Anne Arundel jail official has earned her new job by putting in the time

Columbia resident is 16-year veteran of corrections department

January 07, 2001|By Laura Barnhardt | Laura Barnhardt,SUN STAFF

Capt. Regina G. Russell is right when she guesses that from afar she looks more like a postal clerk than like the commander of security operations at a detention center that processes 11,000 inmates a year.

The uniform is similar - gray slacks with a navy stripe down the side, neatly pressed. And Russell always looks as if she's going to smile, the kind of postal clerk who would remember what days people buy their stamps and the names of their kids.

"Now my neighbors are going to know that I don't deliver the mail," said Russell, who lives in Columbia.

Russell is the highest-ranking black female officer in the history of Anne Arundel County corrections. The position of captain was created last month when Russell took the job at the Jennifer Road detention center in Annapolis.

"As we've grown, there was a need for a rank of captain," said Robin Harting, administrator of the Jennifer Road facility. "Because of her experience with the department as a detention officer, sergeant and in the training department, Captain Russell was uniquely qualified. She's even-keeled and possesses the leadership qualities necessary."

Russell oversees a security staff of 148 corrections officers, 13 sergeants and five lieutenants at the Jennifer Road center. She is in charge of security operations at the jail, which next month will open an addition and renovated space, including a new processing center.

The jail houses more than 400 inmates awaiting trial. Russell is in charge of handling their grievances and complaints, analyzing trends and potential security problems, and intervening to resolve problems.

"She has a real presence," said Richard Baker, superintendent of the county's two detention centers (the other is in Glen Burnie). "You can't really put your finger on it. But when she walks into a room, it changes the environment. There's a sense of calm."

As the department's training coordinator for the past three years, Russell established an in-service program that once consisted of a handful of offerings but now includes more than 30 courses.

Russell, a 16-year veteran with the department, became a detention officer in 1984 after serving as a military police officer in the Army. Six years later, she became the county's first black female detention sergeant. She also took classes at the University of Maryland to complete a bachelor's degree in criminology as she raised her daughter, who is 19.

"I was focused," she said, recalling the grueling schedule of working shifts - including nights, weekends and holidays - as a divorced mother raising a teen. "But I had a lot of support from my family."

She also has the respect and support of colleagues such as Lt. Charles "Tom" Selby, who worked late nights with Russell in the early 80s when both started as detention officers. "She's a great motivator," Selby said. "I always enjoyed working with her. She's always on top of everything."

The 43-year-old describes herself as resilient, a quality that she says was instilled in her by her grandmother, who raised her.

"Just because Monday was a bad day doesn't mean Tuesday will be," Russell said. "Every day, I feel blessed with a brand new day - a new opportunity to choose how I will handle situations.

"I am a woman of vision," she said. "I have high hopes for the positive changes in the years to come."

Russell said she understands "why they call this the `slammer' - all the bars clanking and slamming doors."

"I'd like to see the direct-supervision concept expanded, where the bars aren't barriers," she said. "In the modern age, I think officers need to be prepared to resolve conflicts with inmates by communicating."

Her way, she said, places "more of an emphasis on problem-solving. It's a more proactive approach."

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