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EDITORIAL: Corrections officers face daily challenges; they’re unsung heroes

Out of sight, out of mind.

That’s how a Facebook post by the Park County Sheriff’s Office describes many people’s concept of locking criminals behind bars in prisons and jails.

But, the Sheriff’s Office notes, that approach “will never give the community an accurate reflection of jail and what kind of mistreatment deputies may endure on a daily basis.”

The public often forgets the corrections officers who spend their working lives keeping order in those prisons and jails, keeping inmates out of society, protecting inmates from themselves and others, and enduring insults and abuse that most people couldn’t imagine or tolerate.

Correctional employees face risks and dangers daily, including violence and threats to emotional and physical health, from prisoners who find them convenient victims on which to focus their grudges and ill will.   

A particularly vile example recently came to light when a Cody inmate was imprisoned for eight to 10 years for trying to infect Deputy Clayton Creel with hepatitis C by throwing a cup of his own body fluids at the deputy’s face.

But for the most part, that mistreatment happens without the public ever noticing. Most law enforcement officers perform their duties out on the streets and in front of the public, so their actions are often observed.

Not so corrections officers, whose dedication and heroism take place behind fortified walls.

In a January 2013 Corrections.com article, Gerard J. Horgan, superintendent at Suffolk County House of Correction in Boston, states, “[Correction] officers rarely have a respite from the men and women who have been convicted of a crime and often resent the fact that they are being told when to get up, when to eat, what to eat and when to sleep. These offenders have had their freedom taken away from them due to their actions, and the officers are the face of the system that prevents them from being able to go home.”

Despite that, corrections officers work to treat all inmates with dignity while keeping order — stopping assaults, preventing inmate suicides and much more. But those acts of duty and bravery usually go unnoticed; they are not witnessed by the public, nor are they reported in the daily news.

“CO’s make a difference in our society and are the unsung heroes of law enforcement,” Horgan wrote. “There is an expression that we use in our county: A good day is a day when nothing bad happens.”

The Park County Sheriff’s Office’s post says the hazards faced by corrections deputies “all blend into one concern — coming home safely after the end of the shift and try to normalize their lives with their family and friends who support them through severe trials and tribulations that will never be understood unless you walked these tough beats inside the penitentiaries or jails.”

The Sheriff’s Office says that its deputies “accept the inherent risks involved with doing their jobs and they continue to perform their duties with dedication and professionalism.”

It takes a remarkable level of commitment to have urine, blood and spit thrown in your face — as deputy Creel had to endure — and then stick with that profession.

We hope the public takes a more active notice of the devotion to duty and sacrifices made daily on society’s behalf by dedicated corrections officers.

Let’s make a thankless job less thankless.

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