Sheriff Lives the Life of a Correctional Officer

Sheriff Mark Curran working as a correctional officer at the Lake County Jail. – LCSO

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by Tina Johansson

The top dog of Lake County’s law enforcement agency appeared to have been dogged to find out more about the jobs of some of those working under him.

So he set out to assume the role of a correctional officer.

Indeed, of all that can be learned about a job, nothing can be learned better than actually performing that job.

“I have always worked to increase my law enforcement knowledge and experience,” said Sheriff Mark Curran, pointing to his list of accomplishments. Among them was in 2008 when he made headlines while spending one week incarcerated at his own jail to observe the inmate program first-hand.

“This time I really wanted to drill down on corrections a little more, and learn more about the daily operations of what it’s like to be a correctional officer,” said Curran, a former county and state prosecutor.

Thursday, Feb. 16, will be his last day on the job – the job as correctional officer. He began his mission in January in which he started five weeks of intense training working alongside field training officers in the jail.

As a jailer, he faces the likelihood of being treated like an underdog, dealing with the potential for verbal and/or physical abuse aimed his way.

“I’m manning a 60-man pod (a.k.a. cell block). The types of inmates here are mixed, from people charged with murder and rapes, to lower offenses.”

 “The most difficult part of this job is stress. It is stressful in a lot of ways. I can’t let my guard down for a second. You have to constantly be on your A-game, otherwise inmates will walk all over you,” he said.

That includes being ever cautious and skeptical, always questioning, and never trusting your charges.

In fact as a correctional officer, Curran knows he is not at the jail to make friends, nor counsel inmates. “That’s what social workers and clergy are for,” he said. “I have to stay at arms’ length at all times.”

Looking for contraband, looking to stop fights, and looking to stay safe are among his top priorities.

“This isn’t by any means a relaxed environment. It’s not anything like what I do as sheriff,” he said, pointing out his main job as chief administrator.

As a jailer, he faces the likelihood of being treated like an underdog, dealing with the potential for verbal and/or physical abuse aimed his way. However, he has not had this happen to him, he said. One wonders if it’s because he is performing the job not in incognito. “He is wearing his uniform with the four stars on his collar,” said Sgt. Christopher Covelli, office spokesman. “They know he’s the sheriff.”

While the number of inmates fluctuates, as of Tuesday there were 636 at the jail. Approximately 80 of those have been there for at least one year.

A number of the inmates suffer from personality disorders and other mental health issues, making the job of a correctional officer that much harder, said Curran who is running for reelection in 2018.

Sheriff Curran walking the halls of a 60-man pod he oversees this week at the Lake County Jail. – LCSO

Some of the inmates perform housekeeping and food preparation duties, and in doing so, they are paid $10 per week in commissary coupons. But even with this, Curran said he has to constantly hound inmates to perform their own personal housekeeping such as taking showers and flushing toilets.

There are 220 jail employees with about 200 being correctional officers. The sheriff noted that three years ago he and Undersheriff Ray Rose increased the training of correctional officers greatly. “The amount of training we offer is much more than most counties offer,” he said.

“Most people would not be willing to be a correctional officer, even if it paid more than it does,” said Curran who has been sheriff for ten years.

The current starting salary for Lake County’s correctional officers is $25.57 per hour, and the sheriff’s office is always accepting applications. The current budget for the Lake County Jail is $25 million.  

 

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