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Correction officers are the forgotten cops Another voice / Coping with prison population

What would the average citizen say if it were proposed that police officers be assigned a neighborhood inhabited by no one but criminals, and that those officers would do unarmed patrol on foot and be heavily outnumbered?

I'll bet the overwhelming response would be that these officers would have to be crazy to take these jobs.

However, as you read this, these situations are happening in all areas of our country. Correction officers (not guards) are working in minimum-, medium- and maximum-security correctional facilities doing just that.

These officers are empowered to enforce the penal laws and the rules and regulations of the facility. In short, they are cops; their beat is totally inhabited by convicted felons, people who tend to break laws and rules and regulations. The officers are outnumbered as much as 50-to-1 at various times each workday. Contrary to belief, they work without a sidearm. In short, their necks are on the line every minute of every day.

A correctional facility is a very misunderstood environment. The average person has little knowledge of its workings. Society sends its criminals there and, as time passes, each criminal's crime fades from our memory until the collective prison population becomes hordes of bad people being warehoused away from society in a place where they cannot cause further harm.

The thought is that the prison inmates cease to be a problem when incarcerated. But correctional facilities are full of violence perpetuated by the prison population against the prison population and the facility staff. Felonies are committed daily but are rarely reported. They are called unusual incidents and rarely result in criminal prosecution. Discipline is handled internally, and as a rule, the public is rarely informed of these crimes.

In the course of maintaining order, many correction officers have endured the humiliation of having urine and feces thrown at and on them.

Officers have been kicked, bitten, stabbed and slashed with homemade weapons, taken hostage, murdered and even raped. All while on duty and legally mandated to maintain their professional composure and refrain from any retaliation, which could be the basis for dismissal from service.

In addition to these obvious dangers, correction officers face hidden dangers in the form of AIDs, tuberculosis, hepatitis and other transmittable diseases.

Courts are now imposing longer sentences and the prison populations are growing far beyond the system's designated capacity. Governments everywhere are putting more police on the streets, but they are cutting police in the prisons, where violence reigns, jeopardizing all those behind the walls.

Although you will never see them on "Cops," they are law enforcement professionals. They are the forgotten cops, hidden from public view, doing a dangerous job, hoping someday to receive respect from the public. They silently serve.

Richard Kozlowski of Friendship is a retired correction officer.

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