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Day in the Life – Corrections Officer: A day in a living unit

January 15, 2020

By Rachel Noll

DOC Communications

words cedar creek on brick wall

Entrance sign at Cedar Creek Corrections Center (Department of Corrections Photo)

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Note: As the 2020 legislative session begins, Corrections is supporting the Governor’s $92 million supplemental budget proposal for the agency, part of which includes funding for additional staffing (pdf) in the correctional facilities to reduce overtime and improve prison safety. The new “Day in the Life” series helps bring these requests to life by sharing the work employees do every day.

Our differences are what make us unique as a team. To be a highly functioning team; it helps to try to understand all aspects of that team so as to perform as efficiently as possible.

As a Correctional Worker Core (CWC) trained staff member, I was allowed to job shadow a few corrections officers to write about -- A Day in the Life.

The first job shadow was in Cedar Creek Corrections Center (CCCC) Cascade living unit on second shift following Correctional Officer Jamaal Hampton.

From the start, I was impressed with how professional the staff were throughout the day. My presence was a disruption to their environment, and yet they handled each potential issue professionally and swiftly. There are unexpected duties that occur, which seemed administrative in nature - trying to balance a multitude of tasks like hole-punching new gate cards, with counts and cell searches, seemed like an odd mix. Yet, as was pointed out, it is just part of the job.

When searching cells in CWC, the experience is entirely different from actually searching a cell in the moment. When incarcerated individuals are in the living unit and moving around, a different challenge arises. Officer Hampton pointed that out with the way I was searching the cell as my back was to the door.

Some of these guys “are watching everything you’re doing right now,” he said, “If you are in the unit, every day especially, they’re going to watch to see how you search.” That was a little bit surprising. I knew better than to stand there with my back to the door, but I needed that reminder to be sure I was paying attention to what was going on.

Following Officer Hampton around shed light on the amount of work that goes into supervising a living unit. I noticed that he seemed to know each individual and little details about them -- the fact that one individual is particularly good at beading, and another who is releasing soon is starting to make plans for his release. One individual shouted about football across the walkway during movement. Officer Hampton responded casually, but then mentioned to me privately that this actually prompted a red flag. According to Officer Hampton, this individual is known for creating distractions during busier periods of the day.

Officer Hampton pointed out when working in a unit every day, you get to know the people there. What their schedule is like, what their baseline is. These things are important for knowing when something about the unit is “off baseline” or when something might happen. Terms that Corrections staff learn in training, but are different when actually put to practice.

I asked Officer Hampton what the hardest thing about his job is, he explained that no matter how thorough training and DOC policies might be, they cannot possibly cover everything necessary to handle a living unit, especially at a minimum security facility. Although tactical verbal skills are great resources, and definitely something he utilizes, not everyone communicates the same way. Some people respond better to colloquial terms, whereas speech that is more formal may appear to them as condescension. Officer Hampton stated, “Knowing the individual's baseline and how they interact is a really important part of the job.”

Throughout the day, one message was clear – it is important to not underestimate a “camp,” just because of its minimum-security ranking. In fact, when working in a minimum-security facility, you are in much closer proximity to individuals on a regular basis. In minimum-security facilities, the incarcerated individuals have four years or less on their sentence, however, this does not mean that there are not dangerous people there.

Because of this, Officer Hampton stressed how important it is to be there for your team. The support you give each other is imperative, and knowing they have your back and you have theirs contributes to the safety and security of the facility. And when asked about what he found most motivating about his job – “when things work out the way they’re supposed to, and everyone gets to go home.”

Learn more about the Department of Corrections’ budget requests and legislation on our website. There you’ll find fact sheets, legislative presentations, upcoming hearings and more!