Prisons Struggle to Recruit Corrections Officers

The job of a corrections officer is not an easy one. Maybe that’s why the number of people working in corrections has dropped significantly over the past 20 years.

According to the current fact sheet found on the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision website, the number of Corrections Officers in December 1999 was 22,112. As of November 1st 2019 the population has dropped to 19,040. That is a 13.9% decrease.

It may seem like only a small percentage but people working in the field say it’s an issue much bigger than that.

“Our prisons are short staffed.” corrections officer Sean McKiben said. “There’s not enough people to cover shifts. Many people are forced to work eight more hours after already working 16 hours. Also the inmate population is not decreasing. We absolutely need more people to take the exams.”

One of the exams McKiben is referring to is the Civil Service Exam. The DOCCS recently announced they would no longer require applicants to take this exam, in hopes that one less hoop to jump through might attract more applicants.

“The process is long and hard.” corrections officer Don Thorton said. “There’s still a physical you must pass, a fitness exam, a very thorough background check and a 1,600 question psych exam which, on average, 30 percent of people don’t pass.”

People seeking to become corrections officers then go to the New York State Correctional Services Training Academy for about eight weeks of training.

“Most either quit halfway through the academy or after a year of working in the prisons.” Thorton said. “Just getting through training is a stressful and demanding process. Maybe that is what makes people un-attracted to the job.”

Once you get the job, it’s not very glamorous either.

“It’s a thankless job.” said McKiben, “People look down on COs. They think we don’t do anything worthwhile.”

Thorton agreed saying, “You get little recognition. The public sees you as the bad guy.”

So if it’s not so great, then why should people want to do the job?

“I knew I wanted to serve the community and this job is the best way for me to help keep society safe.” explained Thorton. “The benefits are great too. You get great Health insurance, an awesome retirement plan and very generous time off which is important for your mental health.”

McKiben agreed.

“Stepping through those prison gates every day is not an easy thing to do,” he said. “This job is stressful and dangerous and it will change you.”

McKiben said that while the job is difficult it can also be rewarding.

“If you want a brotherhood that will always have your back and a decent paying job that you’re guaranteed work, then this is the job for you.”

Still, anyone looking to get into the field should consider all the challenges, Thorton said.

McKiben and Thorton agree that being a Corrections Officer is not an easy job but it is something you can be proud of. So why should you consider this job?

“It gives you the opportunity to serve your community and help keep people safe,” Thorton said. “Even if you don’t get publicly recognized for it, what more thanks do you need than knowing you’ve had a hand in protecting your community.”

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