The following article originally appeared on CorrectionsOne, the most comprehensive and trusted online destination for correctional professionals nationwide, and is reprinted by permission of the CorrectionsOne editorial team. Visit www.CorrectionsOne.com to access news, commentary, education information, and training resources that help the corrections community.
It’s ‘correctional officer,’ not ‘prison guard’
Corrections has long since evolved from simply locking a bad guy up and throwing away the key; here’s why you should address these professionals as correctional officers, not guards
In our attempt to move forward, we, who reside within the shadows of law enforcement, must remove the primitive perspective of who we are and bring to light what we have become. In accordance with this attempt, we need to remind the public that, within our progression, we have embraced the title of correctional officer as a way to signify our personal evolution, our personal sacrifices, and our permanent place in the law enforcement community. When the public refers to us as ‘guards,’ it simplifies our profession, set us back, and, most importantly, retards our progression. Making note of our progression is paramount because it will help lead to changes that will aid in our productive growth and limit those changes that originate from a primitive mindset.
When the public decides to intervene and implement changes, their perspective is limited to past practices that have been long removed from what we, in corrections, have become. These primitive changes connect us with the word ‘guard’ and, with that definition in mind, our evolution becomes nonexistent. By reminding the public that we are correctional officers, sworn to protect and serve, we are giving the public the opportunity to see us in a new light. The word ‘guard’ has shackled us long enough. It is time for us to break free from those shackles and embrace who we are, as correctional officers, on a national level.
I was once asked by a major network to define what it is like behind the walls in which we are employed. The question was meant as a way for me to formulate an answer that can best paint a picture of what it is like to work in corrections. This was an opportunity to provide the world with a look that doesn’t just connect the public to what we do, but also connects us, as correctional professionals, to the completed circle of law enforcement. In order to accomplish this task, I made reference to the recent attacks on police that was immediately put into the public’s view by the media. I used those attacks as a way to compare what is made public to what lies deep within the shadows.
This was an effort to paint a vivid picture of our world by using colors that the public already knows. The picture was painted and no effort was made to contest the painting that combined both worlds. This showcases our connection to law enforcement and the belief that the struggle to overcome evil exists not only on the streets but behind the wall as well. Our right to defend and gain ground is provided to us by the laws of the state that we are sworn to uphold. If we defend aggression and bring forth order, we no longer remain idle and stand ‘guard’ in a world that doesn’t move, but, rather, we are officers that reside in a world that is rapid and ever-changing. With that in mind, we must remain fluid and with that fluidity comes our evolution from ‘guard’ to correctional officer.
Corrections is about rehabilitation. In essence, we strive for change and provide hope in a world that would prefer chaos and anarchy. Within the walls, lies a community founded on the need for change. Within that foundation, centered at the core for personal growth and development, stand those who fight for change by enforcing the laws that govern their state.
As law enforcement professional, who do more than stand idle, maintaining safety is our number one concern and this can only occur when we limit the threat from within. Noticed I used the word ‘limit,’ and not ‘eliminate.’ I chose the word limit because, in our environment, the threat will always exist. All we can do is safely remove the threat and provide an environment that is conducive to growth and development. Once that threat no longer exists, we can then move forward and help that individual adjust to the changes they need to make so they can safely live with others. Is this not the practice that defines our justice system? A threat to the public gets removed from society and placed into the confines of the correctional system where efforts are made to produce an individual who now has respect for the moral fabric of our society.
This article is in no way an attempt to discredit those who have the title of guard. My argument stems solely from the verb ‘guard’ as a term that defines what we do. We are active in a community that is forever changing. We are more than just the “keepers of the kept.”
We are correctional officers and, with that title, we have secured our place in law enforcement and we deserve the same benefits and recognition as our brothers and sisters on the streets.