It’s a career many do not understand and one that often goes unnoticed.
Balancing many tasks, correctional officers face challenges every day at the Jackson County Jail in Brownstown.
This week, the nation is encouraged to pause and recognize those individuals for their service.
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The jail has 28 full-time and a handful of part-time correctional officers.
Those officers field calls from the public and court, coordinate inmate appointments, book in inmates, coordinate meals three times a day for at least 250 people, help keep the peace among those people and much more.
Jail Commander Chris Everhart said there are other issues such as transgender care, religious needs and more.
“We have to respond to those issues appropriately and focus on each inmate’s needs,” he said. “We also have to know medical procedures and the right way to approach that.”
There are four work stations correctional officers can be assigned to at the jail, including the book-in area, where there are six holding cells and a padded cell; a central control station that supervises the jail; and a control room, where there’s supervision of women prisoners.
“We have to make sure every person gets their tray,” Correctional Officer Mark Reynolds said.
The 26-year-old said the job can be difficult because of the variety of responsibilities correctional officers have each day.
“We have to do our jobs but know where all our officers are and where deputies are if they’re coming back here,” he said. “Our safety and security of officers and inmates is our No. 1 priority, so on a busy day, you have to do your work and listen to your radio and check security cameras.”
Tami Baxter, 54, said she feels the public sometimes thinks inmates just disappear once they are booked into the jail. She said that’s not the case at all.
“We have to feed them three times a day, get them to court, allow them showers, give them recreation and deal with the day-to-day stuff,” she said. “A lot of people think we just sit and wait here for something to do, but that’s definitely not what happens.”
It’s no easy task, as the jail population has grown throughout the years. On Wednesday, 258 inmates were in the jail.
“Today, we have 258 people, so there are 258 different needs,” Reynolds said.
Baxter agreed and said that’s why she and others treat each inmate as an individual.
“For a lot of people here, it’s just a mistake they’ve made, and they come here and realize this isn’t for them,” she said.
Being part of that inmate’s journey in turning their life around is what is rewarding, Reynolds said. He said he often will see former inmates in public and enjoys seeing them succeed.
“I try to talk to them and help them get into the programs we have here to help them take the steps to better their lives,” he said. “Then you will see them in public and they look better and you feel better knowing you talked to them about trying to straighten their life out.”
Reynolds said when an inmate comes in, he shows them respect, which he receives back from inmates most of the time. When there are disruptions in the jail, he said inmates will respond better when they know correctional officers have shown them respect in the past.
There are a number of inmates who are very angry when they arrive in the jail, so dealing with them brings its own set of challenges.
“It’s understandable that they’re upset, but they’re just difficult to deal with,” he said. “Approaching the situation calmly is usually a better solution. Yelling at each other often makes things worse.”
Reynolds started his career as a correctional officer after his friend who worked at the jail suggested it to him.
Reynolds was not sure what he wanted to when he graduated from Brownstown Central High School, so he began working in a factory. After his friend suggested it, Reynolds decided to study criminal justice at Vincennes University before getting his bachelor’s degree in criminology from St. Joseph’s College.
“I really enjoyed it education-wise, so I decided to go further,” he said. “I got hired here and realized I’ve been here for two years, so time flies by.”
Baxter worked at an attorney’s office for 10 years before joining the jail staff as a correctional officer in 2006.
“I thought that doing this would be interesting, and it is very interesting,” she said. “There’s something different every day.”
Baxter said the job can be stressful at times.
“It’s hectic at times,” she said.
Everhart said the job can take a toll, and he shared a study that concluded that correctional officer have higher divorce rates, psychiatric disorders, injuries and more.
Other times can make you laugh, Reynolds said. Hearing inmates talk among themselves can provide some funny commentary, he said.
“It’s a completely different culture, and it takes awhile to get used to how they interact among themselves and with you,” he said. “But some of the stuff they say to each other is pretty funny.”
Then there are the situations that, well, make you uncomfortable.
Like the time Reynolds booked in an inmate who had been arrested naked. The man had run from police and ended up taking his clothes off as he hid.
“It’s something you don’t think about when you’ve never worked here,” he said.
But at the end of the day, Reynolds said he tries to approach each situation where he has control in a respectful way. Respect goes a long way at the jail, he said.
“You have to find the fine line that you’re in control but that you’re not disrespecting them,” he said. “You find that good balance of being in control but being respectful to them and treating them like people. That’s what I try to do because if we show them that respect, our communication with them is improved so much.”
Everhart said the jail needs at least five more correctional officers to continue to provide adequate security while balancing schedules.
Court security at the new Jackson County Judicial Center has become an issue where Everhart feels there needs to be more personnel. Officers there have to provide security at the door but also for hearings and trials in the courts.
“You can’t be everywhere,” he said. “We also have to transport people back and forth.”
Since January, there have been more inmate programs added, Everhart said, and that requires more staff.
“To do those programs, cover days off, cover the everyday operations and more effectively, then we have to be smart with staff and more would certainly help,” he said.
Correctional officers also will pick up people who are arrested in other communities — sometimes out of state — with warrants in Jackson County. Everhart and another correctional officer drove to Arizona and back in February for a man who was arrested there on a Jackson County warrant.
“We drove there, we slept, got up, picked him up and drove back,” he said. “We left on a Saturday and got back on Tuesday evening.”
They’ve been to Texas, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Tennessee, Kentucky, Maryland and other places already this year.
Thinking about the last two years, Reynolds said he is thankful he made the decision to work as a correctional officer.
“I find it very rewarding to serve the public as a correctional officer,” he said.