‘Every day, you have to be vigilant’

ALDEN — Working as a corrections officer is one of the most dangerous professions in the United States. Those on the job face high degrees of stress and risk injury, so it’s only natural to wonder what would motivate a person to become a correctional officer (CO).

Often overlooked and undervalued, most careers in prison or jail facilities are not for the faint-hearted. They are essential and virtuous endeavors, designed to protect the community from harm and to uphold the rule of law.

Thousands of CSEA members are employed as corrections officers at county and municipal facilities across the state. In state prisons, CSEA represents civilian employees.

A difficult job

Corrections officers are exposed to a higher degree of institutional related dangers as well as mental and physical health risks. Stress and burnout often contribute to a greater risk of chronic injury and health problems compared to other law enforcement occupations.

Because of these factors, some studies have noted that corrections officers have an average life expectancy of 59 years, compared to the U.S. national average of 75 years.

Adding to the stressful nature of the job, short staffing and retention remain a huge ongoing issue for many county run facilities in New York State.

Additionally, work and home life conflicts, fatigue, a heavy workload and inadequate resources all contribute to elevated stress levels among corrections officers.

Marc Priore, a corrections officer at Erie County Correctional Facility, checks the log book.

Marc Priore, a corrections officer at Erie County Correctional Facility, checks the log book.

Marc Priore, who works as a corrections officer at the Erie County Correctional Facility and has served as the Erie County Correctional Facility Unit President as well as holding a seat on the Erie County Local 815 executive board, is tasked with keeping inmates behind bars and the community safe.

“Every day, you have to be vigilant,” said Priore. “Every day brings a new challenge.”

For Priore, a career in law enforcement was always a family affair. His grandfather was a City of Buffalo Police Captain and he had two uncles who also worked at the Erie County Correctional Facility.

“I always wanted to be in law enforcement, and to serve my community,” Priore said. “It’s in my blood.”

Inside Erie County Correctional Facility

Inside the Erie County Correctional Facility.

For 24 hours a day and seven days a week, corrections officers report to work at the facility, located in Alden.

Whether it’s running a unit transporting inmates to court, managing visitation rights, escorting prisoners throughout the jail, or working in the control room, corrections officers must be everywhere all the time.

The Erie County Correctional Facility has an inmate capacity of 700 and is staffed by CSEA and other unionized employees. CSEA represents approximately 270 jail employees.

For Priore, the biggest challenge is trying to get through a shift with no major incidents to report.
Priore has logged 24 years on the job and said that working overnight shifts, holidays and weekends can be very monotonous.

“We know what we got into when we signed up to be a [corrections officer],” Priore said. “You must be alert and always pay attention to the details. Going home to your family in one piece with no major incidents at work is often the goal. That would be a good day.”

Priore also said the job comes with many personal rewards, noting that the sense of pride he gets from keeping the public safe from dangerous individuals is truly a great feeling.

“With every job, there is a certain amount of success and sometimes failure,” Priore said. “The opportunity to save a life or create a best possible outcome when violence erupts, or a bad incident occurs is what keeps me coming back to work each day. We have a very strong CO brotherhood and sisterhood here. We all have each other’s back, on and off the job. It’s good to be union.”

— Ove Overmyer

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About Author

Ove Overmyer is an award winning photojournalist and writer who has promoted the virtue of working people and the value of public service throughout his career. His work has been published by many well-respected international media outlets, including PBS Moyers & Co., Steward Update UCS Worker Institute Cornell ILR, CBS News, The Weather Channel, SCI-FY Channel, Associated Press and LOGO-TV. Before joining the CSEA Communications Department staff in 2015, Overmyer was a CSEA member employed by the City of Rochester and an officer of the union for more than 18 years. He covers a 14 county area of Western New York and lives in Rochester, NY.

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