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High standards, stress make job as a jailer not for faint of heart
Capt. Danny Woods has been leading the Hall County Jail as commander for three months. - photo by Scott Rogers | The Times

Hiring jailers

  • Candidates go through many steps to become a jailer. Here are a few:
  • Filing the initial application
  • Submitting to a criminal background check
  • Taking a physical examination
  • Undergoing voice stress and psychological tests
  • Completing a one-week, new-hire orientation and a two-week basic jail officer course
  • Going through eight to 10 weeks of on-the-job training

Source: Hall County Sheriff’s Office

Patrick Tolan was leaning toward a career in law enforcement, but a “citizens academy” tour of the Hall County Jail was the clincher.

He said he was struck by the camaraderie of deputies, but also, “when I went to ride on patrol, I had the desire to get there one day.”

“You have to start at one point and work your way up,” said Tolan, who has worked for the Hall County Sheriff’s Office for 2« years.

In Hall, those aspiring to protect and serve behind a badge and gun and while driving a warm patrol car don’t get there overnight.

They must start their climb as a jailer, making sure that 1,000 or so confined people charged with various crimes, including rape and murder, tow the line as they go about their daily routines.

“It takes a special type of person to do this job,” said Lt. Cindy Mustachio, who manages day-to-day operations. “It’s not for the faint of heart. You have to be a true community servant.”

The jail at 1700 Barber Road, off Calvary Church Road in Southeast Hall, has attracted some negative attention over the past couple of years because of incidents involving jailers.

In the past year or so, four jailers have been charged with crimes related to the workplace — three of those involving inmates — and two others with crimes outside it.

And one of those six jailers, Dustin Charlton, was investigated in 2010 following an uprising at the jail.

He was suspended for five days after striking an inmate in the face, and then-jail commander Capt. Mark Bandy was suspended one day for tapping inmates in the head with his foot while they lay on the ground — incidents caught on surveillance video.

Most recently, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation charged ex-jailer David Pirkle with simple battery and violation of oath of office over a Dec. 30 incident in which he’s accused of striking a handcuffed inmate.

Sheriff Gerald Couch, who took office Jan. 1, has said that because of past issues at the jail, he plans on reviewing the overall process of hiring jailers.

“As law enforcement personnel, we must conduct ourselves in a professional manner and use only that force which is necessary to enforce the laws of Georgia,” he said.

“Many fine men and women work at our jail and those same dedicated people helped quickly resolve this disappointing incident by reporting it to their supervisors,” he said.

“We should not let the dishonorable acts of one individual color all our employees in the same light.”

The hiring process
The hiring of jailers starts, as at other jobs, with going through applications from the human resources department.

Prospective jailers go through a criminal background check through the FBI’s National Crime Information Center.

If applicants have ever served previously as officers, their Georgia Peace Officer Standards and Training records are checked, sheriff’s spokesman Sgt. Stephen Wilbanks has said.

Also, candidates take a physical and undergo a voice stress test, which is similar to a polygraph examination, and a psychological test.

“New hires go through a one-week, new-hire orientation, a two-week basic jail officer course to become certified jailers, and approximately eight to 10 weeks of on-the-job training,” Wilbanks said.

Jobs are “posted as needed,” said Capt. Danny Woods, a 24-year sheriff’s employee, who has served as jail commander for three months.

“When we post a job, we may get 100 applicants,” he said. “For some people, it’s just a job. But most people see it for what it is — a career and a calling. Everybody’s not cut out to do this.”

Who’s the ideal candidate?

“At the risk of sounding corny, we’re looking for someone who has integrity and honesty,” said Woods, who oversees some 130 total jailers, or about 30-32 per shift.

“We’re looking for a good, even temperament — somebody who is mature and who can handle stress. We’re looking for a well-rounded person with good communication skills.”

Still, for all hires, training is essential.

“You want to document their training, so that, later down the road, if you have issues, then you’ve done everything that you can to try to prevent that,” said Woods, who helped lead The Times on a tour of the jail last week.

Handling the stress
Jailers work to make sure inmates, who are awaiting trial or transfer to prison after a conviction, abide by the rules — such as standing at attention when a visitor passes by their cell block — but sometimes, and invariably, they cross the lines themselves.

And when they do, it hurts, Woods said.

“The public tends to lump us all together. Because we all wear the same uniform, they will think that just because this one did it, we’re all this way,” he said. “Well, we’re not. The bulk of officers you deal with ... are here for the right reasons.

“They come in here every day and do their job, and they do it well.”

Deputy David Kock said the key to working at the jail, for him, is performing several jobs at once.

“If you can’t do that, then the stress really builds up,” he said. “After a while, everybody gets their own rhythm and groove, and then you really can handle it.”

However, “you can’t walk in (to work) lollygagging, because the minute you let your guard down, something bad can happen,” Kock said. “But you can’t be so rigid that you’re not flexible.”

Typically, a jailer “can count on staying here at least two years” before moving on to patrol, Woods said.

“They have certain requirements to meet here before we sign them up for the Police Academy,” 11 weeks of intense training that prepares officers for the field, he said.

“You have to have a certain amount of academic prowess and you have to be able to pass firearms before we send you. Police Academy is not easy — it’s not given to you. You work for it.”

For now, Tolan is happy with his duties.

“The basic thing is just that, throughout the day, I achieve all the daily activities and make sure that everybody in here is taken care of and getting what they need,” he said.

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