2010: The year of the correctional officer
In a year of tightened budges, officer furloughs, and increased media attention, officers stood strong
Editor’s note: This article is part of the 2010 CorrectionsOne End of the Year Report. Please visit the main page for the end of the year report here.
By Barry Evert
Every year I am asked to write about the year prior. Quite honestly, I rarely agree to this because it usually has little training value. This year, though, I have made the exception. 2010 was a lot of things to a lot of people. Overall, probably, it was a rough year for most reading this. 2010 was not the year of the dragon, or the year of the dog; it was the year of the Correctional Officer.
Budget cuts was the song sung from high at almost every capitol building in the country. Politicians proudly paraded themselves as the saviors of the economy as they slashed public safety budgets to new lows. At the same time new spending programs were put into place for everything from the protection of tree frogs to building bridges to nowhere. At the bottom of this pile was corrections. Many police agencies were able to scream loudly enough to get enough funding to keep their departments running, albeit barely. When Corrections agencies made the same call, we were largely ignored.
Many states implemented a “furlough” program, or something similar, that cut the salaries of the lowest paid employees. On top of this, training was cut to an all time low, while the hiring of new officers was frozen. Simple math tells us that it was also time for a whole generation of officers to retire. They have yet to be replaced, so mandatory overtime is the norm. During the build-up of the popularity of crack cocaine in the early 80’s, crime rose to an all time high. Incarceration rates shot through the roof at the same time. This, along with tougher sentencing laws, led to a wave of prison building and hiring. By the early 90’s, most departments had outgrown themselves, and were desperately hiring as many people as they could. Those officers are now due to retire. Few states took this into consideration, so as we entered this year under budget cuts, we were expected to do more with less -- much less.
So was 2010 a loss? Not exactly. Through all of this, the community has learned an important lesson if they choose to look. In almost any other profession, these reductions in pay, along with an increase in danger at the working environment, would have led to catastrophic work stoppages, or large scale protests. But no one walked away from their duties. No one went on strike. And to the best of my knowledge, there were only a few small scale protests by officers. At the end of the day, feeling underappreciated and underpaid, correctional officers punch the clock after protecting society from those they have incarcerated.
With many of the resources cut or gone, we went about our business and did our job. Yes, some mistakes were made. Many were due to a lack of resources or just plain tired officers making mistakes. With fewer resources in place, and with less staff, the average officer worked even harder than usual, and did so at a discounted salary.
No walk-outs, no “blue flu,” no rebellion. I would never have expected less from us as a group, but others are starting to take note. People who have never dealt with corrections are starting to understand our predicament. It was not because we sat on the floor and threw a temper tantrum about our working conditions, but it was through our continued dedication to the safety of the public, regardless of what was thrown at us, that people are starting to take note of us.
2010 was the year of the Correctional Professional. I have never been prouder to be part of a group of people than I am today. I realized this about 6 months ago when I overheard several officers talking. The officers were discussing a major union conference that had just taken place. During this conference, the possibility of striking had come up. It was decided at this conference that the membership of this union could vote to strike if they felt it necessary. The officers were discussing the possibility of a strike. By the time the 5 minute conversation was over, all of the officers walked away agreeing that there was no way they would ever strike, even if it was legal to do so. The reasons ranged from not wanting to leave their brothers and sisters behind, to feeling that they were officers first, union members second. Do you think this conversation would have been the same had it been on the floor of a factory?
This sentiment quickly spread throughout the state, and it was made clear to this union that striking is not now, and never will be an option; it would be better to resign. This came out of the mouths of officers who, like me, had suffered a 15% pay reduction, an increase in their medical payments, and an increase in retirement contributions. Many officers have lost their homes, or have had members in their family, or themselves, take on another job. Through it all they are still dedicated.
This is why this has been the year of the Correctional Officer. Although this has been a tough year, and things are not looking any better for next year, people on the outside are getting to see us for who we really are. How many times have we said: “If people only knew what we went through.” The people are listening, so speak wisely and keep your head up. Don’t ever forget why you wear that uniform, and continue to be the proud, dedicated officers we know you can be.
So I raise my glass as we pass through the last part of this year, to all of those we lost this year. To all of our brothers and sisters who have made the ultimate sacrifice: You are not forgotten. To all of us who continue to protect, I say: Bravo!
The people are finally starting to listen. Make sure you are saying the right things.
Be safe out there folks, and party sanely.