Q and A: Larimer County Jail lieutenant uses skills to teach CSU criminology class

Caitlin Curley

Lt. Staci Shaffer started working for the Larimer County Jail six months after graduating from Colorado State University, and 20 years later she still works for the jail full time, while teaching criminology courses at the University.

Shaffer started guest lecturing at CSU in 2012, and has since taught both online and in the classroom. She has taught criminology, introduction to criminology and sociology of deviance.

Ad

The Collegian sat down with Shaffer to find out about her work at the jail and how it applies to her teaching at CSU.

How long have you worked for the jail?

I started in June of 1995. That was after I graduated from CSU with my bachelor’s degree.

What do you do day-to-day?

I supervise medical, counseling, food service, volunteer programs — we have 200 volunteers that come in to the jail — master control, court services, transportation … the front desk and general logistics.

Do you enjoy your work?

I really do. I started as a deputy six months out of college, and started as a deputy watching inmates. I really, really enjoyed the work. I enjoyed being able to talk to inmates, I enjoyed being able to learn about my own personal strengths. I’m 5-feet-2-inches, 125 pounds, I’m not a particularly big person, and 20 years ago I was the same shape. I learned that you can’t really intimidate people into compliance. You have to work with them. Over the years, you gain that skill of how to get grown-ups who don’t want to do anything to comply with what you’re asking of them.

Did you always know you wanted to go into law enforcement?

My mom worked for lawyers when I was growing up, and I really wanted to go to law school. But, I also knew that I was kind of done once my bachelor’s degree was done. I needed to take a year off and I thought, “Well, I’m just gonna look for a job in the law field,” and I went through the Coloradoan and looked at the ads. I applied for everything that said law, and this just happened to be one of those jobs. I really fell into it, but I knew right away that it was gonna be a challenging job, and an exciting job, and I just stuck with it. So, I kinda forgot about law school and instead I went back and got my master’s in criminal justice later on. I think this was a good choice for me.

How do you apply your work at the jail to the criminology class you currently teach at CSU?

Ad

I think as we go through the class, there will be opportunities to share different stories. I’ll share some of the experiences of being able to talk to offenders for the last 20 years, and what they look like and how they act. As we process all the different theories we have about why people commit crime, I think it’s important to know that crime is far more complex than that. A piece of every sociological theory is true, but people are just way more complex than a theory would allow.

But, one theory that we’ll talk about is the idea of the broken windows theory, that if you allow for one broken window in a neighborhood, then what’s to stop someone else from breaking another window and spray painting and graffiti. If you try to keep things cleaned up then people will naturally wanna maintain that and they’ll wanna live like that. I see that play out here in the jail. We’re very careful about when somebody does graffiti in the jail that they get in trouble for it and we paint over it quickly and that we don’t allow the jail to fall into disrepair. I’ve toured other jails and if they’re not on top of it, if they don’t subscribe to the theory of the broken windows, then you can definitely tell that their philosophy as hallowed for inmates to damage the property. That’s kind of interesting to look at theory come into practice.

How else do you think the Larimer County Jail is different than other jails?

I think we match our community. We have a highly educated community. When we opened the jail in ’83 we came up with a new philosophy for running it. The concept was direct supervision, and that means the deputies become the most strong feature in the housing area, and the deputies are walking around among the inmates and listening in to conversations and talking to them. We have a thousand little rules. You have to keep your t-shirt tucked into your pants, you cannot roll your pants up, you have to wear socks, you have to wear the proper uniform, you have to clean your room make the bed sweep the floor clean the toilet. The idea is the inmates are concerned about keeping privileges. We’re keeping the inmate population busy concerning themselves about the little things so that they’re not worried about the big things, like trying to attack the staff, or trying to chisel out a brick or trying to plan an escape or hurt somebody.

Do you think that CSU students are aware of how the jail runs?

I think that CSU students in the criminal justice program are, for the most part. Dr. Prabha Unnithan brings his class to tour the jail, to get an idea of what goes on here. So, I think some students who are in those program are definitely getting an opportunity to check out. We’re always recruiting for deputies. We have internship programs, we’re looking for psychology students to be counselors. We also have just a general internship program in the jail and we’re always looking for students for that.

Do you see CSU students become inmates at the jail?

I think on occasion, you’re bound to have someone who’s a student that’s also entangled in the criminal justice system. You could be a student, you could be a doctor, you could be a lawyer, you could end up here in jail. There’s all kinds of people in this community.

Collegian Digital Managing Editor Caitlin Curley can be reached at ccurley@collegian.com or on Twitter @caitlinjcurley.