- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 12, 2007

Corrections professionals rely on journalists to credibly and accurately inform the public about their field. They are often disappointed and frustrated by inaccurate depictions of corrections by the news media. A disturbing example is the continued use of the word “guard” to refer to custodial or security personnel.

More than 20 years ago, the American Correctional Association (ACA) decided to eliminate the word “guard” and other offensive and outdated terms from its publications, advertisements, announcements, communications and exhibits. The ACA condemns use of the word because it implies the job is inherently passive and demands nothing more than watching locked-up inmates. Nothing could be further from the truth.

The media should accept and use the terms “correctional officer” or “corrections officer” when referring to personnel performing security functions in correctional settings. These terms embody the diverse skills officers employ each day — communication skills, cultural awareness, first aid, suicide prevention, emergency response preparedness, program and service delivery and the proper use of force.

The correctional officers’ role is to ensure that offenders complete their sentences in a way that sufficiently addresses the wide range of problems they often bring with them, while maintaining corrections’ paramount duty — public safety. While custody and control is a major aspect of their role, correctional officers’ duties also include support of habilitative or rehabilitative programs that require advanced or specialized training.

The news media have cast themselves in the role of keepers of the truth and exposers of wrongdoing. Responsible journalists should show their professionalism by respecting corrections officers. Further, if the media would learn about corrections, they too would understand the term “guard” does not apply.

It is unjustified to embrace the rationale, as some journalists have suggested, that “guard” can be used interchangeably with “correctional officer” because it is more familiar to the public or has fewer letters. The word no longer fits. Times have changed, the practice of corrections has changed, and the media should move on from using terminology that has been out of place for decades.


Executive Director

American Correctional Association

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