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The Sentinel & Enterprise
By Alana Melanson

WORCESTER — The Worcester County Sheriff’s Office graduated 29 new correctional officers in a ceremony at Worcester Technical High School Thursday morning, including four men and one woman from Fitchburg and its surrounding towns.

“This job is not an easy one and our success can be difficult to quantify, measured by which crimes are never committed,” Sheriff Lew Evangelidis told graduates. “We are not only responsible for the care, custody and control of inmates, but we have a responsibility to utilize periods of incarceration to make our community safer by working to ensure the inmates are more productive citizens upon their release.”

The new graduates of the 12-week training program are part of the first academy to join the Sheriff’s Office under the increased hiring standards implemented by Evangelidis upon taking the office earlier this year. Correctional officers must have completed at least an associate’s degree in college or an equivalent number of credits toward a higher degree, or at least two years of military service, as well as pass written exams and psychological screening in addition to rigorous physical fitness and drug testing and a background check, all before applying for the job.

“This class is, by all accounts, the finest our office has ever seen,” Evangelidis said after the ceremony. “I’d like to think that is because of the increased hiring standards we’ve put in place.”

“I admire you for starting a career in public service,”

said keynote speaker, U.S. Sen. Scott Brown. “Today, when you take your oath of office, you will demonstrate a promise both to yourselves and to Massachusetts. You’ve made a selfless commitment to make our communities safer. Congratulations to you and your families. I’m proud of each one of you for choosing to serve Worcester County as corrections officers.”
Jonathan Berube, 24, of Westminster, hopes becoming a correctional officer will further his pursuit of becoming a police officer.

“It’s been a long and tough process,” Berube said. “A lot of hard work and dedication.”

The 2010 Fitchburg State University graduate was honored at the ceremony with the Paul Westberg Class Banner Award for “outstanding effort, enthusiasm and excellence.”

“I’m very surprised and very honored,” Berube said. “I feel there were a lot of people in the class who deserved it, so I didn’t expect to get it.”

Other local graduates included 39-year-old John Kelly, of Leominster, son of retired Fitchburg Police Sgt. John “Mitch” Kelly; Brandy LeBlanc, 33, of Fitchburg, who previously worked in a residential program for children with behavioral issues at the Perkins School in Lancaster; William Stanhope, of Lunenburg; and Wayne Blais, of Townsend, who received the Sheriff’s Physical Fitness Award.

Jason Rives, Evangelidis’ chief of staff, said the new officers will have Friday off and then begin work immediately, including Christmas Eve and Day, to begin acclimating them to taking care of the 1,200 prisoners at the Worcester County Jail and House of Correction in West Boylston.

“In their first year working at the main jail, they will rotate around all three shifts and move around the entire facility to have experience working in the different units and learning different responsibilities,” he said.

Rives said the graduating class ranged in age from 22 to 40. The majority reside in Worcester County but some came from as far as New Hampshire and Connecticut, he said.