CCA employees preparing for inmates

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, June 16, 2009

NATCHEZ — In a bare white room dotted with red mats, newly hired Corrections Corporation of America correctional officers were learning the fundamentals of self-defense Monday afternoon.

In one demonstration, self-defense instructor Jake Burkett used a wrist lock on fellow instructor James Codner that rendered Codner immobile.

“Now that he’s in the wrist-lock, he’s not going anywhere,” Burkett said straddling the back of Codner’s neck with his twisted wrist tucked under his arm. “You could hold him like this all day long.”

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During their demonstration Burkett and Codner showed the facility’s incoming officers a series of kicks and punches that aren’t aimed at assaulting prisoners, but meant to show the corrections officers how to defend themselves from violent inmates, Burkett said.

“We want to teach them how to get away from a violent situation, or defend themselves until help arrives,” Burkett said. “It’s geared toward defensive techniques.”

CCA Warden Vance Laughlin said training classes, like Monday’s, are critical for new employees.

Laughlin said many of the facility’s new recruits will be supervising inmates their first day on the job and must be well trained.

And by August, the facility’s first inmates will begin arriving

“We need to give them a foundation to be successful,” Laughlin said. “This is a very different job than most of them have had.”

Most of the prison’s 400 employees will go through a four-week training program before they’re ready to walk the halls of the prison.

But despite a job fair in April that netted thousands of applicants, Laughlin is still looking for employees.

Of the 400 employees needed to run the prison, approximately 200 have been hired.

Laughlin said since the area hasn’t had a large prison in Adams County in the past, there aren’t many people living in the area with the necessary skill sets to work at the prison.

And some of those, working elsewhere for CCA, with the needed skills are not willing to relocate.

“It makes it a little more difficult,” Laughlin said.

But while some spots are hard to fill, like clerical positions, Laughlin is confident the prison will be fully staffed by November.

And while prisoner’s will begin arriving in two months CCA will not reach full capacity until sometime in 2010, Laughlin said.

But before the inmates arrive and before all the employees are hired, Laughlin and his crew have one other objective — cleaning.

For nearly six months the facility sat dormant except for a three-man maintenance crew.

“What we need now is a deep sanitization for the whole place,” Laughlin said. “I want these floors to shine like a new penny.”

And the cleaning deadline is on the tightest schedule of all.

The facility’s grand opening is scheduled for July 14.