Corrections Officers Fill Invaluable Roles in Public Safety

(Richland PIO)― When Shane Kitchen was named the interim director of Richland County’s jail, one of the first things he did was reach into his own pocket to purchase a barbecue grill for the facility.

National Corrections Officers and Employees Week was coming and Kitchen thought it was a great time to celebrate the men and women who serve an essential role in enforcing the laws of the criminal justice system by protecting the public and detainees. During the weeklong observance in May, Kitchen and other senior staff held several cookouts, grilling up burgers and hot dogs for employees during different shifts at the Alvin S. Glenn Detention Center.

In what can be a demanding and stressful job, activities such as staff barbecues help boost morale as the jail’s corrections officers carry out their 12-hour shifts at the 400,000-square-foot facility off Bluff Road. While the jail is understaffed, with 202 of its 306 uniformed correctional staff positions filled – a 34 percent officer vacancy rate that is slightly higher than the statewide average of 31 percent – many of the employees speak of dedication to the job and an appreciation for each other.

“There’s a family atmosphere at work,” said Officer Kalema Grant, a three-year employee at the jail. “We’re always looking out for each other and working together. It’s a good feeling.”

Kitchen, who was named interim director in March, said he aims to maintain that atmosphere of camaraderie as the jail seeks new employees to join its ranks.

“All of us at Alvin S. Glenn are always looking forward to welcoming new, motivated officers to our team,” Kitchen said.

Corrections officers are essential in protecting the populations both inside and outside of a jail. Their trained, watchful eyes monitor detainees around the clock, ensuring they are kept safe and secure while they serve sentences or wait to be sentenced. While a corrections officer’s main objective is supervising detainees, Kitchen said officers also have the chance to help change lives forever.

“In my 14 years in the profession, I’ve had the opportunity to interact with many people, and I’m hopeful that I was able to make a positive impact on some of those people along the way,” he said.

Richland County jail recruits receive 120 hours of paid pre-service training as well as advanced training and certification through the S.C. Criminal Justice Academy. This three-week certification includes instruction on defensive tactics, interpersonal communication skills, state and federal regulations and laws pertaining to jail operations.

“The training you receive teaches you everything you need to know to be equipped to do your job and do it well,” Grant said. “Having good interpersonal skills is key for any situation. You learn how to maintain levels of respect and composure.”

In addition to paid training, jail employee benefits include health and life insurance, contributions to the state retirement system, paid holidays and room for advancement, including the opportunity for promotion to the ranks of sergeant, lieutenant or captain.

There’s also job stability in a career in corrections. As Kitchen put it, “There’s not going to be a decrease in demand for corrections officers anytime soon.”

During a regular shift, officers at Alvin S. Glenn conduct body searches and cell inspections, monitor and document detainee behavior and enforce the rules and regulations that keep the jail operating securely. Officers often rotate working in different areas, such as booking and processing, visitation services or floor patrol.

While the jail currently operates understaffed, safety, security and control of the jail are not compromised. However, jail employees are asked to work more frequent shifts until new officers are hired and trained, which can lead to frustrations and a decrease in morale. Richland County is actively reviewing methods for improving officer recruitment and retention to lower the officer vacancy rate and help ensure that jail employees have a healthy work-life balance.

The Alvin S. Glenn Detention Center is one of two Adult Local Detention Facilities in South Carolina to be accredited by the American Correctional Association. Only jails that operate at 100 percent of mandatory standards receive this impressive status.

“The accreditation is an example of the dedication Richland County has to operating a facility that is held to a higher standard,” Kitchen said.

To learn more about becoming a corrections officer at Alvin S. Glenn Detention Center, contact Sgt. Teraine Brown at 803-576-3216 from 8 a.m.-4 p.m. Monday through Thursday, or visit www.rcgov.us.  Click here to watch a short video of jail employees in action.