Weather affects turnout for hiring event at OCI

The turnout for the recent hiring event at the Okeechobee Correctional Institution (OCI) was less than hoped for, possibly due to the weather, said Human Resources Director Kunta Braswell, but he and Capt. Cheryl Marshall were hopeful that more people would come out later in the afternoon. Capt. Marshall is in charge of recruitment for the region and said the turnover in this area is high but no higher than any other area. The problem, she explained, is that the population here is smaller so there is a smaller pool of replacements to draw from. Mr. Braswell said the hiring event was set up so the applicants could fill out their applications and then an interview could be done “on the spot.” Of course, he explained, there would still need to be a background check before the person could actually be hired.

Warden Lars Severson said they have lots of vacancies to fill. Often, he said, they train their new officers — send them through the academy, then they leave to go work for another nearby agency, leaving OCI to have to hire and train more officers. “It is frustrating, but we aren’t going to give up,” he said. “Our goal is a safe environment for inmates and officers, so we will do everything we can to fill these positions.”

Trainees become certified in defensive tactics and receive firearm training. They are trained in interpersonal skills and take practical tests before completing the academy.

The main unit of OCI houses all levels of criminals, but there is no death row and there is no mental health unit. They have a work camp with less violent criminals, and in Pahokee, the Sago Palm Camp houses those who are within three years of release and who will be released to Palm Beach County. It is a training camp to help them prepare for reentry to society.

OCI has several programs for inmates to get involved in. At the work camp, they have a six-week dog training program where the inmates train dogs in basic obedience. The dogs come from Loxahatchee Animal Rescue Community. Once the dogs are trained, they are put up for adoption with no fee. The training is to make them more adoptable, said Warden Severson.

They also have a one-year training program for therapy dogs out at their Sago Palm Camp. These dog arrive as puppies, and they use only golden Labrador retrievers. Warden Severson said he believes there is a fee involved for these dogs, though.

Other programs offered are the following:

• Educational;

• Adult Basic Education;

• Pre-GED;

• Faith-based and character;

• HVAC (at Sago Palm); and,

• Substance abuse.

There are many openings in different areas, security and non-security, including food service. Anyone interested in applying should call Mr. Braswell at 863-824-1137.

Cathy Womble is a staff writer for the Lake Okeechobee News.

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