Lou West, a St. Louis County corrections officer, describes his job as “customer service in hell.” West told a national commission yesterday that the job has filled him with rage and kept him awake nights, says the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Even under the best circumstances, he said, it is stressful and difficult. He loves it anyway. West was among jailers, corrections officials, and former inmates to testify before the 21-member commission on the first day of a two-day hearing. St. Louis is the commission’s third of four stops across the nation as it examines abuse, poor training and a lack of standards in the nation’s jails and prisons. The inquiry grew in part out of concern about military prison abuses overseas.
West said his work goes unseen and unappreciated by most of the taxpayers he serves. “I don’t even think the public recognizes us as law enforcement,” West, 49, told the Post-Dispatch. The privately organized Commission on Safety and Abuse in America’s Prisons hopes to recommend reforms next spring to local, state and federal officials. “What we’re seeing is a vast but poorly understood work force that shoulders tremendous responsibilities, many times without adequate leadership, training or resources,” said Nicholas Katzenbach, a commission co-chairman and attorney general under President Lyndon Johnson. Other commissioners include criminologists, law professors, former law enforcement officers, a former New Orleans mayor and the head of the NAACP’s Washington bureau. It was organized by the New York nonprofit Vera Institute of Justice.