Lori DiCarlo '78, Behavioral Science
Chief Deputy Warden of California Institution for Men In Chino
Lori DiCarlo remembers the day she made her first career decision.
“I’ll never forget it. At 21, I told my parents that I wanted to become a corrections officer. They replied, “Are you sure?”
But after 28 years in the system, there is no doubt that she made the right decision. The ’78 behavioral science alumna now supervises more than 1,800 employees as the warden of the California Institution for Men (CIM) in Chino. One of the state’s largest penitentiaries, this multi-level prison covers about 10 square miles and houses 6,500 inmates.
“I had no idea what the Department of Corrections was all about —no idea,” says DiCarlo. As she explored professional options, DiCarlo began looking at internships. A sergeant named Rochester Jackson made a presentation to a behavioral science class about the Department of Corrections, inspiring her to tour the Norco Rehabilitation Center.
“I started talking to him more and more about the system and found it very interesting,” DiCarlo says.
In her tenure, she has served at almost every level from correction officer for four years to counselor, supervising counselor, labor relations analyst, captain, associate warden and finally to chief deputy warden. DiCarlo assumed her current title in November 2000, the second female warden in the history of CIM Chino.
As professionals, wardens and other members of the correctional system face stereotypes perpetuated by films and television. DiCarlo points out that these stereotypes are completely the opposite of reality.
“I like to bring folks in to visit on tours, as well as speak with community groups, to demonstrate that there are extraordinary people working in these settings, both men and women. They are very talented and well educated. It is good to dispel those myths. A challenging environment —sure enough. But it is not like [television’s] Oz or The Castle.”
For DiCarlo, life is anything but routine. “This job is flat-out interesting,” she says. “You may come to work thinking you will have one kind of day but that will change in a heartbeat. Throughout the year, we have hundreds of incidents.”
Those incidents can range from a cell extraction (where an inmate needs to be forcibly removed from his cell) to a full-fledged melee involving hundreds of inmates. That was the case in April 2002, when 160 inmates were involved in a large riot involving mutual combat. As a result of the efforts in controlling an extraordinary situation without any loss of life or serious injury, 72 members of the correctional and medical team were awarded a state unit citation.
DiCarlo’s professional challenges go beyond supervising the inmates. The state budget crisis has created the unenviable position of supporting a facility in declining health. The original prison was built in 1941 and designed to house 285 inmates with 50 staff in a minimum-security environment. New buildings have been added to manage a burgeoning population, but funds to maintain the infrastructure have been scarce.
“I would love to get these folks some more equipment,” says DiCarlo. “We have physical plant issues that are phenomenal. The toughest part of this job is managing the resources to support the team.”
Working day-to-day in an extremely volatile environment has created a bond between DiCarlo and her coworkers.
“I am most proud of the staff and what they are able to accomplish with the challenging resources and the environment in which we work. It never ceases to amaze me.”