Inside Job: Working in Corrections

By Keith Lopez

Christopher Jackson, 24, is a corrections officer at Bedford Hills Correctional Facility. Jackson hoped for a career in law enforcement and says he thought correction would be a good stepping stone.

The New York City Department of Correction (DOC)  manages 11 facilities, including Bedford Hill Correctional Facility, New York State’s only female maximum security facility. The agency says it provides three C’s for inmates: care, custody, and control. Becoming a correctional officer requires a high school diploma or a general equivalency diploma (GED) and the Corrections Officer Exam that is administered by the DOC. The exam is a multiple choice test. It covers math, language and reading comprehension, while also testing communication and interpersonal communication skills. Aspiring correctional officers are required to pass the exam with a score of 70 or higher.

“You’ve got to speak to a psychiatrist, if everything checks out clean, you have to do another written exam,” said Jackson. “They just want to make sure that you’re mentally stable. They ask you questions like ‘Have you ever used a gun before? Have you ever been in trouble with the law before?’”

The next step is the Correction Academy, a 15-week program which trains officers in defensive tactics, firearms training and first aid.  They also are trained in “inmate disciplinary procedures” and how to prevent workplace violence.

Jackson says one of the most stressful aspects of working at Bedford Hills Correctional Facility is being disconnected from the outside world.  “The last three days, I did 16-hour shifts.” During these shifts, there are no electronics allowed. “It’s just you and the inmates, that’s it.”

A shift at Bedford Hills starts with a head count of inmates. According to Jackson, Bedford Hills can hold up to 72 inmates per unit. “You have to do a count and make sure you have all 72 inmates,” he said. Inmates must be woken and ready for breakfast at 7:20 a.m.

Consequences for inmates that fail to comply with the rules start with correctional officers writing them up in a misbehavior report. Eventually this can turn into revoking privileges, such as phone calls and commissary. Corrections officers can be fined if they curse at the inmates, or they might be given a “walk out,” temporary leave without pay, for excessive use of force.

According to Jackson, inmates show more respect to correctional officers that are more relatable. He said he is from the same neighborhoods where many of the inmates grew up. “If you know the struggle that they know, they have a little more respect for you,” said Jackson. As a result, he said, they are more willing to come to and speak about problems they are facing. This doesn’t mean officers should be too friendly with the inmates, said Jackson, but just have a “decent rapport” with boundaries.

Jackson says inmates tend to take out their frustrations on correctional officers who aren’t relatable and that is often how heated exchanges are ignited. When an inmate doesn’t have respect for a correctional officer, inmates often will resist instructions.  “You be like ‘Listen you got to go and clean up over there,’” said Jackson.  And the inmate might reply “Nah, I’m not doing that.”

In an article, “‘Orange’ uncorked: How did we become the bad guys?” seasoned corrections officer Harriet Fox says she believes correctional officers are unfairly treated in the media which portray correctional officers as “lazy, crooked, overpaid, system-milking, power hungry, hardened, and desensitized.”  Jackson agrees with Harriet Fox’s assessment. Correction officers are often portrayed as misusing their power, he said, as abusing inmates or having sex with them, which he added was actually rape as they can’t consent to sex in their current situation.

Having thick skin helps in corrections work says Jackson. “The majority of us just want to do our time and go home back to our families. You have to remember they’re not there for helping old ladies across the street. They’re there for breaking rules.” Despite the risky situations the job brings, Jackson said he is happy with his decision to become a correctional officer. “I learn a lot behind the gate. You just have to be comfortable with taking that risk every day.”



















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