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SPECIAL SECTION: Steinman embraces role of deputy as a chance to have an impact

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By Deborah Swearingen

Editor's note: This story is part of a special section published in the Courier on March 1. The section highlights ten women working in traditionally male-dominated fields across Jefferson and Clear Creek counties.

Every shift is a bit different for Kristin Steinman.

That is a huge part of why she loves her job as a deputy in the Jefferson County Jail. The jail averages about 1,200 inmates on a daily basis and is the central detention facility for law enforcement agencies across Jefferson County.

While on the job, Steinman’s main priority is to ensure safety and order within the facility. She can find herself doing anything from breaking up a fight to making sure an inmate arrives to court on time to talking someone through a hard time.

Some days are easier than others. The 28-year-old Westminster resident said enforcing the rules can be one of the biggest challenges of the job, but it’s also the most important part. The rules can seem pretty redundant to inmates, and it often leads to backlash.

Of all those working in protective services, which includes correctional officers, police officers and firefighters, across the United States, nearly 78 percent are male. As the largest full-service agency in Colorado, this is something the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office deals with regularly.

“It’s a challenge. It’s a male-dominated field, right? So it’s something that we in recruiting fight all the time,” said Mark Techmeyer, spokesman with the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office. “ … (We) look for every opportunity we can to let people know that this is an amazing agency to work for.”

There are two options for those interested in working with Jeffco. One is the 22-week Colorado Police Officer Standard Training Academy, and the other is the 10-week Detention Deputy Academy. After completing the first academy, a person is state-certified with the power to arrest on the street. After the latter, a person is certified to work in the county jail and given preference should they one day choose to go through the POST academy and shift to patrol.

Like many other women who work in male-dominated fields, Steinman’s advice is simple: Do it.

“Do it even though some people will tell you they don’t think you’re right for it,” she said.

At the Jefferson County Jail, deputies rotate between the various modules, which range from maximum security males to minimum security females. In this regard, each day can bring a different assignment, though female deputies tend to work with female inmates so they can do pat downs and strip searches when necessary.

When talking to inmates, Steinman likes to say she’s one mistake away from being where they are. Her tendency to talk through issues and treat inmates with dignity and respect is part of makes Steinman good at the job, according to Techmeyer.

“You can really have an impact on these inmates,” he said, “but it takes a lot of work, a lot of patience and a lot of skill. Because you’ve got 86 inmates, 86 different personalities.

“Kristin’s not just a jailer. She’s not just a guard that sits there and watches the inmates. She works with them. She talks to them. She encourages them to make changes in their lives.”

Jails have high recidivism rates. According to data from the National Institute of Justice, 67.8 percent of released prisoners were rearrested within three years of release.

It can be disheartening for deputies to see inmates return, but it is important not to give up.

“She’s not a counselor. She’s a deputy,” Techmeyer said. “But she can sure treat people with respect whether they’re an inmate or not and encourage them to make some changes in their life so they don’t come back.”

For Steinman, nothing feels better than knowing she made a difference. There have been instances when patrol officers bump into former inmates who credit Steinman for getting clean or making a life change.

“It’s always just good to hear from them that they’re doing better,” she said. “And (to hear) ‘hey, thanks for believing in me basically when nobody else said I could do it.’”