DOC looking to high schools for new recruits

DOVER — The Department of Correction will offer its first ever “youth academy” to the state’s high schoolers in July.

The free three-day academy will give students a crash course on the role the DOC plays in criminal justice, familiarize them with the responsibilities of various roles within the agency and leave the students certified in CPR and first-aid.

The brainchild of Jennifer Biddle, chief of administrative services, the youth academy is part of a wider recruitment plan to strengthen the pipeline of qualified applicants to the DOC’s ranks.

Currently short at least 271 correctional officers and on course to spend $30 million on overtime, the department has been criticized as being “chronically understaffed.”

“We’re looking for students already interested in a law enforcement career to apply, maybe some currently in criminal justice pathways in their schools,” said Ms. Biddle.

To be considered, students must write a one-page essay explaining why they’re interested in a career in law enforcement.

The program is open to all high schoolers, but Ms. Biddle said their likely target group is sophomores to seniors. About 20 students will be selected.

The academy take place July 10-12 from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. each day. It will include discussions about the criminal justice system and the DOC’s place in it, the opportunity to conduct a cell search and practice contraband seizure, a chance to compete on DOC’s obstacle course and several demonstrations. Lunch will also be provided for students.

“There will be an intro to criminal justice as a whole. We’ll have a police officer come in and explain the arrest process and the investigation, a prosecutor to talk about the trial phase and a correctional and probation officer to talk about their work,” said DOC spokeswoman Jayme Gravell.

“They’ll also learn about the different job opportunities in the DOC including K9 handlers, maintenance, food service and more. We’ll be talking them through how their actions and behaviors now can influence whether or not they’ll be accepted into the field in the future as well — stressing the importance of making good decisions and surrounding yourself with positive people.”

Ms. Biddle said a representative from Delaware Technical Community College will also be on hand to explain the benefits of the new correctional officer certificate program they partnered with DOC to launch last year.

The academy will also tour a DOC facility, but students won’t come into contact with Level 5 inmates.

Ms. Gravell said the academy might help students understand the responsibilities of a career in the DOC better because public perception and television “reality shows” often misrepresent the work.

“A lot of people don’t understand what correctional and probation officers do on a day-to-day basis. So this will help them understand their role in the criminal justice system,” she said. “In the academy they can have a chance to see how it’s a challenging, but important, career that can be very rewarding.”

Currently, Ms. Biddle says the amount of applicants fresh out of high school enrolling as cadets in the DOC’s training academy isn’t very substantial, but she’s hoping that the youth academy will help increase interest.

Applicants must be at least 19.5 years old to apply for a DOC job.

News of the youth academy comes on the heels of recently announced hiring bonuses that pay $3,000 to new sign-ons and $1,000 for referrals.

To apply for the youth academy, students are encouraged to request more information from their school’s guidance counselor or email the DOC at DOCJobs@state.de.us.

Staff writer Ian Gronau can be reached at 741-8272 or igronau@newszap.com

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