BILLINGS — Three Yellowstone County Detention Facility officers said the recognition of their hard work keeping inmates and the community safe brought on by National Correctional Officers Week was welcome for a law enforcement department that is often outside the public eye.
“It feels good because sometimes we are left out, because we are a part of law enforcement. The ones that get recognized most are out on the streets, which they do an amazing job also, but we do a lot here," said Officer Crenshaw, who will have been at the detention facility for two years in August.
All three officers asked not to publish their first names for their security.
Every day and night, Yellowstone County correctional officers ensure inmates are safe and accounted for. Three shifts per day made up of 15 officers help to operate the facility that houses 500 inmates on an average day.
Officer O'Fallon, who has been working in corrections for five years, said it's a stressful job that they all learn how to deal with.
"You kind of get used to dealing with things that come up. It quite literally is no different from any other job. When anybody starts a job, it’s going to be stressful. Anytime you do something new, it’s going to be stressful. The longer that you do it, the more that you learn how to deal with each independent situation you grow from it," O'Fallon said.
O'Fallon's father worked as a sheriff's deputy for 40 years at the Cascade County Detention Center. O'Fallon said his father inspired him to take up a career in law enforcement.
“So I wanted to start and follow in Dad’s footsteps somehow and this is where it led to and I love every day of it," O'Fallon said.
O'Fallon is also a field training officer, meaning he is in charge of training new hires and making sure they are familiar with the facility and its protocol.
As part of their duties, officers perform regular security checks on inmates to ensure their safety.
The Yellowstone County Detention Facility has three inmate classifications: minimum, medium, and maximum security. Inmates have an officer walk past their cell for a security check every 30 minutes, and maximum security inmates have a security check every 15 minutes.
The officers are also responsible for providing meals and supervising inmates' time out in the day room. They also have the task of booking new inmates, and preparing inmates for transportation and court appearances.
Officer Reitz has been with the detention facility for two years. He said the stressful job is something that he leaves at the door of work, and he doesn't let it affect his personal life.
"You don’t really hold a grudge against people. Everyone is human here and we all make mistakes. People are going to say things that can be hurtful sometimes, but you just don’t really let it get under your skin. You just kind of leave it at the door. There’s always days where things are harder, but for the most part you can just move on and move forward," Reitz said.
When there's a bad day at the detention center, Crenshaw said the team is always there to make it work out.
“We have days where things can get a little hectic. People get unruly sometimes and we have to figure that out. We’re a really good team and we all work really good together," Crenshaw said.
Like all other aspects of life, many changes were made to the detention facility in 2020 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The virus infected staff and inmates over the course of last year. About 70 non-violent inmates were removed from the facility in March in an effort to slow the spread of the virus.
O'Fallon said the process of quarantining new inmates for 10 days really slowed down the transportation of inmates from one facility to another.
“Typically, we’ll have guys that come in, they get sentenced, they move onto the Department of Corrections. They weren’t able to do that. There was no movement throughout COVID-19 and that really plugged up the system in general," O'Fallon said.
It was also tough for corrections officers in the beginning of the pandemic to know with certainty if an inmate was coming down with COVID-19, because solid information about the virus's symptoms was scarce.
“That was kind of a rough deal to deal with because there were a lot of symptoms, a lot of things that we didn’t know at the time. It was stressful for everyone. It was a lot of unknown with COVID," O'Fallon said.
Now, things are more normal at the detention facility, said Crenshaw.
“At first, it was a little hectic to get used to, but we all adjusted. Our main priority is taking care of the inmates in the first place. So it was kind of natural knowing how to adjust to all of that. It took a little to get used to at first, that’s for sure," Crenshaw said.
The first full week in May has been recognized as National Correctional Officers Week since a proclamation was signed by President Ronald Reagan in 1984, according to the U.S. Department of Justice web site.
Crenshaw said the job is tough, but a rewarding opportunity for those who choose to take the responsibility.
“It’s a really tough job some days, just like every other job. I love it. We’re all kind of a family here. It’s a really good place to work. It’s really exciting. Every day is different for the most part. I think it’s a great opportunity," Crenshaw said.