When it comes to jail and correctional work, the demands made of people could hardly be more intense.
Correctional officers (they are not “guards,” by the way) have to be 100% safety-aware and 100% open to the idea that the person they’re interacting with is a human being, too. They operate within these two very different realities all the time.
Who is that perfect? Or at least, who can bring that to work every day — a willingness and commitment to being fair, just, honest, and human and also to be ready for anything. Any unexpected behavior from people in a wide spectrum: messed up, addicted, unlucky, made a bad/impulsive decision . . . to the manipulative, assaultive, or weaponized and willing to hurt themselves or others.
Are officers’ instincts right most of the time? Those instincts need to be honed through classroom learning, physical skills training, peer-to-peer teaching, supervisor coaching, and sheer experience.
Some get cynical. Some get hurt or broken. Some get out. Turnover is high. Stress can be excruciating. Families suffer, too.
It’s impressive that some people can keep doing the job for years. What are the characteristics of those who can do the job a long time without getting unhealthy mentally, emotionally, spiritually, or physically? Can these qualities be trained and developed?
Possibly these are often the people who get promoted away from inmate supervision. Possibly some officers make a career choice to stay longer on the housing unit level and keep working to make a one-on-one difference where they can. Possibly some agencies can find more funding to keep good officers in place. (Maybe that statement gets a laugh because of tight budgets.)
It’s a weighty job, and it gets heavier every time the news tells us about another serious, preventable incident.
Not every inmate is dangerous or a hopeless case. Not every officer is waiting for an opening to use inappropriate force. Understanding and respect and common sense are needed, now as always.