By Joe Orlando
Office of Public and Employee Communications
When Lisa Sleigh started working as an office assistant for CDCR 22 years ago, she was not aware she had taken the first step to a successful and rewarding career.
That first entry-level job in a parole office in Southern California led to a promotion as an office technician. It was then she realized the possibilities ahead.
“I went to the academy and became a correctional officer in 2003, promoted to sergeant then lieutenant,” Sleigh said. “That’s what’s great about CDCR, there are so many opportunities.”
Sleigh currently works in CDCR’s Office of Peace Officer Selection as a background investigator. She also recruits when called upon.
Those like Sleigh — who serve on the front lines of public safety 365 days a year, 24 hours a day — are being honored during National Correctional Officers Week. Running May 3-9, this special week was created in 1984 by then-president Ronald Reagan as a way to honor officers’ hard work and dedication.
Specialized units include the Investigative Services Unit and Gang Task Force and Fugitive Apprehension Team.
Mule Creek State Prison Correctional Sgt. Jason Johnson is one of 300 officers who travel the state recruiting new employees through the recruiting office.
“Some people think we’re just adult babysitters, but the truth is we’re law enforcement,” Johnson said. “We are the police inside the prisons.”
Another recruiter is Carolina DeFazio, who joined CDCR in 2002 as a single mom raising two boys. She needed a job that provided good pay and benefits.
She found that and more.
“This was a great way for me to provide for my family,” DeFazio explained. “It’s also a career that gives me the flexibility to go to my kids’ ball games, and school functions. I can be there and not miss out.”
The push is on for women in corrections. The department is actively recruiting women to be correctional officers. In late January, the first recruitment event specifically aimed at women was held with various CDCR female correctional staff on a panel answering questions and sharing their experiences.
“When I’m recruiting, the first thing female candidates want to know is whether it’s scary working behind the walls, and do I feel safe,” DeFazio explained. “I tell them that yes I do work mostly with men in a male prison (Mule Creek State State Prison) but there’s a camaraderie and you feel like you’re part of a team. It’s very rewarding.”
Recruitment is vital to replace the 127 correctional officers retiring each month. This year alone, CDCR will have to fill 1,700 to 2,000 custody positions.
Both DeFazio and Sleigh acknowledge the importance of being there at recruitment events to relate their experiences to interested candidates.
“A lot of people I talk to when I’m recruiting have no idea what we do. I like to take the time and explain what a correctional officer does and just how important it is to be a good communicator,” DeFazio said
“I worked in a female institution, and I would say that 90 percent of the job in that facility was just being a good communicator,” said Sleigh. “I share that with people I talk to at recruitment events.”
The pay, benefits and retirement are excellent. Correctional officers are paid $3,788 per month while training at the Basic Correctional Officer Academy (13-week course for correctional officers and 16-weeks for youth correctional officers). After the academy, starting pay is $4,660 and can top out at $7,782 per month. CDCR offers a pay bonus in addition to regular salary at some correctional facilities throughout the state, including the California Correctional Center, High Desert State Prison, Pelican Bay State Prison, San Quentin State Prison and Salinas Valley State Prison.
It generally takes 12 to 18 months to become a correctional officer.
Becoming a peace officer with CDCR means joining a family of committed and devoted men and women responsible for ensuring public safety throughout California.
“I do a lot of recruiting because I want to meet these candidates and see if they’re up to the challenge,” said Johnson. “This job takes a special type of person who is hardworking, dedicated and willing to be a part of a terrific law enforcement team.”