Dave Mueller: Corrections officers are life-savers, too
May 4-10 was National Correctional Officers' Week, established to honor the men and women who work in our country's jails and prisons.
The staff of the Olmsted County Adult Detention Center have built a proud tradition of service to the people of Olmsted County. This opportunity to raise awareness about the important work detention staff do follows Internet career site CareerCast's release of its annual ranking of the "Best and Worst Jobs for 2014." The job of a correctional officer was listed as the 10th-worst, with job stress being a major factor in the rating. Another job on the "worst" list was firefighter, at No. 8.
The article shared that a lot of people who were in one of these jobs say they love their job and wouldn't have it any other way. I think we see that especially for the firefighters because they put their lives on the line and also receive lots of positive feedback from the public for the job they do.
The job of a correctional officer doesn't receive that same type of positive reinforcement because, in many ways, their work is less publicly visible, given it occurs inside jail and prison walls.
Detention deputies manage housing units where they supervise up to 48 detainees. Detainees with mental health issues make up more than 30 percent of our population inside the Olmsted County Adult Detention Center. Although we screen for mental health issues and suicidal tendencies, there is often no alternative placement for individuals who have committed serious crimes.
A significant part of a detention deputy's duties is to verify the well-being of each detainee housed in our facility at least once every 30 minutes. Individuals who have been identified as being at a higher risk of self-harm are checked every 15 minutes, and some are even monitored continuously.
On April 29, we held our Olmsted County Sheriff's Office Awards Ceremony. Four detention deputies — Joe Borchardt, Jenny Strader, Vicki Jo Thiesse and Rick Trogstad — received "Life Saving Awards" in special recognition of stopping detainees from committing suicide. Three detention deputies — Jessika Stucky, Dean Pike and Brady Nelson — each received "Letters of Recognition" for their assistance in responding to these events.
These four incidents happened from November 2013 through March 2014. Each of these incidents involved different detainees who attempted to hang themselves inside their cells while using sheets or blankets as nooses. Of the four people that were saved, one thanked the deputy who saved him, and another told the deputy "He stopped him too quick."
The stress doesn't go away for our detention staff as new people replace the ones that leave our facility. Our focus on direct supervision principles, best practices and Department of Correction rules is and has been a high priority for all of our staff. Keeping order, preventing assaults and doing work to change future behavior are all on the task list for our staff. They have a very tough job, and they do their work very well every day.
Saving another human being's life is one of the greatest accomplishments I believe anyone can do. I want to publicly congratulate each of the deputies recognized above and to all of the others that work in the corrections field. We appreciate the work you do.
Dave Mueller is the Olmsted County sheriff.