Recognition of and appreciation for our Correctional Officers

May 4, 2020

Corrections officers patrol the toughest blocks in the country.  These officers endure harassment and ridicule, dodge human waste, and demonstrate constant patience and restraint even as the danger of being spat on, punched, kicked, or stabbed lurks around every corner. Hollywood frequently portrays corrections officers as intimidating figures who walk cell blocks spoiling for fights with inmates.  On the contrary, in real life, corrections officers are compassionate individuals and frequent advocates for inmates.  They know how an act of kindness can alter a person’s life and be the difference between rehabilitation and recidivism.

Since 1984, the first week of May has been recognized as National Correctional Officers Week—dedicated to honor the hardworking men and women who patrol jails and prisons nationwide. With the outbreak of COVID-19, we are reminded once again that corrections officers face unique dangers while so many others are comfortable working from home and riding out this global pandemic with the help of Zoom and Netflix.

A prison is never closed.  Correctional officers don’t get to work from home.  They report to work regardless of circumstances without fail.  I have witnessed firsthand the dedication and commitment of the men and women who work in county and state facilities located in Luzerne County during this crisis.  Corrections officers are now tasked as public health officials ensuring that social distancing, cleaning, and other preventative measures are implemented—not for their own well-being—but for the health and safety of the inmates entrusted to their care.

Corrections officers go to work every day knowing the job is dangerous. Sometimes corrections officers become victims of crime at work.

Two Luzerne County corrections officers—Eric Williams (Nanticoke) and Kristopher Moules (Larksville)—were killed in the line of duty within the last few years. Eric Williams, an officer at USP—Canaan, Waymart, was ambushed without warning and stabbed over 100 times by an inmate.  Kristopher Moules, an officer at the Luzerne County Correctional Facility, died when he was trying to subdue an inmate during an altercation and they both fell down an elevator shaft.

Like other first responders, corrections officers don’t expect to die in the line of duty; however, they accept that possibility every time that they go to work.

As prosecutors, we take crimes against corrections officers very seriously.  Sometimes we prosecute cases where the imprisoned defendant is serving lengthy or even life sentences and people will ask, “why bother?”  Our answer? No person should be subjected to abuse and violence in the workplace.  Period. Anyone who assaults a corrections officer must be held accountable. Accountability is the chief line of defense these men and women have against an inmate who assaults a corrections officer. Without accountability, jails and prisons would be much more violent. Most importantly, corrections officers deserve to go to work knowing their society is standing up for them.

Corrections officers deserve the same appreciation and respect for guarding people behind bars than the police officers who charged and arrested those same inmates.

During the first week of May, join me and my office to recognize corrections officers, the integral role they play in public safety. On behalf of the entire Luzerne County District Attorney’s Office, we salute you, we will fight for you when you are victimized, and we will always remember your fallen comrades.  When you go to work today, tomorrow, and the next day, know that you are not alone. We appreciate your sacrifice and your service.

Stefanie Salavantis is District Attorney of Luzerne County.