On May 5, 1984, President Ronald Reagan signed proclamation 5187 creating "National Correctional Officers Week". Since then, the first full week in May, which is May 3-9 this year, has been set aside to recognize and to honor the work of correctional officers and correctional personnel nationwide. They play a vital role in the safekeeping of detainees in our nation's prisons and jails.

Under normal circumstances, it is a difficult, stressful and, at many times, dangerous profession. And because correctional personnel work behind secured walls outside of public view, they are many times not recognized as part of our nation's first responders, but truly are. And now, like other first responders, they have the herculean task of trying to deal with a silent and invisible deadly virus under conditions where social distancing becomes problematic.

It's kind of ironic that some who commit crimes have traditionally utilized the use of a face mask when committing certain offences to conceal their identity, however, those in charge in overseeing those same individuals in our nation's detention facilities, now must wear masks to not only protect their own health, but those who are incarcerated. The guidelines and procedures they are now entrusted to execute to help control the spread of covid-19, is an ever changing and unprecedented challenge to a degree they have never dealt with before. And we owe them a debt of gratitude for doing so, considering the health risks they are exposed to every day.

Approximately 21 correctional personnel across the country have lost their lives so far due to complications related to the COVID-19 virus. Many of those have not only been correctional officers, including one in Illinois, but also a prison nurse in Ohio. Like the general population, this number could go higher. We should also not forget about our correctional health care providers such as doctors and nurses who are also on the front lines in the battle to control the spread of the virus, and the challenge they face in providing for not only their safety, but for the health and welfare of the inmate population who have contracted the virus.

Yes, correctional officers truly do walk the toughest beat in law enforcement. As a former officer, I consider these true professionals my friends and colleagues who I have the greatest respect for and the work they do, especially during this difficult time. Hero's really do work in our nation's jails and prisons, and I hope you will keep them in your thoughts and prayers not only during this week of recognition, but throughout the year as well.

— Greg Johnson, retired correctional officer