By SARA MONTOYA
Officer, Centennial South
When crimes are committed, there are two parties involved — the victims and the offenders. When Coloradoans see justice being served, they only see a narrow strip of what goes on, police investigations, court cases, and restitution for victims.
But when the gavel goes down, that's where I come in. A sheriff once told me that I have the hardest job in law enforcement. Most days, I agree. My name is Sara Montoya and I work at the Centennial South facility, also known as CSP II.
And I'm proud to be one of the nearly 2,700 Colorado women who work in corrections. There are about 7,000 employees in this field total, so nearly 35 percent of our workforce is female.
We understand that being a corrections officer carries with it extra responsibilities that are not like other jobs. Society would prefer for prisoners to be out of sight and out of mind, but they are in front of us every day. We bear the burden of the human cost of housing prisoners. The awful incident at my facility reminded us of that. We mourn our fellow officer and grieve for her family. For everyone in Corrections this incident was a painful reminder of what we put on the line every day.
Being a corrections officer means we're on the job 24-7 — overnights, weekends, holidays, and Christmas included. While most of Colorado gets the joy of spending time with loved ones on the holidays, we spend it with offenders, making sure our communities are safe.
That is why, given the risks, correctional officers need a stronger voice in corrections policy. For workers like me and my fellow professionals, safety, staffing and morale are life and death issues. For those of us on the front line, these are issues we have been raising for years. Turnover continues to be an issue because of the risks as compared to the pay —many officers leave after 5-7 years because wages have stagnated.
While these facilities are miles away from most Coloradans, there's a role that every Coloradan can play to help us do the best job possible. Here are some policies that we need you as voters and constituents to support:
First and foremost corrections officers need a greater voice inside the prison system.
We also need important changes to overtime and forced doubles policy. Believe it or not, corrections officers are not compensated for overtime the way most Coloradans are. We operate in a complicated and easily abused "28-day work period" and very rarely get anything by comp time in return for extra hours. On a similar front, there are 13 pay periods, but only 12 pay checks. Bottom line, we need greater transparency and accountability when it comes to our pay.
Finally, Colorado's inmate population is going down and that's a good thing, but this also brings great uncertainty to a workforce that has made a long-term commitment to corrections. That uncertainty is taking its toll on morale. We need to make sure that as policymakers look at closing prisons, they look first at closing for-profit prisons before they shutter public facilities. What's more, we need to know that workforce reductions will be fair, predictable, and reward years of service.
Finally, safety needs to come first in our corrections systems. Mandatory staffing ratios are one way Colorado can ensure safety. Budget cuts have allowed inmates to unsafely outnumber officers.
Our jobs matter to the people of Colorado and to our families. We are proud to be professionals and to keep our communities safe. But with that service we need decent pay and working conditions, and correctional officers need a stronger voice in both.
Sara Montoya lives in Pueblo and has two young sons. She has worked in corrections for seven years, the last 2 1⁄2 at Centennial South.blog comments powered by Disqus