Major Jeremy Bryant (center) visits a corrections class at SHSU.
The Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) and the College of Criminal Justice at Sam Houston State University share more than just an address in Huntsville. The two agencies frequently cooperate on educational and employment opportunities.
Countless alumni, including top level professionals in the field, trace their roots back to their first criminal justice jobs at prisons in the Huntsville area. Once a year, TDCJ offers an expedited training for new correctional officers in between semesters to allow SHSU students to access employment opportunities in the field.
“It’s pretty simple – Sam Houston State University has the best CJ college in the U.S," said Major Jeremy Bryant, who is in charge of training at the Minnie R. Houston Academy at the Ellis Unit in Huntsville. “Not only does TDCJ offer real time, practical experience, it allows students to go back to college and apply what they are doing with what they are learning. It develops critical thinking and well-rounded officers.”
Jeremy BryantFor three years, Bryant has been visiting Prof. Jim Mabry’s Correctional Systems and Strategies class at SHSU to educate students about the largest correctional agency in the country. He is in charge of training new correctional officers in Region 1, which includes 13 units in Huntsville area. The five-week academy covers learning the background of the department and its institutions, managing offenders, understanding the con games used, practicing defensive tactics and utilizing chemical agents.
The mission of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice is to ensure public safety, promote positive change among offenders, reintegrate offenders into society and to serve the victims of crime. Founded in 1848 – just 12 years after Texas became a state – the agency oversees more than 150,000 offenders, 95 state-run facilities and 37,000 employees, including nearly 26,000 security staff.
Among the facilities operated by the state agency are prisons, halfway house, psychiatric facilities, a unit for the mentally handicapped, medical units, transfer facilities, state jails, a geriatric facility and substance abuse treatment facilities. It also serves about 10,000 crime victims a year by notifying victims and their families about offenders being released back into the community.
About 5,200 civilians go through the pre-service training to become correctional officers every year. Only 4,000 graduate from the program annually.
“Taking a civilian off the street to become a correctional officer is not as easy as it sounds,” said Bryant. “It’s not just a job. It is a job that is a part of you. It’s a way of life.”
Correctional officers often have the biggest influence on offenders because they spend so much time with them. They become supervisors, counselors, disciplinarians and protector of inmates in institutions. Along the way, the experience makes them experts on human behavior.
In addition to the academy, correctional officers receive training on a daily basis, not only during a 30 minute briefing but also during slow times on the unit.
“When you are taught in class, you practice in a controlled environment. The units provide a reality check,” said Bryant. “I like training because a better informed officer is a better empowered officer. The better you train your officers and the more you support them, the more empowered and happier they are, which leads to better productivity. It makes the staff feel valued and makes them feel like they are contributing.”
The TDCJ offers an expedited, four-week training course in December and allows Sam Houston State University students to work part-time. Many supplement the regular staff during visitation hours on Saturdays and Sundays, and can earn up to $4,000 a year. For more information, visit tdcj.state.tx.us.