Do more to ensure safety of corrections staff at Monroe

As we give thanks this holiday season, we must not forget to honor the sacrifice of the men and women who put their lives on the line every day to serve and protect our communities.

While most of us will be spending the holidays with our families, thousands of correctional employees, police officers, military personnel, and other first responders throughout our region will miss celebrations with their loved ones.

They will be on duty, fulfilling their responsibility to keep the public safe.

As a society, we don’t do enough to recognize the men and women who devote their lives to protecting the public. It is only when tragedy strikes — like the horrifying attacks in Paris or San Bernardino — that the true value of public safety work is recognized.

Unlike most public service agencies, our prisons and police departments do not close over the holidays. The work of our correctional and patrol officers and the vast network of personnel supporting them does not cease.

Work does not “slow down” for police officers, firefighters and 911 dispatchers between Christmas and New Year’s. On the contrary, accidents occur more frequently and theft and property crime tend to increase.

In our state’s prisons, staff are asked to oversee special holiday activities for the inmates while the Department of Corrections does little to recognize the sacrifice of its own employees.

That dynamic needs to change. We must educate the public and our elected officials about the value of corrections’ work and the dangerous reality of working inside a prison.

That reality reared up again recently at the Monroe Correctional Complex when an inmate brutally assaulted a male and female officer in the prison dining hall. Both officers were taken to the hospital, treated and released.

This type of incident occurs far more frequently than people realize. Dozens of state correctional employees are assaulted every year. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, correctional officers have one of the highest rates of non-fatal, work-related injuries. Many miss months of employment recovering from injuries sustained when they are on duty.

The two officers who were assaulted in the Monroe prison incident will now spend this holiday season, and perhaps longer, recovering from the attack.

Although we may not be able to completely stamp out assaults on prison staff, we can prioritize staff safety in our state. We can do this by ensuring adequate staffing levels, segregating repeat offenders, eliminating custody overrides, and providing proper training.

Another sensible solution is to extend assault benefits for prison staff who are attacked while on the job. This coming legislative session in Olympia, state correctional employees will be urging the Legislature to do just that.

The holidays are a time to give thanks. As we celebrate with our friends and families, we must also remember to express our gratitude for the service, dedication and sacrifice of the men and women who risk their lives to keep all of us safe.

John Scearcy is the principal officer at Teamsters Local 117. Teamsters Local 117 represents approximately 5,600 employees at the Department of Corrections and several hundred law enforcement personnel statewide.

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