Deputy Warden Yadira Otero with Department of Correction Commissioner James DzurendaBy Karen Cortés CTLatinoNews.com
Yadira Otero’s recent promotion makes her one of Connecticut’s highest ranking Latina corrections officers in the state’s prison system and she views her ethnic background as an asset that allows her to do her job more effectively. She was named the new deputy warden at the York Correctional Institution in Niantic, overseeing the high-security prison’s state’s female offender population, as well as its Niantic Annex, which houses male prisoners.
According to data from The Sentencing Project, Hispanics are incarcerated in the United States at nearly twice the rate of whites. In Connecticut, that rate is seven times the rate of whites. Otero says that as a Latina, she knows the culture and “inmates see me as someone they can approach and have conversations with.” And while bi-lingual inmates address her in Spanish, she replies in English, keeping open communication with non-Spanish speaking colleagues.
Communication with inmates and their families is a priority for Otero and chairs the Department of Corrections’ translation committee. “In the last ten years, there has been a marked increase in demand for translation of printed materials,” she says. Everything from directives, policies and standards, and forms, to signs that are hung in facilities directed to inmates and their families need to be presented in understandable language.
Otero joined the Connecticut Department of Corrections in 1997 when she was still a young criminal justice student at Tunxis Community College in Farmington. Otero and her classmates were encouraged by an instructor to attend a job fair being hosted at the school. There she met with corrections staff, and felt that the agency would be able to provide the enriched career she was seeking.
Hired when she was just nineteen years old, she worked third shift as she completed her associates degree over the course of five years. “I would travel from Somers to Farmington for day classes. Sometimes my eyes were closing! I finished when my daughter was six months old,” she says.
Promoted to the rank of lieutenant, and then captain, she returned to school eight years after earning her associate degree and earned a B.S. in Human Services, and an M.A. in Organizational Management and Leadership from Springfield College’s School of Human Services.
During her years with Corrections, Otero served as a disciplinary hearing officer, shift commander, unit manager, and investigator before being appointed deputy warden at York. To give some perspective to Otero’s rise through the ranks, the Department of Corrections employs nearly 6000 workers in Connecticut. There are just 31 deputy wardens serving at its fifteen facilities. Those deputy wardens oversee staff as well as the offender population of 16,463.
While her primary duty is the supervision of staff and ensuring that each area of the facility is operating in compliance with directives, she her favorite part of her job is the her connection to staff. “I love interacting with staff and making sure they are well.”
She tours York’s entire 750 acre facility weekly, and stops and talks with inmates every day. Staff at York provides inmate programming including Mommy and Me, “Good Intentions, Bad Decisions,” and arts activates, as well as mental health, psychiatric and crisis services. “I keep open communications with staff, to make sure inmate needs are being met. I provide the operational piece,” she says.
“It has been an enriched career. I have grown and moved up the ranks; I’m proud and thankful for my accomplishments,” says Otero, who hopes to advance to the rank of Warden. “They sky’s the limit!”