Hundreds of people crowded into lines and filled out job applications on all available flat surfaces at the Reeves Municipal Center yesterday to vie for at least 60 correctional officer jobs at the District's Youth Services Center and Oak Hill juvenile detention facilities. By 8 a.m., applicants were already lining up outside for the 10 a.m. job fair, which started early because of the high interest.
Only about one of 20 applicants made it to the interview stage, Kim Jenkins, of the D.C. Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services, said from behind a blue ribbon that cordoned off the interview area. "It's like the hottest club in town," she said. "Can you get past the velvet rope into the interview section?" she asked dramatically.
The Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services is under a mandate to fill at least 114 positions by the end of this year and hoped to hire 60 or more from those at the event, said Chief Administrative Officer Carolyn Stennett. Oak Hill has been chronically understaffed, she said, and safety violations, violence and lack of rehabilitation have been the subjects of a lawsuit for two decades. The starting salary for youth correctional officers is $33,637, plus benefits. The city's personnel office will make job offers next week after conducting background checks, Stennett said.
After a recent consultant's report detailed the staffing problems, the department began a hiring push, Stennett said. Having more employees will lessen the overtime burden on current workers as well as help them generate more activities for youths and improve safety, she said.
Many of those who came to the job fair had worked in jails or group homes. Some saw the youth correctional officer position simply as a source of stable employment and health insurance, but others -- those the department was looking for, officials said -- seemed excited at the chance to work with youngsters.
The job would be "an opportunity to put the skills I have already obtained to work in a different profession," said Tanya Marris, 30, of Temple Hills. For nine years, Marris helped paralyzed veterans, the mentally ill and the developmentally disabled as a case manager for nonprofit groups, she said. The key to working with youths to balance authority and respect, she said. "Because my background is social work instead of criminal justice, it will put a different spin on things," she said.
Since February, the department, under Vincent Schiraldi, has created plans to shift youths from locked custody to community-based alternatives and offer more activities and job opportunities. "We're looking for individuals during the course of the interview who will show a tendency to be flexible and work with him towards that vision," Evelyn Goodwin said as she processed applications.
"Imprisonment doesn't always help the situation, and there are not always enough programs for when they get out," said applicant Janine Green, 24, of Southeast Washington. Green has worked security and counseled girls at Planned Parenthood and now studies nursing, she said. A job at a youth facility, Green said, would combine skills from all of those areas. She sees herself, she said, as "an advocate for getting kids on the right track."
The Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services hoped to hire at least 60 people through the job fair.