risk for overdose and death, and now we are facing a synthetic drug rise that is bringing officer safety to a completely new level. However, the nobility of our profession is just as strong, if not stronger than it has ever been. We continue to serve objectively, reasonably and honorably.
Everything we do in the glass house we work in is scrutinized by the public; our words, our actions and our decisions. However, as Corrections Officers who believe in perpetual optimism and values that are unwavering, we continue to stay rooted in the purpose in which we serve, and operate in a way that is legal, professional and safe. We are committed in training to win as warriors of a noble cause, and all of our skill and strength is used with good purpose. Conflict is never personal, and all of our force is objective, reasonable, necessary and justified. We are not paranoid, but always prepared, guardians first and warriors always. The safety of our staff, officers, inmates, and facility are always the top priority. Everyone goes home — that is our motto.
We continue to watch over and care for all who have been kicked out of society, to include the most manipulative, dangerous and violent individuals. We continue to protect their rights, protect them from each other and protect our communities from the most damaging members of society. We do so because we believe in justice and accountability, and that people who commit crime should be held accountable for their actions so that our communities can live at peace.
While it is easy to fall victim to the jaded cancer often preying on us within the walls, we recognize when it is time to detach, look at the big picture and reevaluate. We have the right to be human, but purpose keeps us reasonable. We remain objective and empathetic, never to be confused with sympathetic and compromised. We know that a wise decision is the right decision, meaning we know the right way to do the right thing, with a particular person, in a particular circumstance and at a particular time. Every person and situation we face is different. There are a percentage of inmates that are truly evil, but the majority are not. Most of the people that walk through our intake doors are at the lowest points in their lives; struggling addicts frequently making poor decisions. However, they are still people, and sometimes people we know and love. Every person has a story, so we meet people where they are at.
DIGNITY AND RESPECT
Through deliberate practice, we have learned that treating people with dignity and respect is not only vital to safe and effective operations, but also a true reflection of our character. We do not demonize — we leave our ego at the door, as we know that ego and disrespect is one of the quickest ways to create a dangerous and unsafe situation. The formula of our respect as Corrections Officers is that we don’t expect respect in order to give our respect. We operate out of respect regardless, not because we respect the crime or the behavior, but because we respect ourselves, our values, the situation, our agency, the badge we wear, the profession and purpose we serve. We know a person cannot give what they don’t have, and when an inmate doesn’t even have respect for themselves, we can’t expect them to give it when we demand it. Instead, with tact and strategy, we work to create trust with each interaction, finding what motivates that person and what is important to him/her. We are less suspicious and task focused, and take an active approach in being more curious and outcome focused. This is the foundation of influence and positive change, and it is only possible through actually caring. As a result, we then have the first step of reentry. Yes, corrections and the Corrections Officers who work courageously behind the walls are the beginning of Reentry. Ultimately, it starts with the person behind the badge, making a difference, leaving people better off than the way we found them and fulfilling our intrinsic value of purpose and accomplishment for the greater cause. Purpose is the root of it all, in “why” we do what we do. Sometimes giving people some dignity and respect who are at the lowest point in their life, dealing with addiction, have mental health issues, or both, just may just be the shift in true reentry that the criminal justice system needs. We try to correct through influence, helping individuals become safe and productive members of society once again.
We are not soft and naive nor hard, ignorant and arrogant. As guardians we are both warriors and scholars, strong, skilled, knowledgeable and wise enough to use discretion to know when we are dealing with violent, hardened, manipulative and evil criminals, versus those who just made poor decisions. We fully understand that many aren’t going to change their ways, however, without hope, optimism and purpose rooted in service, we are only part of the problem. That is where faith in knowing we serve something greater than our self comes in to play. We let integrity, purpose and the nobility of what we do drive us towards our destination of success.
LEADERS OF INFLUENCE
As leaders of influence, each and every interaction has an impact and the opportunity to make a difference. With each mindful interaction, we’re curious, humble, confident and tactically sound without getting that confused with being judgmental and egotistical. We leave our ego at the door. We know that one interaction can cause damage to the entire profession and discredit all we do. However, one simple interaction can also make positive difference and impact the profession as a whole, helping us restore the trust and confidence that has been lost from some of the communities we serve. Even if we reach just one person out of one hundred, and help change their life, we are making a difference, making our communities a better place and moving our profession in the right direction. Empathy, dignity and respect go a long way. Not only does it make operations safer and more efficient, but it reminds offenders that their past and current situation does not have to define them, it can only remind them.
We have the power of control which is necessary at times, but more importantly our power of influence is the most powerful tool we have. Our power of influence is built off of a desire to solve problems and leave people better off than the way we found them. We never miss a moment to make a difference and impact a life, as this is the heartset of many Corrections Officers. An under recognized, yet unconditional form of public service. We are proud to be a Corrections Officer, and proud of our profession. Life is all about making a difference, and that just so happens to be what corrections is all about. No kid ever grows up wanting to be a Corrections Officer, but almost every kid grows wanting to make a difference, and there are Corrections Officers out there making a difference every day.
Brandon Anderson is a Police Officer for the Sumner Police Department in Washington State. He has spent the last few years as a sergeant/frontline supervisor with a large regional jail in Washington. He joined the Marine Corps in 2007 and started working in corrections in 2012 at a small county jail. He has worked both indirect and direct supervision as a frontline officer and frontline supervisor. He spent two years as the training coordinator and primary TAC officer for the Corrections Officers Academy in Washington State from 2015-2017. As a Master Defensive Tactics instructor, Blue Courage instructor, Emergency Response Team instructor and Use of Force instructor, he is very passionate about training and optimizing the best out of those in our profession.