Women keep inmates in line at county jail

By Brian Entin - bio | email

SAVANNAH, GA (WTOC) - Some of the area's most dangerous criminals are in the Chatham County Jail, and it is mainly women keeping them under control.

A majority of the people who work in corrections are black females, data show.

"The inmates listen to us. We tell them what to do, and for the most part, they listen to us. Sometimes a male officer will tell them to do the same thing and they may not do it, but they will do it if we ask them," Lt. Lorraine Lovett said.

Lovett has been working in the jail for 21 years.

"The majority of these guys are dealing with not having a father figure. That helps them relate to us a little bit. We talk to them. We listen to them. We try and give them encouragement and show them that things are not always going to be bad," Lovett said.

Lovett said she prefers not to know what crimes the inmates committed. She likes to treat them fairly and with respect.

"You get more by using honey than by using vinegar. You try to be sweet to them, but at the same time we're firm in getting what we want done," Lovett said.

The Chatham County Sheriff's Office employs more women than any other department in Chatham County government.

Lt. Dixie Barbour runs the booking area of the jail and has worked there for nearly two decades.

"If you're not confident with who you are and who you are inside yourself then you're not going to survive in here," Barbour said.

Chatham County Sheriff Al St Lawrence says he doesn't prefer to hire women and doesn't pay close attention to the statistics. He said that he just hires the most qualified employees, and often times, they are women.

"When I first came to work for the county we had one matron at the old county jail on Habersham Street. Just one," the sheriff said.

He says the female corrections officers get more respect than the male deputies in many cases when it comes to male inmates.

"I think some females are a little more tactful. Their management style is more conducive to what they are dealing with. For whatever reason it is, they just know how to get the job done," the sheriff said.

Capt. Kim Middleton is the first and only female captain at the Chatham County Sheriff's Office.

"There has been a changing of the guards of sorts. We've seen more women coming into corrections. They are motherly. They nurture in the environment," Middleton said.

Middleton said the women in the department are encouraged to embrace their femininity.

"You can be a woman in here. To be honest, I think it is an advantage to be a woman in this environment," Middleton said.

Lovett agrees. "We're not going to come in with a crew cut or a beard! We just try to come in and be who we are," she said.

With a major jail expansion about to begin, the Sheriff says they will hire roughly 150 more employees. He says he doesn't prefer men or women and will continue his policy of just hiring the most qualified for the job.

"I've had male officers say 'you are hiring too many females.' If they feel threatened by that, then I just say I'm sorry. That is just the way it is," the sheriff said.

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