Why we should recognize achievements in corrections

Labor union MCO is taking steps to lift up the achievements of members and CO supporters

By Jeremy Tripp, Michigan Corrections Organization

For correctional officers, recognition is often fleeting. Unlike other branches of law enforcement, accomplishments behind the walls often go unnoticed and are quickly forgotten in a fast-paced environment that demands constant observation and meticulous attention to detail.

On any given day, officers can be found routinely administering lifesaving care, risking their own personal safety to protect others, and taking steps to improve the environment for all – inmates, visitors and staff.

Each Michigan Department of Corrections Officer of the Year now gets special recognition on a wall at Michigan Corrections Organization’s office. (Photo/MCO)
Each Michigan Department of Corrections Officer of the Year now gets special recognition on a wall at Michigan Corrections Organization’s office. (Photo/MCO)

Despite this commitment to excellence, a simple internet search reveals very little in terms of visible recognition or awards for or from corrections officers and those who support us. As brothers and sisters within our profession, we must ask ourselves why? And what can we do to change it?

COs honored in Michigan

In Michigan, the “Correctional Officer of the Year” is the highest acknowledgment an officer can receive. The staff and administration at each prison select their facility CO of the Year and after rigorous interviews and reviews of each candidate’s work record and volunteer activities, a statewide Corrections Officer of the Year is selected.

However, inside corrections, officers seldom seek this distinction. Some because of personal humility and modesty and others because they feel they are just doing their job. Outside of corrections, many don’t grasp the intensity of the selection process or the value of this great honor.

Regardless of the reason, this lack of visibility and understanding presents an immense opportunity for officers to take the reins and lift up and acknowledge our coworkers and allies. By doing so, we can move corrections into the spotlight, educate the public and have a positive impact on morale.

Michigan Corrections Officer of the Year Elwanda Ray with her customized award from Michigan Corrections Organization. (Photo/MCO)

To do this, Michigan Corrections Organization (MCO), is taking definitive action to recognize the contributions of corrections officers and those who support us. In 2017, we created a customized award for the statewide Corrections Officer of the Year that celebrates the qualities and attributes of corrections professionals and commemorates the outstanding men and women who have proven to be of the utmost integrity and character.

Each facility award winner will receive a customized coin, inside a personalized engraved wooden box.

In addition, we have also created a wall of recognition at the union office, devoted to honoring the statewide Corrections Officers of the Year from past to present. This wall is the only one of its kind and serves as a reminder of the exceptional achievement and value of corrections officers.

MCO is also raising the profile of officers by creating an annual award to be given to an elected official(s) who have exhibited, through their actions, a willingness to promote the corrections profession and stand up for those who perform one of Michigan’s toughest jobs.

The inaugural recipients of the award – Michigan State Representatives Tom Barrett (HD -71) and Ben Frederick (HD -85) – were selected for their advocacy of corrections issues and their inclusion of corrections officers during the state’s annual 9/11 memorial event that recognizes first responders.

“I spent a year of my life deployed to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba where I was a block sergeant, guarding the Taliban and Al Qaeda detainees every day,” Rep. Barrett said. “That experience gave me an appreciation for the challenges that come from working in a corrections environment. And while I lived this life for only one year, many of these dedicated law enforcement professionals do this for an entire career. I am honored to receive this award.”

Michigan House Reps. Tom Barrett (left) and Ben Frederick are the first recipients of the MCO Legislator of the Year award. (Photo/MCO)

Rep. Frederick added, “I appreciate the hard work and dedication our corrections officers display each and every day and am honored to help lift their voices up at the state Capitol.”

It’s up to us as corrections officers and professionals to encourage each other and spread the word on our achievements and awards. If we don’t do it, who will?

About the author
Jeremy Tripp is the director of government and political affairs at Michigan Corrections Organization, a labor union representing 6,200 public corrections and forensic security officers.

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