State prisons seek additional guards

Posted: Sunday, December 23, 2001

ANCHORAGE - Wanted: Men and women willing to work with criminals. No experience needed. Must be at least 21 years old. Background check required. Starting pay: $33,300 a year.

That's the short version of the message from the state Department of Corrections as it launches its first major recruitment campaign in a dozen years.

The best use-of-force tool is between your nose and chin.

-- Doug Lloyd,

corrections training supervisor

With the new Anchorage jail set to open in April, the state must hire about 40 additional prison guards.

"Lock into a great career," a new radio advertisement urges.

The ideal correctional officer the agency's preferred term for the job is fit and levelheaded with a talent for using words, not brawn, to keep order, said Doug Lloyd, training supervisor for the Corrections Department.

"The best use-of-force tool is between your nose and chin," Lloyd tells trainees.

Inmates are less likely to comply with officers who put on a Sean Penn tough-guy act than with someone who talks to them like a person, he said.

The recruitment blitz is the first since Spring Creek Correctional Center in Seward opened in 1988. Most of the recruits will start work there, at the state's only maximum security prison. They will replace existing correctional officers who are expected to transfer to the new Anchorage jail because it's closer to home.

Many Spring Creek officers live in Anchorage and spend their work week in Seward, sharing apartments to save on rent.

It's a job without much excitement most of the time. But things can go haywire fast. Last year in Ketchikan a prisoner trying to escape scaled two fences and, refusing orders to stop, was shot to death by a tower guard.

All day, officers must manage accused persons and convicted murderers, burglars, drug dealers and the like. Inside the prison, officers don't carry guns. It's safer that way, should order break down.

It's hard to recruit for a job that no kid grows up dreaming about, Lloyd said. "We're not viewed negatively as much as we are not viewed at all," he said.

Like most in the department, Lloyd dislikes the term "prison guard." Correctional officers must concern themselves with the health, welfare and safety of inmates, as well as guard them, he said.

Someone looking to become a correctional officer can start at the state's Web site, www.state.ak.us.

The pay isn't bad and the work schedule is considered a perk. A second-year officer will make more than $37,000. Officers work seven 12-hour shifts, then get seven days off. No college degree is required.

Applicants get weeded out if they have a felony conviction as well as certain misdemeanors such as domestic violence assault. Someone with a single drunken driving conviction, though, is eligible.

Psychological tests evaluate candidates in terms of honesty, personality, substance abuse problems and mental health.

Sometime during the first 14 months on the job, trainees go through an intensive, six-week program at the department's training academy, which shares a former Safeway store with the Anchorage Police Department's academy.

At the academy, trainees learn how to manage hostage situations, assess suicide risks and use handcuffs, pepper spray and stun guns. They learn that inmates watch them just as they watch inmates. They get drilled on ethics.

Trainees in a recent class said they like working with people. Some hope to help rehabilitate inmates.

Deborah Anderson, 48, and a Spring Creek trainee, doesn't dwell on what the inmates are in for, even though the prison houses the worst offenders.

"You've got to accept people where they are at. They are human. I don't pass judgment," Anderson said.

The training topic one recent day: body searches. These were clothed searches, but still trainees were nervous and tentative when time came to pat down each other.

John Weber, a training officer, showed them how to use the back of the hand in going over certain body areas, so inmates don't feel they are being groped.

For one exercise, training officer Regina McLain hid contraband including vials of pretend cocaine, handcuff keys and a tiny pistol in her clothing. Seven trainees searched her before one of the three women students in the class found the gun, tucked into McLain's pants below her belly.

The secret to being a good correctional officer, Weber said, is "not getting complacent."

Distributed by The Associated Press.



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