Clark County’s new Jail Services Department, which took over management of the county’s jail on Jan. 1, is embracing creative ways to find new employees.
Around 75 people came to the department’s corrections career open house Wednesday evening at the Public Service Center in downtown Vancouver. During the two-hour hiring fair, jail leadership and staff explained the county’s hiring process, discussed preparing for the physical ability and public safety tests and described the various positions available at the jail. They even offered some tips on interviewing.
Director David Shook said for many people, becoming a corrections officer is a way to give back to the community and make it safer.
“You’ve probably seen crime happening around you. This is that opportunity to be a part of the solution,” Shook told the audience.
Shook said the role of corrections officers has also changed significantly and is more than just keeping inmates locked up.
“We’re ultimately responsible for every minute of an inmate’s day. We protect them from themselves, we protect them from others — and (we) make sure that their process through the law and justice system is effective,” Shook said.
In addition to being a great profession that is important to the community, Shook said, working for Jail Services provides an opportunity to learn and grow.
“You see things, you get to experience things, you change your perspective on life,” he said .
Sgt. Vince Johnson, who has been with the jail for 23 years, told the prospective employees that he still loves his job.
“It allowed me to keep a promise I made to my father-in-law to take care of his baby girl,” he told the audience. “The greatest accomplishment is, for me, to man up and be able to take care of (my) family. This job has allowed that.”
Johnson said while the pay is good and benefits are outstanding, having a former inmate approach you on the street and thank you for changing their life is the real reward.
“You can’t put a dollar amount on that,” he said.
Although most of the people attending the open house were men, there were several women in the crowd, including Vancouver resident Kylie Diaz. Diaz said it’s been a life-long dream to work in public safety.
“I’ve wanted to do law enforcement since I was 9 years old,” Diaz said.
She said after listening to the jail leadership and staff discuss their jobs, she was definitely interested. Although she has family and friends who work in law enforcement, she said it was helpful to hear the county’s point of view.
Diaz was one of several people to sign up on Wednesday to take the public safety test, something she said she promised her best friend she would do.
For Dylan Meehan, of Vancouver, working in public safety is also a family legacy.
“My grandfather was a parole officer in New York City,” Meehan said. “I’ve always been interested in working in criminal justice. I’ve been struggling to find a career, and this is a good one.”
He said the pay rate and benefits were also attractive.
Fellow Vancouver resident Justin Downs said his stepfather works in corrections so he had to come check it out.
“He’s been talking to me about it for years,” he said. “But I’ve always been interested in criminal psychology.”
He said his interest was piqued after the jail management structure was changed and “the fact that they’re separate from the sheriff’s office.”
Downs said being able to focus on rehabilitation and reducing recidivism rather than keeping people locked up also made the job more appealing.
The county and Jail Services specifically have been exploring new ways to recruit employees. Deputy County Manager Amber Emery said the recruiting team has been traveling to Joint Base Lewis-McChord near Tacoma regularly to recruit staff and now posts openings on job sites like Indeed.com.
“We’ll hold as many of these (open houses) as needed,” Emery said.
If the goal of the evening was to begin filling as many of the 29 corrections and support positions currently open as possible, it was undoubtedly a success. According to Emery, 45 of the 50 testing slots open on May 6 were full by Thursday morning. She said the department expects the remaining slots to be filled soon.
For more information on Jail Services and positions available, go to https://clark.wa.gov/jail-services.