At age 50, Cynthia McMillian said she is still looking for a career with advancement opportunities and a chance to grow her professional skills. She had not considered the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services for a career until attending their hiring fair on Saturday.
"I've always thought you could be a correctional officer," the administrative coordinator said, but she hadn't considered jobs in the state prison system's administrative departments. "There are all sorts of entities here," she said, scanning the room.
Saturday's career fair at Baltimore City Community College is the fourth event the department has held across the state to fill about 1,000 vacancies, including 777 officer positions.
Officials are hoping that other prospective employees will begin to think more broadly about careers in correctional services that include counseling, transportation, nutrition and accounting in 27 institutions and 45 Parole and Probation offices throughout the state.
"There are all kinds of jobs," Public Safety Secretary Stephen T. Moyer said.
Federal authorities have indicted 80 people in a racketeering conspiracy at a Maryland prison, the latest crackdown within the state's troubled corrections
Unlike setting up at other career fairs, where they are competing with other law enforcement agencies, hosting a separate event allows those on the job to talk to prospective employees about what to expect, potential opportunities and the hiring process. Many people who walk through the door are unaware of all that correctional services does.
"We've had great success with the fairs," Moyer said. Another one will be held by the end of the year near the prison facilities in Jessup.
During Moyer's 22-month tenure, he has pledged to improve the quality of officers hired to the department.
The state prison system has come under greater scrutiny after a major federal case in 2013 in which the Black Guerrilla Family gang seized control of the Baltimore City Detention Center through bribery and intimidation.
This month, the Maryland U.S. Attorney's office brought charges against 80 individuals, including 18 corrections officers and 35 inmates, at the Eastern Correctional Institution, the state's largest prison. Federal prosecutors allege that officers took bribes to sneak contraband into the Eastern Shore facility.
In both cases, some of the officers have been accused of having sex with inmates.
And after the civil unrest in April 2015 following the death of Freddie Gray, two Baltimore correctional officers were charged with looting a downtown convenience store. Both women pleaded guilty and received probation before judgment for one count of fourth-degree burglary, according to online court records.
Moyer said the department is looking to attract high-quality candidates through more aggressive recruitment efforts and beefing up screening of potential employees.
Cpl. Danielle McLean, who works at the Metropolitan Transition Center in Baltimore, and Cpl. Tiara Butler, who works at the Chesapeake Detention Facility, attended the fair to answer questions. They said they had been interested in becoming police officers, but ultimately chose a career in corrections.
"I love it," McLean said, citing generous benefits and the various career opportunities. She said she started as an officer and is now working in the audit department.
She said many questioned her about the working conditions, and that one woman asked her if it was scary working in a facility with inmates, like the negative portrayals on TV shows.
"It's really not like that," she said. But, she added, that not everyone is cut out for the career, saying it takes someone with the right attitude.
Dionne M. Randolph, assistant warden at the Metropolitan Transition Center, said she's interested in candidates who are enthusiastic and looking to have a career, not just a job, and have a positive attitude.
"In this business, you really need it," she said.
She said many of the recent vacancies are because employees are retiring. Correctional service employees can retire after 20 years.
Correctional officers make a starting salary of $39,000 with the potential for overtime, Moyer said. After a year, officers can be promoted.
All candidates must take a polygraph test and an initial test to determine their reading comprehension and math skills, as well as their judgment.
After the test and polygraph, candidates are interviewed and a background check is conducted, which includes interviews with family and friends.
"I know I'm going to apply," McMillian said.