When you go to work at a facility designed to house convicted and alleged criminals, typical office hazards like paper cuts and carpal tunnel syndrome can seem benign ó even laughable.

The ìout of sight, out of mindî philosophy held by many of those living outside the jail is not a luxury those working inside the jail can afford.

Dorchester County Detention Center Capt. Terry Van Doran puts it this way: ìAt any given time, things can happen.î

ìThis is not the most dangerous place in the world to work, but itís not the safest either,î he says.

The basic aim of jail personnel is to provide a secure facility, Dorchester County Sheriffís Chief of Staff Barney Barnes says.

ìThatís one of our highest callings ó to keep [the inmates] safe until they can go before the bar of justice,î Barnes says.

Since his promotion to jail captain in December, no one has come to Van Doran to say they felt unsafe, he says.

Barnes says that since November, when Sheriff Ray Nash made Barnes his liaison to the jail, no weapons have been found on inmates.

The presence of weapons is usually the first indication things are unsafe, he says.

ìThey do try to get things in here ññ make no mistake about it,î Van Doran says.

Officers have stifled attempts to smuggle items ranging from cigarettes to a tattoo gun.

Van Doran recognizes the deck is stacked against him and his staff as they strive to create a safe work environment. Itís a challenge ñ and itís a priority.

According to county officials, it hasnít always been that way at the jail.

Before Van Doran took over as jail captain, ìrisk management and employee safety was not a priority,î says Thom Schmenk, Dorchester Countyís risk manager.

At a County Council budget retreat last week, Deputy County Administrator Ashley Jacobs updated Council on the strides the risk management department is taking citing the jail as an example.

"A lot of it has to do with the sheriff's office working a lot better with the risk management department. Theyíre more welcome at the jail now," Jacobs told Council.

Schmenk says the jail staff is aggressively seeking safety training and communication between the two offices has improved since Van Doran took over. ìOur message is very well received these days,î Schmenk says.

ìI have not been afraid, in the past, to criticize the jail,î he says. ìBut when they turn it around ó fair is fair,î he adds.

As of Wednesday, the jail had gone more than 70 days without time loss due to employee injury.

ìFor any detention center ó thatís exceptional,î Schmenk said.

He says Van Doran, a Navy veteran, runs the jail ìlike a battleship.î

ìI want a facility where they can come in and look at whatever they want to look at and feel comfortable that weíre doing what weíre supposed to do,î Van Doran says.

Van Doran was promoted to the jail post during a crisis of confidence.  His predecessor, the embattled former sheriffís deputy Arnold Pastor, resigned amid allegations that he stole thousands of dollars from the jail by diverting checks into a dummy account. Pastor has not been charged but the S.C. State Law Enforcement Divisionís investigation is ongoing.

ìI think anytime you have a senior person accused of something like that, it truly affects everybody,î Van Doran says. ìWalking into that, I had my eyes wide open. But we had to set it aside and try to not let it have a daily effect on the operation of the facility and I think the detention center staff is doing that.î

ìI told everyone, ëweíre going to be working under a microscope,íî he says. ìAnd thatís okay.î

Van Doran applauds his staff for their efforts. He says their expertise in various areas has proven to be invaluable.

ìI would like to think that on a daily basis, those officers can change lives,î he says. ìEvery once in a while you can help somebody and that ëevery once in a whileí makes a difference.î

Van Doran sees the time his staff spends with the inmates as windows of opportunity for reformation. But when it comes to the safety of his officers, heís a realist.

ìThese officers have to remember every minute of every day ó you canít turn your back on them, because you will get hurt,î he says.

Editor Ryan Castle contributed to this report.

Contact David Berman at 873-9424 ext. 214 or dberman@journalscene.com.