Though their work happens behind closed doors, the contribution to the community from correctional officers was celebrated on Monday as National Correctional Officers’ Week kicked off for the Imperial County Sheriff’s Office.
At a ceremony Monday morning, both sworn-in and civilian officials celebrated the start of the week listening to speakers, followed by a breakfast sponsored by the Imperial County Sheriff’s Association at the Sheriff’s Office south of El Centro.
The philosophy of being a correctional officer is different from when Alvarez first started working at the department more than a decade ago, he said. The purpose used to be to just house the inmates. Now it is to work on rehabilitating them.
Beyond a changing purpose, there are also new tools that have become available, like cameras, computers and more. And even more change is set to come to the local correctional officers with the new jail facility that is set to be built.
“All these changes we are going through are not only for the benefit of the sheriff’s department, but also for our community,” he told the surrounding staff. “The changes will bring more jobs, assist inmates to work their way back into society and assist them to be a productive member of our community.”
The corrections unit of the Sheriff’s Office employs more than 100 people, said Lt. Robert Cortez. This includes correctional officers, clerks and other civilian staff.
For Cortez, Correctional Officers Week is a way to acknowledge all the people who work in the growing profession. And that professional is continuously moving forward.
“I’m proud to say I’m a correctional officer,” he said. “I love what I do.”
Two officers in particular were mentioned during the speeches, Officers A. Arreola and J. Galindo. The two are set to be named World Red Cross Heroes later this week for pulling a person from a vehicle after it fell down an embankment off Interstate 8 west of Ocotillo in December.
Arreola said he and his partner were traveling in separate vehicles to Santee when a vehicle passed them in the fast lane. The car lost control and went off the side of the road, down an embankment. Arreola and Galindo stopped their vehicles and took off down the embankment. Once down there they had to break the front windshield to get the driver out of the vehicle as the roof had been smashed down. They brought the driver up to their vehicles and waited for California Highway Patrol officers to arrive.
It’s something you don’t expect to happen, and Arreola said his first thought was to pull over and help.
About the award, he said, “First, I feel honored, but I don’t consider myself a hero. It’s our duty.”
He added he was happy that recognition like that exists.
As for National Correctional Officers’ Week, Arreola sees it as recognition of what correctional officers do, he said. When officers go behind the walls of the jail, nobody knows what they do, he said. The week allows the group to be thanked for their part in keeping the community safe.
Digital Media News Editor Elizabeth Varin can be reached at email@example.com or 760-337-3441.