ARLINGTON, Va. (WDVM) — Arlington County Sheriff Beth Arthur has appointed the county’s first female director of corrections. Major Gretchen Foster moved to Arlington at 21-years-old in 1998 and has spent her career in nearly every position in the jail.
“I always knew I was more than just someone enforcing the law,” Major Foster said. Foster grew up in Ohio in a family full of first responders. She’s spent her time in the Sheriff’s Department as a sergeant and lieutenant and spent the last two years as a captain coordinating programs for the inmates.
“Our job here is not to punish the inmates,” Foster said. “Our job is to hold them because their punishment is the fact that they are in jail. We treat everybody with dignity and respect.” Since 1998, Foster says the jail has gone from safety- and security-oriented to inmate-oriented. The county launched its Community Readiness Unit, or CRU, to offer programs for setting up health insurance, housing, and vocational training to secure employment. As captain, Foster says she brought pet therapy into the jail (which was a huge hit) and guest speakers, including ex-offenders. Last year, the jail hosted a record 20 graduations for the men and women who completed their GEDs.
COVID-19 has put a pause on those programs, but the jail has tried to host many of them online.
Foster says she didn’t apply for the position so she’d be the first female who’s held it. “After I got it I was like, ‘Wait a minute, I’m the first female. This is phenomenal,’” she remembered. “I just spent two years programming – this is going to be mine: ‘What can we do better to keep programming?’”
“I had to work very hard to work up every rank and so I’m excited about that,” Foster said. “And I just hope that our staff seeing me come up the rank – that they know that they can just work hard and come up the ranks also and that I will do everything I can to help make that happen.”
The jail usually houses about 500 inmates, but right now it has a little over 200. Foster says many were put on bond and are awaiting trial from home to mitigate the risk of catching the coronavirus.