CORRECTIONAL PROFESSIONALS: Today's greatest public servants.

Author:Mohr, Gary C.

As President of the American Correctional Association, the largest and oldest professional organization representing our profession, I have had unique opportunities to see the great challenges and significant triumphs of the professionals working in our jails, prisons and community corrections. In fact, I frequently refer to these professionals as the greatest public servants of our time. I understand that statement is controversial to many outside our work, as I often hear special offers for first responders that seldom include our professionals. As a former director of a correctional system and prison warden, I have seen tens of thousands of incident reports that describe truly heroic responses of our staff. I am not aware of any other group of worthy public servants that respond more frequently to incidents that could result in loss of life than our correctional staff.

The failure of the non-correctional public to recognize our value in providing safe, humane and rehabilitative environments, in both our incarcerate settings as well as in our communities, has significant and negative consequences. First, our staff who work in our prisons and jails are often paid less than other public safety officers in their communities. This has resulted in the challenge of staffing our prisons and jails being the number one concern voiced by practitioners as I travel the country. The general public, who elect local, state and federal legislative members responsible for setting compensation and benefit rates, must recognize and understand the risk and value of our staff. Without this public respect, we cannot expect our staff to feel valued and be given the respect they deserve and compensated at a rate warranted by valued public servants. Second, unlike positions in police and fire departments, younger candidates entering the workforce are not typically seeking out career opportunities inside our incarcerate settings where staff are at risk daily and mandated to work overtime hours beyond their regular schedule because of existing staff shortages. Finally, given the size of many of our operations, and the 24-hour, seven days a week responsibility for supervision of those who do not want to be confined or under supervision, "things happen" and those incidents are ripe for media stories. These stories tend to influence the public opinion of our value without a heavy dose of the really good stories that exist to provide balance.

So, what can we do? I...

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