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Council considers jail staffing costs

Tuesday, May 3, 2005

While the new Clay County Jail is set to open in approximately six months, the numbers for operational and staffing costs remain unclear.

Clay County Sheriff Mike Heaton informed the Clay County Council Monday evening he plans to present them with jail-related information at the next regular meeting in June.

Recent estimates by jail architecture company Schenkel Shultz indicate that 21 or 22 jailers will be necessary to run the new jail, Heaton said. The Putnam County Jail, which is comparable, has 30 jail officers on staff. With cooks and other employees not taken into consideration at PCJ, 34 jail employees will be necessary when the new jail opens.

With six months to the projected opening of the new jail, it is crucial to hire and train personnel in order to be properly prepared to operate in the new building, the Sheriff explained. Those figures are based on about 125 inmates. Right now, the jail is functioning with eight full-time and four part-time jail officers.

Councilman Michael McCullough questioned Heaton about the current inmate population, and Heaton said that now, that figure is in the mid-fifties. When the new jail opens, the population will triple. Relying on revenue from housing inmates from the Department of Corrections will bring in about $35 per person. But those figures depend on available space.

"Last summer we were running in the seventies," Heaton said, and later added there are nearly 400 outstanding warrants in the county at this time.

Councilman Les Harding reminded fellow Council members that regardless of how many prisoners are residing in the jail at any given time, the same number of employees must be working there.

"It was built that way from the ground up," he said.

The option of video arraignment from the jail is not guaranteed, and officers will also be necessary to escort prisoners to court, Heaton said. Meanwhile, reserve officers will be running the existing jail and be instrumental in the transition from old jail to new jail, including moving prisoners. While there are 14 reserve officers with the Clay County Sheriff's Department, the majority of the volunteers must also work regular full-time jobs.

The addition of 10 new jailers would add up to about a quarter of a million dollars, McCullough estimated, a figure that simply isn't feasible.

"We don't have to go from 55 to 110 right away," he said.

But Heaton also pointed out that while the population may not immediately jump, the additional space cannot be utilized without the proper amount of staffing. The State General Inspector has set inmate caps in some counties that have not been able to provide adequate staffing, he explained. Without the appropriate number of jail officers, additional prisoners, including revenue-producing DOC inmates, cannot be housed at the new jail.

"We're still paying for the heat and electricity," the Sheriff said.

While Heaton has four part-time jail officers now, McCullough said that last September, the Council approved the addition of three full-time jail officers, which would eliminate the four part-time officers. The Council had told former Sheriff Rob Carter to hold off on hiring new employees due to fiscal issues at the time.

The Clay County Council regularly meets at 6 p.m. the first Monday of the month. Meetings are conducted in the Commissioners Court at the Clay County Courthouse and are open to the public.

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