Inmate suicide affects everyone – even correctional officers

While officers are entrusted with the security and safety of inmates, they are human, too; we must remember that our officers do everything they can to perform their duties to the best of their ability


Keys jingle as the officer gets up to begin his rounds. This is another routine tour that he’s done many times before. He visually checks each cell and looks for signs of life. Through his rounds, he has developed a rapport with the inmates under his supervision. He is an officer that is respected by his peers and the inmate population. He is seen as a professional who is committed to his duties.

As he continues down the tier, his mindset is on high alert. As he walks by cell 16, his heart skips a beat. Directly in front of him, separated by just a few vertical bars, is an inmate with a sheet around his neck. This inmate is propped against the cell bars with one end of a bedsheet tied to his neck and the other end tied to the top of one of the vertical bars. The inmate appears lifeless.

The officer calls the code and the emergency response team arrives. Medical evaluates the inmate and time of death is called. An investigation subsequently follows and, eventually, the prison begins to run as normal. But there is an element that we are forgetting: What happens to the correctional officer who discovered the body? Can he go back to work as usual when he is constantly reminded of the life that was lost? For a man that has defined himself by professionalism and the duties of his job, how does he now see himself? Who cares for him, the individual who will mentally recount over and over the loss of life that occurred on his watch?

(AP Photo/Seth Wenig)
(AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

Everyone’s life has value
While the public's main concern centers around the individual who has chosen to take their own life, rarely does anyone think about the correctional officer who may be mentally scarred by this event. Now, as the finger gets pointed and blame gets tossed around, this correctional officer begins to lose their sense of value. They feel responsible. This scenario can happen to anyone. Correctional officers are responsible for many lives and, during their tours, some inmates will find ways to reach their end goal. Inmates can be resourceful. They will find ways to circumvent the system.

Rules that are set forth by the department can quickly make the correctional officer's tour of duty predictable. These inmates will quickly take advantage of their environment and make use of whatever measures available to produce the negative outcome they want to achieve. In most cases, the troubled inmate has the ability to create the tools necessary by using common household objects. All the inmate has to do is wait for the correctional officer's attention to be diverted. This can easily happen when a correctional officer tours an area where more than a hundred inmates reside.

For those who are reading this that have yet to walk on the frontline, correctional officers are dealing with the unpredictability of human behavior. Training can only provide so much. It cannot cover everything in regards to dealing with the human element. When all security measures are taken and the inmate circumvents said measures, how do we blame the individual, who did what they were supposed to do?

Everyone’s life has value, including the one who stands tall and maintains their sense of professionalism in a world that can, at most times, be unpredictable. Those that are quick to judge must remember to look at the bigger picture, and take all the variables into account before placing blame.

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