Corrections Officers: Walking a Tough Beat

The walls of the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial contain the names of 528 correctional officers who have died in the line of duty. The first of those fatalities was William Bullard, a Missouri corrections professional who was beaten to death during an escape attempt on June 14, 1841. Sadly, the number of correctional officers on the Memorial will increase next year.

Within the last week, we have lost two more corrections officers, the most recent being Donna Fitzgerald, 51, who was assaulted and killed on June 25 by an inmate while on duty at the Tomoka Correctional Institution in Daytona Beach, Florida. Just five days earlier, on June 20, Correctional Officer Jose Rivera, 22, was stabbed to death by two inmates at the United States Penitentiary in Atwater, California.

Officer Fitzgerald, of Port Orange, is one of 24 female corrections professionals to be killed in the line of duty and the third to die in the past year. She was a 13-year veteran of the Florida Department of Corrections. During 2007, Elizabeth G. Franklin, 54, fell from the watch tower at the Julia Tutwiler Prison for Women in Alabama and died six days later on December 7. Corrections Officer IV Susan L. Canfield, 59, of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice was killed during a prison escape on September 24, 2007. She was on horseback during a prison escape when she was run over and killed by fleeing inmates in a pick-up truck.

Prior to Officer Rivera’s tragic death, 24 other federal Bureau of Prisons members had died and are permanently commemorated on the Memorial walls – just another reflection of the dangers our dedicated correctional officers face.

Nationwide, there are more than 200,000 correctional officers currently serving today in local jails, state prisons and federal penitentiaries. They are responsible for the custody and security of some 1.5 million inmates nationwide. That is a ratio of about seven inmates for each officer.

There are roughly 8,000 assaults on correctional officers and security staff each year. In the past 30 years alone, more than 200 correctional officers have died in the line of duty. About one-quarter of them were stabbed to death.

Despite these harsh statistics, all too often our nation takes its law enforcement officers – and especially its correctional officers – for granted. This is why we built the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial – to respect, honor and remember the service and sacrifice of all law enforcement officers. And that is why we are working to build the first-ever National Law Enforcement Museum, which will include an exhibit dedicated to the service of our nation’s corrections professionals.

We want all Americans to better understand and appreciate the hard work and sacrifice of all of our law enforcement officers.