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State recognizes often overlooked correctional officers this week

There's more to the job than simply guarding inmates
Posted at 6:10 AM, May 08, 2021

(WSYM) — This week the governor issued a proclamation declaring the first week of May Correctional Officer Week in Michigan. The job is difficult and often thankless, but also rewarding.

“I get to work with great individuals,” said Sgt. Ryan Dock, a Kent County correctional officer. “We're a huge team inside of there; we're big family inside of there when stuff goes crazy. And we all come together to solve the problem and work together.”

Sergeant Dock has been with the department for 13 years after graduating with a criminal justice degree from Grand Valley State University. He says beyond the badges and uniforms usually associated with corrections, there’s a large range of roles played by the Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC) staff.

“You can be a part of our cell extraction team, you can be a part of our dive team, our mounted unit, our mobile field force,” he said. “It’s expanded greatly since I started here, the opportunities that we have within the jail.”

Chris Gautz, spokesman for the MDOC says each jail and prison is like a city equipped to handle the needs of both inmates and employees.

“We have a police force, which you would consider the, you know, the corrections officers,” he said. “Every prison has its infirmary, so there's a hospital, we have a school building, so there are teachers, there are principals; we have mental health services, so there are psychiatrists.”

Corrections work consistently ranks as one of the most stressful jobs in the nation, and Gautz says MDOC has taken a look more recently at offering resources to their employees.

Recently, MDOC formed the Wellness Unit, a team of mental health professionals to help correctional officers, including parole and probation, and other corrections staff--even their families.

“We truly, truly recognize that these jobs have a mental strain that can produce trauma,” said Gautz. “These corrections officers see things and deal with things that people in their regular jobs don't see every day and, in some cases, probably can't even imagine.”

About 32,000 people are incarcerated in Michigan and thousands more are on parole or probation. Altogether, about 1% of the Michigan population is in the care of MDOC employees.

“You get to know them, they know you, they respect you, you respect them, you gain rapport with them. You're in there with them 12 hours a day,” said Sergeant Dock. “You want to be firm, fair and consistent with everyone while you're working inside the facility.”

Because of a prison boom at the time, there was a massive hiring streak for correctional officers in the 1980s. Now, those officers are ready to retire, and MDOC is looking for the next wave.

They run quarterly academies and are currently training 180 recruits, with hopes to train 200 next quarter. If you want to apply, click here.