20 Graduate from Correctional Entrance Level Training Program
Many high-ranking correctional system officials will tell you that the men and women who keep order within Maryland's prisons and detention centers are known as correctional officers - not guards.
But a group of 20 new correctional officers also could be called trailblazers.
With family members and friends looking on, a total of 17 men and three women received their service badges and certificates Friday afternoon, signifying their graduation from the Correctional Entrance Level Training Program during a ceremony at the Fairplay Volunteer Fire Co.
This class is unique because it is the first to come through the recently revamped training program, which is longer than previous academies and more physically and mentally stringent, officials said.
"They did set the bar high," said Capt. Nicholas Hill, north regional training coordinator for the state's training commission. "We've seen so many students go through the correctional training academy ... and this class, for whatever reason, just seemed to be great people."
Hill said the class went "over and above" a lot of classes that have come through the program. They were physically and mentally fit and showed very few bad study habits, he said.
"Then, with the more stringent curriculum, it made it even more impressive because we've never had this physical demand on them," he said. "The testing process has completely changed."
The program was overhauled after officials realized that training procedures, which hadn't been changed in a long time, no longer were replicating what new recruits would encounter inside institutions, said Michael Stouffer, deputy secretary of operations for the state's Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services.
"We took that information and turned that into blocks of information within the academy," he said. "Things like communication skills, dealing with inmates ... dealing with pepper spray and how to function. A correctional officer has to continue to function in those situations to deal with the situation."
Increased physical training was an important improvement in the program, which was expanded from 26 days to 35 days and now is a model for other training programs in Maryland, Stouffer said.
The new program also includes five full days of defensive tactics training, as well as numerous days devoted to professionalism and ethics, inmate manipulation and fraternization, and report writing and testifying in court.
"It puts us in a much better place than where we were," Stouffer said.
Seven of the new officers graduated with honors, led by valedictorian Brian Wilhelm of the Maryland Correctional Training Center near Hagerstown.
In addition to the schooling and physical training, the program also teaches new recruits, who now will serve in facilities in Washington, Garrett and Allegany counties, the value of teamwork within correctional facilities.
New recruit Amanda Rhoderick, who addressed her class and the audience during the ceremony as the class spokeswoman, said they all are responsible for the care, custody and treatment of inmates, but also to stick up for one another.
"We may have had rough days and we got on each other's nerves, but all of us know that when it comes down to business, we have each other's backs," said Rhoderick, who now will report to the Maryland Correctional Institution near Hagerstown.
"Just remember that each day is going to bring a new problem," she told her fellow graduates. "Learn from each."
The following people graduated Friday from the Correctional Entrance Level Training Program:
Squad 1: William Slider III (class leader), Lucas Barnhart, Joshua Beard, Kenneth Shanholtz III, Kathryn Bryan
Squad 2: Jason Skidmore (squad leader), Jesse Ritchey, Carnie Carr, Robin Leeney, William Martin
Squad 3: Justin Blair (squad leader), Walter McMahan III, David McCoy, Amanda Rhoderick, Blaine Leasure
Squad 4: Dana Beal (squad leader), Earl Neville Jr., Earl Gibson, Brian Wilhelm, Michael McClafferty Jr.