Help wanted: Jail recruits for female staff
The inmate made it clear she didn’t want a room at Wayne Brown Correctional Facility. Jeannette Anderson, whose job was booking inmates into the jail, braced for a skirmish.
The inmate turned unruly, and Anderson reacted with a quick wrist lock.
“‘Wow! How did I do that?’ I don’t even know how I got there, but I did it right,” Anderson recalled.
She and two other correctional officers – corporals Barbara Garland and Lori Sartin – shared their experiences last week with a room of other women, all would-be job applicants.
The orientation was part of the Sheriff’s Office’s push to hire more women to comply with state requirements and get more staffing flexibility. It’s also aimed at reducing turnover.
Of the jail’s 49 correctional officers, 19 are women. There have been shifts with just one woman on duty, and state law requires a woman officer be present any time a female inmate’s cell is searched. Of the 162 inmates at the jail Monday night, 17 were women.
“When you’re the only female on shift, you’re pretty much on your feet the whole 12 hours,” Anderson said.
The officers say jail work has built their confidence, put them on equal ground with male co-workers, and provided financial stability. Continuous self-defense classes help with safety, and working with inmates can be satisfying.
“You can sit and be a mushroom, bored out of your mind, or you can do stuff, get things done,” Sartin said.
A single mom, Sartin enjoys the “graveyard shift” because she can see her son at night, head to work, then have breakfast with him in the morning.
With abundant overtime, she’s been able to buy a condominium and sport-utility vehicle. Top pay is more than $17 per hour, she said.
Then there’s the job’s sociological outlook.
“It’s a true study in human behavior, and it instills confidence in working with people,” said Garland.
Inmates are eventually freed, and she frequently chats with them in public.
“You have to deal with people at their worst. But you can also make a difference, if that’s what you choose to do,” Garland said.
Sheriff Keith Royal said women officers bring a different perspective to the jail. “Many times they can have a calming effect in resolving a situation,” he said.
County Personnel Director Angie Ureta’s office started the orientations, which include a jail tour, to limit the number of people who withdraw their applications deep into the hiring process, which includes background checks and physical and psychological tests.
“I’m going to be really interested to see if these women come through the testing process,” Ureta said.
Mischa Gobert, a Mill Valley resident and former deputy sheriff in San Francisco and Marin counties, decided to check it out after becoming enamored with Nevada City.
“I know it’s a good job. I know it’s a good, solid opportunity that offers self-esteem and longevity,” she said.
Crystal Reber, a Roseville resident and college student majoring in criminal justice, liked the officers’ approach to working with inmates.
“You can really get more contact than patrol (officers) and provide more one-on-one help,” she said.
Despite a pay raise in February 2001, Ureta said the correctional officer position remains a high-turnover job compared to deputy sheriffs, who also got raises last year. She said seven vacancies – down from 13 before the raise – will be filled within the next couple weeks.
“At one point last year, we were completely staffed with correctional officers, which is a fairly hard thing to do,” Ureta said. “Unfortunately, that didn’t last very long.”
Royal said promotions will soon create two more vacancies.
By comparison, Placer County has two vacancies and the need for up to 14 more jailers because of expansion. Of the Auburn jail’s 59 correctional officers, 19 are women, administrative clerk Chris Simmons said.
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