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Corrections In 2020
By Gerard Horgan, Retired Special Sheriff/Superintendent
Published: 07/06/2020

Correctionsofficer 2020 has been a year that has challenged us in more ways that we could have ever imagined. These past months have been particularly disturbing and should cause each of us in corrections to reflect of how we can contribute to a positive change for our country. Corrections has long been the overlooked part of the criminal justice system. With the entire criminal justice system being justifiably scrutinized, I thought I would share my experiences working in the corrections system that the public is generally unaware of.

Having worked at the Suffolk and Norfolk County Sheriff’s Offices from 1987 until 2018, I worked with the police, the courts, probation, and parole. I also interacted with human services, mental health, and medical professionals. I estimate that during those three decades, I worked with over 2,500 people at the Suffolk County and Norfolk County Sheriff's Offices. I can honestly say that the overwhelming majority of these men and women went to work every day in a challenging environment to make a positive impact on our communities while supporting their families. Here are some of my observations:
  • I’ve watched Correction Officers serve as unofficial mentors to those who were incarcerated. I’ve seen these CO’s give life advice and provide structure that was lacking in many of the young men and women’s lives. Recently, an Officer told me of the numerous times that he helped an offender going to court tie a necktie so he would look presentable in court. CO’s care about the men and women in our custody.
  • I’ve seen these CO’s work in jails and prisons across the US not knowing when they will have to respond to a life-threatening incident. They know that these situations will happen and they know that they will likely be dealing with someone in the midst of a mental health crisis. Yet they put themselves in harm’s way to protect themselves, their partner and the offenders in their housing units. I’ve seen Officers get hurt breaking up physical altercations between inmates and report back to work the next day so they didn’t let the Officers on their shift down.
  • I witnessed nurses establish a professional repoire with the offenders, help them with their medical conditions and become a calming presence in the facilities. I’ve seen these same nurses respond to medical emergencies and provide life-saving care.
  • I watched as legal services assisted offenders with their cases and helped them negotiate the bureaucracy of the system. I’ve seen attorneys and paralegals help with research and get answers to questions that pre-trial detainees have about their cases.
  • I’ve observed caseworkers burst with pride when they helped a mother or father to become reunited with their children or assisted people with substance use disorders with their sobriety. I’ve felt their disappointment when one of the offenders on their caseload returns to custody and their sorrow when one of their clients loses their battle with addiction.
  • I smiled when teachers beamed when one of their students received their high school equivalency diploma or a vocational certification that makes meaningful employment more likely upon release.
With all of that being said, were there instances when we fell short and didn't act as professionally as we could have? Yes, but those were exceptions and not the norm. Are there bad employees in corrections who betray the public’s trust? Yes, but they are an infinitesimal percentage of our industry.

The past couple of months have caused me to reflect a great deal on the state of our criminal justice system. I believe that we have an issue that needs to be addressed. There are too many instances of people being treated more harshly by our criminal justice system due to their racial, socio-economic and ethnic backgrounds. It happens so often that I think it is systemic. With all of the dedicated professionals in corrections, we can make these strides. We all have a duty to push for meaningful change and fairness. It all starts with each of us and I am confident that we are up to the challenge.

ABOUT GERARD J. HORGAN -RETIRED SPECIAL SHERIFF / SUPERINTENDENT

Gerard Horgan served as the Superintendent of Jail Operations and Special Sheriff at the Norfolk Sheriff’s Office from 2013 to 2018. Previously, he spent over 25 years at the Suffolk County Sheriff’s Department where he was Director of Human Resources, Deputy Superintendent, and Superintendent/Special Sheriff at both the Nashua Street Jail and the South Bay House of Correction. Currently, Horgan is a member of the Governor’s Special Commission on Correctional Funding in Massachusetts and he has worked with the Massachusetts Sheriff’s Association on the compliance efforts with the Criminal Justice Reform Act of 2018.

Horgan, a Certified Jail Manager, is a graduate of Northeastern University where he earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science with a concentration in Public Administration and of Suffolk University Law School. He was admitted to the Massachusetts Bar in 1994. For the past thirteen years, Horgan has been an Adjunct Professor the University of Massachusetts Boston where he teaches courses in corrections and criminal justice. He has taught numerous classes to corrections staff at Suffolk County, Norfolk County, Hampden County, Worcester County and the Massachusetts Sheriff’s Association. He has presented at the American Jail Association Conference in the area of liability and risk management. Horgan is a consultant and has conducted similar trainings for the Kentucky Jailers Association and for the AJA in Nebraska, Kansas and Virginia over the past five years.


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