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By Steven C. Kelly, Director Jail and Court Services Bureau (Ret)
Published: 12/30/2013

Volunteershands One of the big challenges in running a jail operation is staffing. We often struggle to find the right balance to meet all of the needs of our facility. The sergeants and lieutenants clamor for more deputies or jailers. The booking staff want more booking techs. The kitchen needs more culinary techs. Medical is always looking for more nurses and doctors. One way to help mitigate these issues is with the use of volunteers. The following is an example of how beneficial this option can be:

I recently received news that a woman I had known for many years had passed away. She was 89. She worked, as a volunteer, for nearly 20 years at the Washoe County Jail, where I was a Captain - and she did it all for free. The primary job that she held was to sort, open and check all incoming mail for contraband and scan it for prohibited content. In her own way she was a bit of a hero as she handled this arduous task without complaint and was more reliable than the rising of the sun. She managed this task through the years as the jail population rose from 600 to 1400 inmates. She finally “retired” when she was 87. There was never a complaint about the quality of her work; in fact, her dedication would have been hard to replace. I remember telling fellow jail administrators about her and I would get skeptical looks, the idea of using a volunteer in this capacity seemed a little hard for them to grasp.

Why do people volunteer? Some do it because they want to give back. Others want to find something of value that fills part of their day. Someone else may do it out of loyalty to their community. All of these are good motives that can enhance your organization.

I don’t know of anyone else who had someone in a volunteer capacity fulfilling what many consider a correctional security function. But I ask, why not? I have seen volunteers utilized for reviewing cold case investigation (with prior investigative experience), managing radio operations during emergencies, and search and rescue functions. Many agencies use volunteers as reserves to handle policing duties. Why not in the jail, to help handle security functions? Volunteers are used in many facilities in making religious and counseling services available. They are put in direct contact with the inmates and in many cases they are from outside organizations. I realize that unions may object to some duties that they feel are impacting paid positions; however, it seems to me that there were always more projects than people to get them done. The use of volunteers to get some of the drudge work accomplished is one way to get some of this work handled.

Another example of volunteerism lies in the National Park Service. The parks could literally not function without their volunteer program and you would be surprised as to the variety of positions in which people are used.

We all wish that we had unlimited budgets and can imagine the things we could accomplish if we could have all of the resources that we needed. A well thought out volunteer program can one option that can help.

There is a flip side to this coin. Have you ever considered being a volunteer? I do not mean donating your work time at your job. I am talking about giving some time to one of the many service organizations that are in your community. This is one way to achieve something that has visible positive results and keeps you in touch with your community or neighborhood. I have rang the bell for the Salvation Army, been a board member for the American Red Cross, participated in fund raisers for Big Brothers, Big Sisters, and cleaned parks with Kiwanis. Being involved with these groups provided positive social contacts; got me out the sometimes negative atmosphere that corrections can be and made me see the issues in my community in a different light. It also made me realize that our world would be a far worse place without volunteers. Your involvement does not require a huge commitment of time, an occasional Saturday, or an evening, but the results always worth the effort.

Corrections.com author, Steven C. Kelly served 25 years at Washoe County Sheriff’s Office retiring as a captain. His last post was as the Jail Director for the Ada County Sheriff's office in Boise, ID. He holds a master degree in Management from the University of Phoenix and attended the FBI National Academy in 2009.

Other articles by Kelly:


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