With starting salaries boosted and 100 positions open, the Utah Department of Corrections has stepped up efforts to fill those positions.
The 2008 Utah Legislature appropriated $3 million for officer recruitment and retention. This funding led to the increase in starting salaries from $13.73 to $16.07 per hour, according to public information officer Angie Welling.
On Wednesday, the department hosted an open house and barbecue at the Draper Fred F. House Academy Building, allowing interested community members to learn about the various careers available. While at the open house, participants were able to watch firearms, SWAT and K-9 demonstrations as well as to participate in a laser shoot activity.
These activities simulated situations where participants had to react under pressure and "shoot" the bad guy during appropriate circumstances. "You have to have a little bit of fun and excitement," said Capt. Chris Kishiyama, a supervisor with Adult Probation and Parole.
"A lot of people see (corrections) as walking down prison halls," Kishiyama said. "It's important to inform the public of all the aspects of corrections."
Once hired into the Department of Corrections, officers are encouraged to receive training and move into different fields of interest.
"You are given new challenges every day," Sgt. Mark Dewolfe said of working with the inmates.
Lt. Vic Smith agreed, "After a while you have motivation to help the inmates. There's a goal at the end." Smith works with inmates with substance abuse problems.
Several community members came to the open house with the intent of applying for a job with the department. Laptops were available for them to apply online.Kaylen Merritt of West Valley City heard about the open house on the radio and came straight to the laptops when she arrived. Only when her application was completely filled out did Merritt enjoy the demonstrations and food offered by the department. "About six months ago I decided I wanted to be a police officer," Merritt explained. "It's the right thing for me, and I know it will make me a better person by going out and helping other people."