Correctional officer recruits: Our inmates’ keepers

Today, 53 recruits will be sworn in as officers for the Western Virginia Regional Jail, putting the facility another step closer to opening in the spring.

The recruit bangs his fist on the door.

Photos by Kyle Green | The Roanoke Times

Desha Scott (middle), followed by fellow Western Virginia Regional Jail correctional officer recruits (left), engage in a simulated cell extraction, where a disruptive inmate, played by Capt. Derek Stokes (right), refuses to comply with commands.


Clifton Burroughs (back) performs a simulated arrest on Brandon Buck. The two are correctional officer recruits for the new regional jail, which will graduate its first group of recruits today.


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“Inmate!” he yells. “Present your hands for cuffing.”

“No,” comes a muffled response from inside the cell.

With that, the recruit swings open the gray metal door and rushes in, holding a plastic shield.

Four others are behind him, forming a human battering ram. They knock the unruly inmate off balance and into a corner.

A scramble ensues. The recruits grunt and soon are out of breath.

“Stop resisting!” they yell.

It may have taken a knee on one of the inmate’s pressure points, or the twist of an arm, but the recruits finally have the man cuffed and lying facedown on the floor.

The inmate was really Derek Stokes, a captain at the Western Virginia Regional Jail. He was in a holding cell outside a Roanoke County courtroom and was willingly being battered so the recruits could wrap up the last of their training.

Today, the 53 recruits will be sworn in as correctional officers for the new regional jail, putting the facility another step closer to opening in March.

The jail will house inmates who have been sentenced in Salem and the counties of Roanoke, Franklin and Montgomery. Jails in those localities will remain open and hold prisoners awaiting trial.

With 605 beds, the new jail, near Dixie Caverns in Roanoke County, is expected to help relieve overcrowding at the other facilities.

Construction on the $122 million project is nearing completion, and jail officials are beginning to get everything in place for the opening.

Training the officers through the Roanoke County Criminal Justice Academy is just one aspect of the preparation. Superintendent Charlie Poff has been working with a transition team of about 12 people to develop policies and procedures and take care of logistics, down to ordering the linens.

“It’s a whole lot easier operating the facility than it is going through this,” he said.

There is so much to learn about the facility that Poff will have the officers start working at least two weeks before the opening.

They’ll have to master the security systems, learn procedures, practice evacuation plans and navigate 6 acres of jail.

On Tuesday, the sounds of drills and hammers echoed through the jail.

Concrete floors awaited tiling and carpeting, and wires hung from the exposed ceiling. Boxes of building materials filled rooms and cut wires littered the floor.

The 265,000-square-foot jail was designed with the environment in mind, and jail officials are seeking LEED certification, a rating system that measures a building’s energy efficiency and environmental friendliness.

Among the green features is the vacuum plumbing system, similar to what’s used in airplane bathrooms, which uses a third of the water that regular plumbing consumes. The laundry will be washed using rainwater collected in four 30,000 gallon tanks.

Skylights in the pods, which are large rooms lined with jail cells, will provide lighting during the day to help save on energy costs.

The recruits toured the facility in September and said they are looking forward to working there.

“The place is huge,” said Lt. Robert Altizer, who previously worked at the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office. “I think it’s going to be a great place to work.”

Altizer and about 170 other officers were chosen from a pool of more than 1,000 applicants, Poff said.

Seventy-seven officers are already qualified to work at the jail through the Virginia Department of Criminal Justice Services and don’t need to be trained at the academy. The remaining 50 recruits begin at the academy Dec. 1.

The recruits come from across the region and have worked a variety of jobs.

Jessica Ferrell of Roanoke used to drive a FedEx truck. “This is something I wanted to get into when I was younger,” she said.

Kim Fitch has worked for the National Parks Service and as a correctional officer in Ohio.

She’s been through three criminal justice academies and said Roanoke County’s training is some of the best she’s had.

“We’re going to be ready when the jail opens,” she said. “We’re going to be really ready.”



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