Community service: Corrections officer feels he’s giving back

By Katherine Wartell

The patrol officers get the glory of the chase, but the lesser-seen corrections officers keep order in the jail while the justice system runs its course.

For eight hours a day, Jess Wickizer keeps watch over about 80 inmates housed at the Riley County Jail.

For the first 20 minutes of his day, he attends a debriefing before taking a head count of the inmates in their pods. The count includes asking them whether they have any medical or complaint requests.

Wickizer then makes face time with those in the solitary or medical pods. Inmates are placed in solitary for behavioral or safety issues or at the request of the inmate.

He also spends his day booking, processing and bonding inmates and will escort them to and from their court appearances. For some inmates, their appearances are for relatively minor charges, but Wickizer has also escorted inmates accused of murder.

At the jail, Wickizer said, there is one correction officer for about 30 or so inmates. “Inmates are always going to see what they can get away with,” he said. “They have all day to sit around.”

Wickizer, who advises against becoming friends with those booked in the jail, said it is important to strike a balance of being professionally polite. “Sometimes (the inmates) are in a really good mood,” he said. “Sometimes they are in a foul mood.”

Part of the job includes putting on cell extraction gear when inmates need to be removed from their 2-person cells or when an inmate has contraband. Other potentially dangerous situations include fights between inmates when back-up needs to be called.

But Wickizer said they try to stay hands off as much as possible. “Hands-on is a last resort,” he said.

And just getting the job is a feat in itself, requiring three months of interviews and testing.

First, Wickizer took a written test and then met with a three-person panel for an initial interview. Then he underwent a computer voice stress analyzer test, which can detect when an interviewee is experiencing stress in response to a specific question.

After that, he had an interview with the captain of the jail as well as a home interview with a retired officer, followed finally by an interview with the director or the police department.

The interview process also included an extensive psychological evaluation and a physical.

Wickizer said he chose corrections over patrol because of its steady hours. On typical days, he works from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. While he doesn’t interact with the community on the job, he said he can still feel like he’s giving back.

Though Wickizer graduated with a degree in criminal justice from Fort Hays State University in 2004 and worked during college at a juvenile detention center, he didn’t start working in the field again until about a year ago.

Wickizer joined his wife, Dawn, who works in dispatch, at the Riley County Police Department in February 2012.

Dawn Wickizer had joined the department shortly after the couple moved to Manhattan from western Kansas, where she also graduated from Fort Hays State University with a degree in criminal justice.

Wickizer said she had suggested for some time that he join the department as well.

But prior to taking the job, Wickizer worked for years in construction, even working on a 1-year contract in Mosul, Iraq for the company KBR, where he said he lived in shipping container within a compound.

Wickizer was laid off from his construction work in August 2011, prompting him to determine that it was time to get back into law enforcement.

Now, Wickizer said, “it’s easy to come to work.”

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