Correctional Peace Officer Foundation’s NY Representative Jay West presents a Bereavement Check to Corrections Officer Mike Mussen of Clinton Correctional Facility who lost his wife Dianne in Dec. 2012, also in the picture is Corrections Officer Mike Mussen Jr.
The men and women of corrections often feel like they’re the forgotten members of the criminal justice family. But there’s an organization, the Correctional Peace Officers Foundation (CPOF), whose aim is to change that.
Formed in 1984 by five corrections officers in California’s Folsom Prison, the CPOF is a not-for-profit foundation whose charter originally was to provide a death benefit for corrections officers killed in the line of duty. They formed after a corrections officer was killed in Folsom prison, and they realized that the state provided very little for the benefit of the surviving family.
Their mission has grown in recent years, to include a Catastrophic Assistance Program to assist members of the “family” who are undergoing a catastrophic event.
“We just lend a helping hand,” said Jay West, a retired corrections officer and CPOF’s representative in Upstate New York. “We take care of any type of crisis the family might be having.”
The Catastrophic Assistance Program will provide money to help after a fire, if there’s an illness in the family, the death of an immediate family member, etc.
Under their original charter the CPOF covered just corrections officers, but now covers civilian employees as well. Their only parameters are anyone who takes care of incarcerated felons.
The CPOF is a voluntary organization, and has grown to more than 80,000 members nation-wide. West regularly goes to the numerous prisons in the North Country and explains to officers and staff what the CPOF does, and how to get involved. Some are not even aware that the CPOF exists. CPOF and the Fraternal Order of Police are the only non-official organizations allowed into a facility.
West said that some corrections families are shocked by the fact there are people who are actively trying to help.
“It’s not relief on their fact, but a little bit of ‘wow, somebody wants to help us,’” said West. “It’s very, very humbling.”
Every year the CPOF holds a national gathering where they honor any correctional employee killed in the line of duty in the preceding year.
West himself is from what he calls a corrections family. He started in the California penal system, and retired from the New York State Department of Corrections as a lieutenant, with 26 and a half years of service. He has a brother who is a retired sergeant, and his son is currently working in Clinton prison. He considers his wife Ellie an honorary member by being so involved in his career and in the CPOF.
“My blood runs blue from being in corrections so long,” he said
The CPOF is always seeking new members. West proudly points to the fact that 88 cents out of every dollar donated goes back to members. They have three levels at which an officer or staff member can join, $2.50, $5, and $7.50 per pay period. Because they’re a not for profit, the money comes out pre-tax.
He is also seeking “contacts” within the prisons, or someone who can act as his eyes and ears to let the CPOF know when they hear about a member in need.
Anyone interested in joining the CPOF, or getting more information on the organization, can contact West at 569-6813, or online at firstname.lastname@example.org. The CPOF also maintains the website www.cpof.org, as well as a Facebook page.