Behind The Badge: Securing the Winnebago County Jail

WINNEBAGO COUNTY - The Winnebago County Jail houses hundreds of inmates, accused of a variety of offenses: from DUI to murder.

"We don't have guns in here," said Corrections Officer Katie McKnight.  "Police officers have guns on the outside.  We have pepper spray."

Winnebago County Correctional Officers protect and serve in a different way from police.  McKnight and Ofc. Eric North are two Correctional Officers at the jail.  They differ in size and stature, but both have the same job and share the same responsibilities.

"Being a younger, smaller officer, people aren't quite sure how to take me," said McKnight.

"Every day you come in here, you never know what's going to happen," said North.

McKnight isn't the first image that comes to mind when you think of a jail guard.  She always wanted to have a career in law enforcement after studying Criminal Justice at Rock Valley College.

"I figured this was a start," she says.

For North, the path was a bit different.

"They were just hiring," said North. "So, I figured I would try it out."

But, each has learned that an important part of their job is empathy and respect.

"Most of the time, if you give the inmates respect, they will it back to you... most times," said McKnight.

"Not everybody that comes in jail is actually a bad person," said North.  "Sometimes, you just make mistakes and you have to deal with it."

That mentality goes a long way during their 12 hour work shift.  At times, they deal with violent offenders.

"We're stilling dealing with the same violent offenders that the cops are dealing with," said McKnight.  "They just don't have the weapons, [but] that doesn't mean they are not dangerous and can't hurt us."

North admits sometimes his kindness can be mistaken for weakness.

"They're constantly watching us and we're constantly watching them," said North.  "They are always trying to see what they can get away with."

McKnight has a five year-old daughter and makes sure her work doesn't affect her life at home.  It's something she says the public doesn't often think about.

"It's not you that you're protecting on the outside anymore.  It's your family as a whole," she says.

No matter what happens, both McKnight and North work hard to remain true to their oath to help keep the public safe.

"We're still here," said McKnight.  "We're protecting part of the county.  If we were not here, who would be here to watch the inmates?"

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