The Hunt Is On for Guards for S.D. County's New State Prison

Times Staff Writer

The state Department of Corrections is staging a recruiting drive for guards in San Diego County that coincides with the opening of the first state prison in the county.

The prison on Otay Mesa is expected to be ready for 500 prisoners in November, and the process of recruiting and training guards takes six to nine months, a corrections official said. The prison will have 450 guards and house 2,200 inmates when in full operation by August, 1987.

"Our goal is to have 50% of the correctional officers in the new prison come from the San Diego area, if possible within civil service guidelines," said Carlos Sanchez, chief recruiting officer for the Corrections Department. "We always try to hire people from the area where a prison is opened."

"We are not looking for supercops, but we are not looking for people who will be pushovers, either," recruitment analyst Trina Alaniz said.

"We want people who are strong of character, but still can feel compassion for people under restraint. When people think of prisons, they think of a James Cagney movie, a lot of brutality. It's a misconception. We are looking for someone with logic and common sense."

Alaniz added, "They might be asked something like, 'If you were escorting a group of 20 inmates from point A to point B, where would you position yourself?' The correct answer is at the end, but not everyone would say that."

Applicants must be 21 years old by the time of appointment, U.S. citizens, physically fit, have no felony convictions and be free from drug use.

Corrections recruitment is aimed at supplying guards statewide for 12 existing prisons and the 11 institutions, including the Otay Mesa prison, that are to be built.

"We want to make sure those individuals in the community are given a fair shot," said corrections official Tom Hornung.

"Assignments are based on (test) scores, but since we are also recruiting for other prisons, we hope that we can place San Diegans at the prison there," Sanchez said.

The first 100 to 125 correctional officers will start work about a month before the first group of inmates at the Otay Mesa prison. Half of these officers will be seasoned and the rest will be new appointees, Sanchez said.

Although the new prison will be for men only, the state Department of Corrections wants 25% of the correctional officers to be women, he added.

Those who are accepted as recruits will spend six weeks at the training academy at Galt, about 25 miles from Sacramento. Pay during training is $1,551 per month.

Starting pay, after six weeks of training, is $2,139 a month, Alaniz said.

Guards will make at least $2,455 a month at the end of two years. In addition, guards receive medical, dental and eye-care benefits, sick leave and time-and-a-half for overtime.

"There is a lot of overtime," Alaniz said.

After a nine-month probation period, corrections officers are eligible to apply for transfers to other prisons.

Correctional officer recruitment is targeting minority groups, Alaniz said.

"We are looking primarily for Asians, Filipinos, Hispanics and women," Alaniz said. "We're taking up the slack for other state agencies because we're doing the most hiring."

Sanchez said the department hopes 28% of the officers at the new prison will be Latino and 10% Asian.

Applicants must undergo an oral examination; pass a written test, medical checks and physical ability test; be fingerprinted, and undergo a background check.

A date in March will be set for the examinations.

The Corrections Department is conducting workshops in San Diego County for those interested in learning more about becoming a corrections officer.

The workshops will be held at:

- National City Public Library, 200 East 12th St., 6:30 p.m. Monday.

- Midway Continuing Eduction Center, 3249 Forham St., 6:30 p.m. Tuesday.

- Southwestern College, 11 a.m. Tuesday.

- Oceanside unemployment office, 2027 Mission Ave., 6:30 p.m. Wednesday.

- San Diego City College, 6:30 p.m. Thursday.

Flyers with more information can be obtained at state job service or unemployment offices or by writing to the Department of Corrections, P.O. Box 9359, Ontario, Calif. 91761.

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