By NICK KIPPER
Capital News Service
LANSING — More veterans are working as correctional officers in Michigan prisons, thanks to a recent state program designed to recruit them.
Of the 13,500 employees in the Department of Corrections, nearly 20 percent are military veterans, including 150 who were hired since the program began last year, said Darrick Alvarez, the veterans liaison for the department.
All applicants must complete at least 30 college credit hours in a relevant field, such as psychology, criminal justice, social work or law enforcement to be eligible for employment.
However, veterans who have completed basic training and two years of military service are required to complete only 15 credits.
The change was made last year to boost military applicants to a department that already has many of them.
“This increased us to about 60 percent of veterans qualifying right off the bat,” Alvarez said. “This exemption was really the beginning of us looking at veterans’ preferences.”
Alvarez spent eight years in the Army Reserve. He now acts as the first contact for retiring military personnel interested in working in corrections. He regularly attends veterans’ hiring fairs across the state.
“My job is to do everything I can to help a veteran get hired and move forward with us,” he said. “They see I’m a veteran which makes it real comfortable for them to feel at ease and want to join our department.”
The department’s continued recruitment of veterans stems from a number of traits they possess, none more evident than selflessness, he said.
“Veterans have excellent leadership skills. Their honor and integrity in an often thankless job at times really stands out,” Alvarez said. “The department is kind of out of sight, out of mind really so their ability to give selfless service is why we reach out to them.”
James Bass-Kitchen is a recruit in the department’s most recent class of corrections officers and spent four years on active Army duty. He learned about the department’s hiring on Facebook, read further about the veterans program and reached out to Alvarez after.
“It’s not terribly different from the military — a lot of people management and learning how to deal with different people in different ways,” Bass-Kitchen said.
“Like something we’d always say in the military: stay alert, stay alive.”