A trophy from the state is a point of pride for the men and women at the Effingham County Prison.
The state Department of Corrections named the Effingham County Prison as its county correctional institute of the year May 24.
“It shows the dedication we have,” said Warden Ronald Spears. “We have a hard working staff that works together as a team.”
Spears said he and his staff take “extreme pride” in getting the award and they live by the motto found at the entrance to the prison.
“The sign outside says ‘commitment to excellence,’ and that’s what we strive to accomplish,” he said.
Criteria for the award is based on unannounced inspections by the state Department of Corrections and they inspect the cleanliness of the building and the inmates. They also reward prisons for not having escapes. Last week’s occurrence was the first in three years.
James Correia IV was a member of a prison work detail on litter cleanup duty along Highway 119 near Roberts Road north of Springfield when he asked to relieve himself. He went behind the woodline and ducked down out of sight from corrections officers, according to reports around 12:45 p.m. Friday. He was recaptured about nine hours later.
Correia is 29 years old and is serving 12 years for forgery and theft by receiving charges.
Warden Ronald Spears said Correia had not been a problem as an inmate and did not appear to have any family problems.
“I’m curious myself what made him run,” Spears said.
The Effingham County Prison has room for 250 state inmates and six county inmates and averages 246 inmates a day. Of that total, 180 are assigned to work details in the community and in surrounding counties, including Pembroke, Bryan County and the Bamboo Garden in Chatham County.
“We offer back to the community jobs that would go lacking or they would have to pay someone to fill,” said Deputy Warden Vickie Brown.
Inmates at the medium-security facility largely have non-violent offenses, according to Spears.
The prison has a staff of approximately 50. Getting the award from the state is a morale booster, Spears noted.
“We have a good team, an outstanding team that’s working to accomplish the goals we have,” he said, “and we have to give thanks to the county commissioners for allowing us to do that.”
But the prison’s job isn’t just to punish offenders, Spears pointed out.
“We’re here to build that inmate back up so he can go back to be a productive member of society,” he said.
The biggest challenge, Deputy Warden Brown said, was making sure the inmates realize they’re behind bars because they’ve done something wrong on the outside.
“We get a lot of young inmates who are high school dropouts,” she said. “One of our biggest challenges is the lack of education on the part of our inmates. I’m proud when an inmate gets his GED. We’ve done something where he’s going to be a better person when he leaves.”
Said Department of Corrections Commissioner Brian Owens in a release: “The Effingham County Prison staff is a shining example of how we, as a department, strive to provide offenders with the essential skills needed to become productive members of society.”
Brown said that’s one thing she tries to stress to the inmates — getting their education and never stop making yourself better.
“What it means to me is we’re actually making a difference,” she said. “The job we do impacts so many lives. We just want to make a difference in the inmates’ life. We want them to leave here better than they arrived.”