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5 myths about corrections the public believe are true

It would be great if correctional officers could tell their story and permanently remove myths that plague the profession


Let’s be honest, the public has no idea what goes on behind the wall. The work of correctional professionals is hidden from public view and, unfortunately, the media twists reality into stories solely meant to build ratings. 

So in an effort to educate the public about the correctional profession, I asked those in the field: “What are some of the myths about corrections the public believe to be true?” Here’s what they had to say:

1. Administrative segregation / solitary confinement is not needed. It’s torture!

It would be great if we could permanently remove the myths that have plagued the corrections profession. (Photo/Pixaby)
It would be great if we could permanently remove the myths that have plagued the corrections profession. (Photo/Pixaby)

“Inmates are not simply thrown in segregation at the whim of the officer. Every inmate in segregation status has earned their way into that status by their misbehavior,” said Captain Keith Hellwig of the Wisconsin DOC, and author of "No Place Like Home."

Inmates who are placed in solitary or administrative segregation are not victims of the system, rather they are the aggressors who have committed actions that warrant their removal from general population. If the public continues to see the inmates as victims, then the misdeeds of the few will go unpunished and the safety of the facility will be in jeopardy. 

As for torture, inmates in solitary or administrative segregation are visited daily by health care providers and provided with constant programming that aids in rehabilitation.

2. The media always portrays the truth

“Prisons are not what is portrayed by the media. Most people in the 'freeworld' have no idea how manipulative and deceitful some of these inmates are, even with their own families. There are many opportunities for inmates to receive skills and enroll in rehabilitative programs that can improve their present and future. They just need to make the effort and decision that they want a better life,” said Eva Shiver, Program Supervisor, Department of Criminal Justice.

Corrections has evolved and rehabilitation has become the main focus. There are many departments within corrections that devote their expertise to rehabilitation, such as mental health, education, social services, drug treatment counselors and religious services. But in order for true rehabilitation to occur, those in need must make the effort. True change can only occur when the inmate stops blaming others and begins taking personal responsibility for their actions.

3. To relate to an inmate, an individual has to go down to their level

Some would say that to properly relate to an inmate, you have to “get down on his/her level.” I would disagree. Part of the “correcting” of corrections is modeling positive behavior and bringing them up to our level. That thought is from David Wakefield, retired DOC Deputy Secretary.

Rehabilitation builds on correcting past behaviors and moving the inmate forward. Even though there is a slight emphasis on the past, rehabilitation is more about preparing the inmate for tomorrow. 

4. Correctional officers are uneducated

I think the public thinks correctional officers are dumb brutes serving a baby sitting custodial function. The truth is correctional officers are highly trained to deal with complex and dangerous situations every shift they work. The danger, challenges and stress are all too real, says Russell Hamilton, retired Sergeant, California Department of Corrections.

The public still sees correctional officers as knuckle draggers who remain idle and just turn keys. This perception is far from the truth. Correctional officers are law enforcement professionals who wear many hats, but most important, they enforce the rules and regulations of the state in which they serve. They are true law enforcement professionals and a major key to all the rehabilitative efforts that occur behind the wall. 

5. All correctional officers are corrupt

“The public has accused correctional officers as being corrupt and involved in a major part of the prison contraband problem. The truth is, a very small percentage of officers engage in improper conduct. The media in most cases only reports on the bad apples and not the life saving, honest, hard working officers protecting the inmates, prison staff and the community,” said CorrectionsOne Columnist Gary York.

Unfortunately, the public has a habit of generalizing the negative actions of one individual and using it as a way to define the whole profession. Corrections is not defined by the negative actions of one, but rather the heroic efforts of many. Corrections is an honorable profession and should be given the respect it deserves. 

Closing

Behind the wall, there are many who dedicate their lives to protect and serve the public. They are true professionals and deserve our respect. Right now, corrections is judged by the misinformed. Those who place judgement are far removed from the honest and professional work that resides behind the wall. It would be great if corrections could tell their story and permanently remove the myths that have plagued their profession.

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