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Warden elected president of GPWA

LAWRENCEVILLE - If Hollywood movies are to be believed, prison wardens are harsh and sadistic men who control the lives of inmates with an iron fist.

Jim Kraus, who for the past decade has been warden of the Gwinnett County Department of Corrections, is none of those things.

Sure, he keeps tabs on about 800 nonviolent state and county-sentenced inmates. He makes sure their dorms are spick-and-span, keeps a watchful eye on a bank of surveillance monitors in his office and supervises dozens of corrections

officers.

But a warden who enjoys playing English hand bells in church? A warden who counts making stained-glass artwork among his favorite hobbies? That doesn't quite fit the mold.

"Some people say, 'You don't act like a warden,'" Kraus acknowledged. "Well, that is true if you're going by what's in movies."

Kraus is a kinder, gentler version of the authoritarian you'd expect to see handling his job description. And apparently, his management style works.

Kraus is one of the longest serving department directors in Gwinnett County, having weathered the administrations of four different county commissioners and seven police chiefs throughout his career. He heads the Gwinnett County Comprehensive Correctional Complex on Hi-Hope Road in Lawrenceville, the largest county-owned and operated correctional facility in the state.

"You have to learn early on to be flexible, certainly be diplomatic, and ask up front what people expect," Kraus said. "As long as it's moral and ethical, then you say, 'That's fine.'"

Earlier this month, Kraus was also elected president of the Georgia Prison Wardens' Association. The 105-member nonprofit organization promotes state, county and private prison facilities. Its membership includes wardens from 37 state prisons, three private prisons, 24 county prisons and more than 50 superintendents from transitional centers, probation detention centers, diversion centers and boot camps.

After spending 32 years in criminal justice-related jobs, Kraus has finally reached a career summit, but the climb wasn't easy.

Kraus got a job with the Gwinnett County Police Department after graduating college in 1974, where he worked his way through the ranks from a patrol officer to one of three assistant chiefs.

When asked to take over the Department of Corrections a decade ago, Kraus was hesitant. The department was "on the verge of collapse," he said.

The last warden, Sandra Blount, had been fired for mismanaging an embarrassing incident with an employee who became romantically involved with a female inmate and supplied her with drugs.

County officials were considering closing down the correctional facility completely. They were uncertain whether a county corrections department was cost-effective, Kraus said.

"I had to ask myself, 'What if I can't turn it around?'" Kraus said. "You hope you earn their respect. If you don't, you've boarded a sinking ship."

Since he took over, the department has not only remained open; six years ago it undertook a massive expansion project. Kraus steered the corrections department through a massive construction project to build the new comprehensive correctional complex, which opened in 2002.

The new 800-bed mixed-gender facility doubled the size of the previous county correctional facility, which had been operating out of three locations: a 45-year-old building, 24-year-old vacated jail and a trailer.

The current building houses minimum and medium security inmates sentenced to full-time incarceration and also work-release residents who are allowed to leave during the day to go to their job. Correctional staffers also administer a community service program.

Kraus' next goal is to obtain national accreditation from the American Correctional Association, which requires departments to follow strict preset standards.

He still has a passion for his job, which he sees as vital to the community.

"I thought if I do a good job here, there would be less of a police burden and it would cut down on the revolving door of rearrest," Kraus said. "I have more of an impact on offenders lives now than I did when I was policing. I see more of them on a regular basis. It's just that duty called from another perspective."