I’m writing today to pay tribute to people who rarely get mentioned – all prison and jail employees. As I prepared this Correctional Workers’ Week tribute, I learned of prison Sgt. Meggan Callahan’s untimely death at the Bertie (North Carolina) Correctional Institution. Her tragic death reminds us all of the dangers and challenges corrections department employees face daily. Unfortunately, The News and Observer characterized Ms. Callahan as a prison “guard.” There is nothing further from the truth, correctional and detention officers are much more than “guards.” But this is a discussion for another time.
The tragic death of Ms. Callahan, highlights the day to day job thousands of correctional workers face every day. It should give us pause to pay tribute to all who work in prisons and jails.
First, let’s say thanks to those who maintain the facilities. These workers, who do everything from unplugging pipes, electrical repairs, replacing security features, maintaining communications systems, and much more. They work in some of the most trying circumstances, to keep prisons operating, often on a shoestring budget, but with a ton of regulatory oversight.
Just as important are the food service workers. A place where you rarely make everyone happy – except on fried chicken day. A place where you must meet the differing dietary restrictions of many different religions; a dangerous place where tool control and key control is a must.
Information technology has taken a more important part in the daily life inside a prison institution. Remember, most of the prison and jail facilities in this country were built long before IT was even a blip. Now information technology touches everything, from computerized doors; phone systems; CCTV; electronic medical records; and many things in between. The IT people have to know the latest technology and manage with additional restrictions of keeping everything secure from intrusion.
Let’s not forget the educators working inside prisons. They have the responsibility for getting prisoners who will be released ready for the “outside” world. Despite the fact a large number of released prisoners get re-arrested. In 1955, the Warden at Leavenworth said, “we do a pretty good job getting them ready for release, but once they are out in the community we are lacking.” And 62 years later, we still have a long way to go.
Finally, we need to highlight the work of administrative support professionals. These men and women manage the mountains of information generated on each and every offender. When I started my career in the early 1970s, the typewriter that had an ability to correct mistakes was a big deal. Now we have multiple computer programs, electronic records and analytical data. Our ability to create, store and quickly search data has become more sophisticated.
All of this to say there are a whole lot of people, and many I did not mention, who work daily in our prisons and jails to keep society safe while providing those offenders who desire an opportunity to self-betterment. They do so day in and day out, 24-7, 365, without much fanfare, but with a duty and devotion unparalleled by many. These are people who focus on people; be they inside, or outside, the fence.