Our Union's Secretary-Treasurer, John Scearcy, has published a guest editorial piece honoring our corrections members at the DOC for National Correctional Employees Week.

The piece appeared yesterday in the Walla Walla Union Bulletin. You can view it below:

Honoring our State’s Correctional Employees
By John Scearcy, Teamsters Local 117
Published on May 8, 2016

With a few notable exceptions, most of us will never set foot inside a prison. Of those who do, most are perpetrators of serious crimes paying their debt to society.

But there is another group of individuals, often overlooked, who spend as much time behind prison walls as the most hardened criminals.

They are the brave correctional employees who risk their lives to keep all of us safe.

The first week in May is National Correctional Employees Week, a time to recognize the men and women who staff our state’s prisons.

Correctional employees live in our communities. They are our friends, neighbors, and loved ones. They shop at our grocery stores, and send their kids to our neighborhood schools.

The Washington State Penitentiary is one of the largest employers in Walla Walla County, where the state employs over 1200 prison staff.

The men and women who work at WSP occupy a range of vocations. They are officers, sergeants, nurses, dentists, electricians, counselors, chaplains, records technicians, clerical staff, and more.

The work they do is varied, but they serve a common purpose. They supervise, care for, and help rehabilitate some of society’s most violent offenders. They help protect our community, sacrificing their own safety for ours.

According to a US Department of Justice report published in 2013, correctional staff suffer 2,000 injuries from violent incidents on the job every year, the most of any occupation.

We owe it to them to ensure that staffing levels in the prisons are adequate. Unfortunately, the Washington State Department of Corrections operates under a staffing model that is outdated and inflexible.

The state established its staffing model in 1988. An external audit of staffing levels would identify parts of the system that are dangerously understaffed and make recommendations for improvements.

We must also revamp the retirement system for correctional employees. The current system virtually ensures that most staff will work well into their sixties. Correctional employees should be afforded the right to retire at a reasonable age in line with the dangers of their profession and commensurate with other public safety professionals.

The best way to recognize these workers is to pay them equitably. Correctional employees received a modest wage increase in the 2015 contract cycle, but they are still paid considerably less than those who perform comparable work outside of the state prison system.

Increasing pay will boost morale, improve recruitment of quality staff, and retain experienced staff thereby helping to create a safer environment for staff and offenders alike.

Correctional employees are currently in contract negotiations and will be counting on community support to gain these improvements.

Most of us will never see the inside of a prison. We live according to the established laws set up to maintain a civil society.

Our exposure to life behind prison walls is limited to what we watch on television. Let’s step outside of that reality for a moment and express our gratitude to the correctional employees who put their lives on the line to keep all of us safe.