Some people in this world are born to do unpleasant jobs for us. The brave men and women who devote their careers to the field of corrections are these kinds of people.

Most people do not give a moment’s thought to the servants to public safety who devote their careers to the field of corrections. Every day correctional workers perform a critical service, and most often carried out inside the secured perimeter of a correctional institution. Yet, they deserve the thanks of all Hoosiers.

The image of corrections is too often distorted by the engrained stereotypes, the kind we see on television, in movies, and in books.

What so often makes the news is the rare correctional employee fired for misconduct such as trafficking drugs to an offender. But this kind of bad employee is the exception to the rule, and is no more reflective of the hard working public servants that routinely suit up in corrections, than is the person convicted of arson representative of the community in which he lived. The fact that the department continually polices for staff misconduct, and removes those that cross the line, is a testament to the department’s strong commitment to a high level of professionalism for those who protect us from persons convicted of serious crimes.

As we observe Correctional Worker’s Week in Indiana (May 5-11), I call upon your readers, and all citizens of Indiana, to take the time to appreciate those who work day in and day out, keeping the most dangerous of our people locked up so they are unable to hurt others again. Correctional workers interact with convicted felons, trying to get these otherwise damned individuals to understand how they got to prison, and why they must accept a new pro-social and productive way of life if they are ever to regain the public’s trust. Certainly this must be one of the hardest, yet most noble pursuits in which any human can engage. Yet their salaries and benefits still do not reflect the high risk duties correctional employees fulfill each day, and they receive virtually no public recognition for the amazing work they do.

Take some time to reflect on the correctional officer who cannot celebrate Christmas morning with her children because the prison in which she works must remain fully operational 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Consider what its like to be the new employee, making his first rounds on the night shift inside a prison dormitory housing unit. Do not forget the substance abuse treatment provider that never loses hope, trying to inject some wisdom and self-respect into each juvenile. Do not minimize the role of other correctional workers, such as physical plant maintenance staff, classification specialists, administrative assistants, educators, counselors, and so many others. Then there are the facility superintendents who are never able to sleep as soundly as the rest of us, always wondering if there is more they could do to ensure a smooth running facility.

I am very proud of the 7,835 men and women who work for the Indiana Department of Correction. I am also impressed by the hundreds of correctional staff who work in Indiana’s county jails. The next time you see that Department of Correction patch on the jacket of the person fueling up next to you at the gas station, extend your hand to them and let them know that you appreciate the work they do protecting you and your family. When you drive past a facility capped in razor wire, do not gawk at its harshness, but appreciate the fact it exists, and reflect upon those who work inside, and give credibility to Indiana’s system of criminal justice.

J. David Donahue is commissioner of the Indiana Department of Correction.

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