S.C. detention center offering $37K+ for new COs, no experience or college required

Even so, the detention center is having issues hiring, the jail administrator said


By Alexandra Koch
Aiken Standard, S.C.
        
AIKEN, S.C. — The Aiken County detention center is hiring new corrections officers and offering a hefty salary to attract prospective employees.

Capt. Nick Gallam, jail administrator at the Aiken County detention center, said the jail is in need of additional detention officers after facing high turnover rates and lingering effects of the pandemic.

The detention center currently has multiple openings, four of which are new positions the Aiken County Council authorized this fiscal year, which have still not been filled, Gallam said.

No experience is necessary for the positions, making the offer enticing for younger members of the workforce.

"Most of the folks that we hire have no experience whatsoever," Gallam said. "We actually like that better because you don't have folks come in with bad habits. We train them the way we want to train, and it usually works out better for us; but we definitely will take people with experience."

A high school diploma or a GED is required, but the detention center said it is willing to pay even more for people with degrees.

"No experience and no college education at $37,479, which is about $16.96 an hour, is very competitive for detention officers in our area in the state," Gallam said.

Even so, the detention center is still having issues hiring. Gallam cited an influx of job vacancies due to the pandemic and long hours as potential reasons for the deficit.

"Ten years ago, we didn't have this problem," Gallam said. "We've always experienced turnover in corrections because it's not for everybody, but we would always receive applicants that we could replace those with — we would do it through volume."

The detention center is stepping up recruiting in hopes it will receive more interest.

"We've just been recruiting our tails off," Gallam said. "But here in the last two weeks, we've seen a big influx, and I've got 11 or 12 people that we're getting pretty close to making conditional job offers with — and I think probably nine of them are females."

About 75% of applicants are female, Gallam said, contrasting the stereotype of detention officers.

The No. 1 skill the detention center is looking for is interpersonal communication skills, Gallam said.

"You're dealing with people 12 hours a day," he said. "So if you don't know how to communicate, you're not going to be successful."

Supervisory skills is also something the detention center looks for in candidates. "You know if somebody has worked in supervision before," he said. "They usually do really well."

Other than those general skills, other requirements include being a U.S. citizen and having a clean criminal history.

"We can work with some criminal history issues, but no crimes of moral turpitude," Gallam said. "No DUIs within the last five years, a decent driving record."

Applicants must also pass a Nelson Denny exam, which is a basic reading comprehension and vocabulary test, and pass a polygraph.

Gallam said people are generally intimidated by the position, but the detention center is not a prison, it's a local jail.

"The thing that you have to remember is all of these people come from the community," he said. "This is a local jail; these are all local people. This might be the same person that you were in line with at Walmart, ready to do your checkout 10 days prior, but now that we put them in an orange jumpsuit, they're more intimidating."

New officer training

All new detention officers go through a two-and-a-half week pre-service training course, in order to prepare for training.

South Carolina jail standards require that the detention center provide a 40-hour pre-service training course before anyone can work around inmates.

"We double that [40 hours] and go above and beyond," Gallam said. "It's mostly in-classroom correctional theory, and there's some defensive tactics."

Once pre-service training is completed, the detention center has new employees shadow a field training officer for another three weeks.

"That's to learn on-the-job training," Gallam said. "They're just watching how the field training officer does the job, how they interact with inmates, how they do paperwork — and then slowly, the officer starts turning those responsibilities over to the trainee."

At the end of the process, Gallam said the trainee is doing everything on their own, with supervision, and the officer observes them.

"Then, we have up to a year to send them to the Criminal Justice Academy," he said. "They get the basic detention course at the academy, which is three weeks long. Once they complete that, they are a certified class II officer in South Carolina, which is a detention officer."

People interested in employment with the Aiken County detention center can pick up an application from the Aiken County Sheriff's Office, complete an application at S.C. Works Aiken Center, or fill out an Aiken County Sheriff's Office employment application online at aikencountysheriff.net/employment.
   
(c)2021 the Aiken Standard (Aiken, S.C.)

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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