REED CITY — According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are almost 500,000 people working in correctional facilities in the U.S. and the Osceola County Sheriff’s Office recognized its detention deputies during National Corrections Officers and Employees’ Week, which ran from May 7 to 13.
President Ronald Reagan designated the week to honor the correctional officers who put their lives on the line daily to safeguard and protect inmates but what is the job of a corrections officer like?
For Osceola County Corrections officer Sergeant Joel Benson, who’s worked in corrections for the last 17 years, he said every day brings something different.
Benson said working in a jail is not like the way that it’s portrayed in media and has changed over the years.
Benson said the public perception of corrections officers is still informed by portrayals in old TV shows, and that the goes beyond just being a “turn-key.”
In the past, police officers and sheriffs carried out most of the responsibilities associated with running a jail, but today that’s different.
In addition to booking, transporting and supervising prisoners and handling legal requests, corrections officers are also trained in medical response and mental health support.
All that training and the demands of the job selects for a specific mindset, Benson said.
“We’re in the people business,” he said. “You’ve got to know how to communicate with people.”
The Osceola County Sheriff’s Office can hold around 77 inmates. While not always at capacity, it does mean that the around 14 corrections officers are regularly outnumbered.
Among more serious offenders going through the system, Benson said others are serving brief periods of time for less serious crimes such as unpaid traffic tickets and minors in possession, so he tries to be empathetic with everyone.
“(Inmates) are just like you and me, they just made a poor choice,” he said. “I don’t try to figure out why they’re here. I could care less why they’re here, I just know the courts have said they’re supposed to be here but we’re going to treat you with respect, we’re going to make sure they’re taken care of and when it comes time for them to leave, their out the door.”
But the people business breeds a lot of personalities and that means he has to be able to respond to anything.
“We deal with different personalities and you never know from one day to the next or minute to the next,” he said.
Benson related the story of an inmate who was behaving normally when they arrived and then lashed out a moment later.
“People don’t like to be told what to do all the time, especially in a controlled setting,” he said.
This can sometimes create a stressful work environment, but Benson said his team form a reliable support network.
“You can’t come to work every day and be chipper and have a smile on your face,” he said. “My partners they pull me in sometimes just like I pull them in. We take care of each other. We don’t judge. We have an outstanding group here.”