ACC hosts Corrections Academy for jail officers

‘We got to beat each other up’

News Photo by Julie Riddle Corrections-officers-in-training role-play a confrontational situation at Alpena Community College’s annual Corrections Academy, ending with a graduation ceremony later this week.

ALPENA–A collection of uniforms sat in a classroom at Alpena Community College’s campus on Wednesday. Their wearers, law enforcement officers from sheriff’s departments around northern Michigan, were nearly at the end of four weeks of intensive training at ACC’s Corrections Academy, a program run each summer to provide required training for the officers who supervise inmates at county jails .

Twenty students, ranging in age from an enthusiastic 19 to an experienced and practical upper 40s, gave feedback during Wednesday’s class as Larry Thomson, Criminal Justice Program director at ACC and an instructor with the academy, gave examples of how to determine the underlying reason for an inmate’s actions when inmates are agitated.

“When you put together all these people, all these personalities and emotions and charges and things that they deal with in their own personal life on top of that, things can happen quick,” participant John Perry of the Delta County Sheriff’s Department said with the voice of experience. “But, if you know them and their issues, you can talk to them and de-escalate a situation that could potentially turn into violence.”

Perry, like most of the participants, is already working as a corrections officer. He was at the academy to fulfill state requirements to complete training within one year of being hired by a jail.

Students from as far away as the seven-hour drive to Houghton assembled a month ago as a group of strangers, but barriers were broken down quickly as students spent the first few days learning how to tactically subdue an inmate, using each other for practice.

“We got to beat each other up for the first three days,” quipped Megan Lavictor, corrections officer in Chippewa County. “That was the best way to get to know each other.”

The academy is providing valuable training for not only her present but also her future, Lavictor said, hopefully giving her a leg up as she works toward her goal of becoming a police officer in Colorado.

The 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. class schedule of the academy keeps students busy, learning skills in everything from speed-handcuffing techniques to suicide awareness to how to handle being attacked with a knife. While the work is intensive, ACC tries to keep the cost of tuition and room-and-board low so sheriff’s departments — many of whom are struggling financially — can afford to send their officers to training, Thomson said. The 160 hours of training, minus breaks for heated ping-pong games, includes mandated coursework provided by a Michigan sheriffs’ council, who make sure that the officers tending to our jails are prepared to serve effectively and safely.

A background in working with troubled teens naturally led Marquette County corrections officer Nic Greenwood to his position. In some ways, he said, working with inmates is simpler than helping juveniles, with the facilities and team efforts available as a jail staff. The job is never easy, though, he said, and never without its dangers.

“There are always challenges in every job, but we have life-and-death situations that we deal with every day in the jail,” Greenwood said. The hands-on academy training ensures that corrections officers have the training to be able to handle dangerous situations safely.

Local officer Kaili Ponik of Rogers City works in the Presque Isle County Jail. The month-long corrections academy has given her not only training but the input and collective wisdom of fellow officers from a wide variety of situations.

In the classroom, students assessed potential situations they might face and shared critiques and suggestions informed by their varied backgrounds, learning from each other as well as from their instructor.

“What I didn’t realize is that there is so much more than what I was doing,” Ponik said. “Everybody’s doing this stuff every day. It’s not just something that we’re learning out of a book. We’re actually learning from each other’s experiences.”

In an industry in which good help is often hard to find, Ponik said that she hopes to remain in corrections for the foreseeable future.

“This is what I wanted to do, and, now that I’m here, it’s solidified why I like it,” Ponik said.

The students will wrap up their training Friday with a graduation ceremony at ACC’s Granum Theater, and then they’ll go their separate ways, a little readier to do the tough but important work of maintaining law and order in our county jails.

Julie Riddle can be reached at 989-358-5693, jriddle@thealpenanews.com or on Twitter @jriddleX.