There’s a new warden in town

Published 10:23 am Friday, February 23, 2024

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There’s a new warden in town: Captain Cassie Tomczek. Tomczek has taken over from the longtime Jail Administrator, now called Warden, of the Chambers County Detention Facility, Tommy Sims. 

Tomczek assumed the role of Warden, which oversees everything involving inmates. The overseer of officers will fall to the new Jail Administrator, Captain Justin Burns. 

While young, having graduated in 2013, Tomczek is far from inexperienced. Out of college, with an accounting degree, and unsure of what path to take, she joined her sister as a corrections officer at the jail. 

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“I got the job started and never really looked back. Like I’m in love instantly with corrections,” said Tomczek. “It suits my personality. Like I always like to follow rules. I like stuff being the way it’s supposed to be.”

She started as a corrections officer, one of the officers on the floor interacting with inmates.  

“You’re doing everything. You’re making sure [inmates are] fed, you’re making sure their laundry is done, they’re cleaning, you’re cleaning, you’re making sure they’re following the rules. I mean, it’s just everything,” Tomzeck said. 

From there she applied for a supervisor position, which she got. She continued to move up the ranks until Tomczek was the obvious choice for Sim’s replacement. 

”I started learning the reasoning behind stuff and the laws. And the deeper I got into it, the more involved in corrections I became,” Tomczek said. 

She became an instructor with the National Institute of Jail Operations, after taking some of the courses. Tomczek was a taser energy weapons instructor, OC aerosol instructor, among others. She also has a master’s use of force certification. While she is not currently an instructor, she continues to find opportunities to learn. 

Tomczek said Sims had been a great teacher while he was a warden. 

“I think probably the biggest thing I’ve learned from Major Sims and something he’s still trying to teach me to this day is patience,” Tomczek laughed. 

She said Sims was very good at talking with visitors and people who came from the outside of the jail, and calming them down when necessary. She said patience is an underrated skill, although in her line of work needs to be balanced with discipline. 

Sims will be retiring from the jail but will be taking on a part-time role at the Sheriff’s Department as an investigator of cold cases. Tomczek said he is the type of boss that she can call up with questions. 

Tomczek, and all those in corrections are in an interesting position of working to take care of the inmates in their care while hoping they don’t see them again. Reducing recidivism is a continual job of the local detention center.

She highlighted Circle of Care’s workforce development program in the jail. The rigorous program had its first graduate recently. 

“The good thing about that program is they can pick it up outside of jail,” Tomczek said.

The program teaches resume, interview, and interpersonal skills to get a job after release, in the hope they do not return to jail. Tomczek expressed interest in starting some sort of GED course for the inmates, although due to the fact the detention facility is a temporary holding facility longer courses are difficult. 

“When they’re finally to that point where they want to change, there’s [no support] there,” Tomczek said.

Tomczek said some things outside of the jail need to change in order to give the inmates the best chance possible. She cites transportation as an issue. Tomczek has often seen individuals who are released come right back to jail because they couldn’t find a ride to a job interview or even the courthouse for their hearing.

Another state program, Stepping Up, evaluates inmates’ mental health and East Alabama Medical Center offers services to inmates after release. Tomczek said many inmates come in as a result of unresolved mental health issues.

“[Mental Health issues] look like different things, it looks like disorderly conduct…they don’t really get to see what someone’s at their baseline or if this is normal behavior,” Tomczek said. 

Tomczek clearly loves her job but acknowledges the hard days. She said the backbone of the correctional facility is the floor officers, who “run that jail every single day,” and the family members of all the workers.

“There are days when physical aspects can be rough, but it is emotionally exhausting. “[Family] takes the brunt of that and they are still supportive,” said Tomczek.