By Joe Beck
MIDDLETOWN -- Getting a new jailer ready for the rigors of the job begins at Rappahannock Regional Criminal Justice Academy where dozens of recruits are learning the fine points of maintaining law and order among hundreds of inmates, some of them with records of violent crime.
The academy's recruits will be among 95 employees overseeing the Rappahannock, Shenandoah and Warren County Regional Jail when it opens in July on U.S. 340-522 north of Front Royal.
The academy's recruits completed seven weeks of a 12-week training program Friday, an effort to introduce them to some of the complexities that will await them when the first inmates arrive.
The instruction includes classes in topics such as interpersonal communications skills, report writing, civil and criminal liabilities; record keeping; state law; constitutional law and CPR.
There are also firearms training and 40 hours of practicing defensive tactics, a reminder of some of the worst-case scenarios that can unfold in a prison or jail.
Robert Hersey, the basic training coordinator of the academy and a retired police official, said the instructors can teach minds and bodies but the intangibles of the soul are the most important factor in the making of a jailer.
"It comes down to integrity," Hersey said. "We're pretty strict with that. We can teach them everything there is to know but unless they have integrity and common sense, it will be a struggle."
The recruits come from all kinds of backgrounds.
"It's a hodgepodge," Hersey said, adding that many come straight from college or the military. A few are residents of West Virginia.
"We've been very fortunate," Hersey said. "They're a good group of people."
Kris Crabill, 41, president of the recruiting class, said he was looking for a different career when he applied to be a jailer after 14 years in the printing industry.
"I just had an interest," Crabill said of working at the jail. "I have a lot of friends in law enforcement. That also drove me."
Crabill said training has gone "very well" for him.
"It's taught me a lot," Crabill said, "and made me appreciate the good and bad," that goes with being a jailer.
Charmaine Russell, a former underground utility supervisor for Frederick County, called the impending opening of the jail, "a great opportunity" for her to try a new career while also breaking in a new facility.
Like Hersey, she said she believes personal values play a decisive role in how well a jailer performs on the job.
"Integrity is a big key in this field, professionalism," Russell said.
Jacob Medina is one of the recruits with a background in the military. Medina said he did some security work while serving with the Marines in Iraq. Being a jailer fits well with his experience.
"I want something with structure and something I'm comfortable with, Medina said.
The current class of 34 jailers will be followed by another with about 40 recruits in April.
The first jailers are expected to arrive at the facility in May or June. Hersey said the academy will follow its usual practice of contacting recruits after they begin their jobs and ask them for feedback about their training.
Hersey said he hopes they tell him that they learned what they needed to manage the demands of being a jailer.
"That's what we're looking for," Hersey said. "Whether we did things right or whether we need to tweak things."
Contact staff writer Joe Beck at 540-465-5137 ext. 142, or email@example.com