Corrections department holds job fair in Concord, Manchester to recruit new officers, relieve strain
Guarding a prison isn’t exactly Adam Callahan’s first choice of professions. But a man needs a job, and at 31, married and unemployed since at least June, he’s feeling the pinch of life without a paycheck.
So on Thursday about 2 p.m., the New Jersey native and disabled military veteran showed up at the Howard Recreation Center in Concord, for Part Two of the state’s first corrections-only job fair in at least a decade.
The event, held in Manchester and Concord and sponsored by New Hampshire Employment Security, was meant to attract young men and women to a profession officials say has been hit hard in recent years. Officer staffing at the Concord state prison alone is nearly 100 below what it should be, according to officials. Officers are routinely required to put in three, sometimes four overtime shifts per week to fill the void.
Capt. Ron Gagliardi, a corrections officer for 18 years, said bringing in new officers is critical to help relieve a noticeably overstrained staff.
“They need to know that there’s a light at the end of the tunnel,” he said.
Jeff Lyons, a corrections spokesman, said the department has funding for about 40 vacant positions in Concord – mostly officers. There are about 65 additional unfunded positions at the prison. Commissioner William Wrenn said his goal is to fill the current funded vacancies before the next budget cycle, as a signal to legislators about the need to fund those added positions.
“I want to see us to the point where we’re right up against those unfunded positions,” he said.
But convincing people like Callahan, one of a few dozen prospects who trickled in Thursday, to seriously consider it isn’t always easy. Between safety concerns and stereotypes publicized by the media, he said, there is a generally negative perception of working in a prison.
“Looking at a corrections environment is not something a lot of people put at the top of their list,” Lyons said. “Once they learn what we really do, their opinion about that might change.”
For Callahan, the concern is less about perception and more about whether he wants to revisit the known hardships it entails. He’s not sold on the career, he said, but he knows the work – he helped staff a detention center in Iraq in 2008 and 2009 – and knows what it takes to do it well.
“I’ve done the training before, and I know the stuff they do with getting sprayed with pepper spray and stuff, and it really sucks,” he said after filling out an application. He added, “I have to decide if I’m willing to go through all of that stuff again.”
Officials are quick to note that much of the training to become a corrections officer overlaps with that required by police departments, and that corrections work can be a great stepping stone to that profession. But the industry has its own draws, as well, they said.
“Most people, when they think of law enforcement, they think of police,” said Wrenn. “What we’re trying to say is, ‘Hey, we’re law enforcement, too. Take a look at us.’ ”
Becoming a corrections officer can be a long process, however, and that might deter some from it. Applicants have to pass a series of physical fitness tests before they can enroll in a nine-week training academy, where they learn everything from firearm and defensive tactics to investigative skills.
The academy is offered just a few times each year; the next one begins in September. No one who filled out an application Thursday will be eligible to enroll in that, given the short turnaround, Lyons said.
Callahan, who is married and has a stepson, said he planned to continue looking for work elsewhere. “Because honestly,” he said, “this is not something that’s going to be for a while. August 28 is when they’re doing physical fitness tests, which is like a week and a half away. That’s still a long time to be without money.”
The department routinely attends job fairs, but Lyons said Thursday’s was the first corrections-only event held in years.
(Jeremy Blackman can be reached at 369-3319, firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @JBlackmanCM.)