County struggles to find jailers

Ector County has faced a continued shortage of personnel that has left more than one-third of jailer positions vacant.
County peace officers, which includes deputies, jailers, courthouse security, juvenile probation officers and medical examiners, received a 16 percent pay raise this fiscal year beginning in October. Officials had hoped the financial incentive would help the county retain employees and attract new applicants, but it has yet to resolve the issue.
The Ector County Law Enforcement Center has room in their current budget for 97 full-time jailers but 34 of those positions, 35 percent, were unfilled as of Wednesday.
The Commissioners’ Court approved a request from Ector County Sheriff Mike Griffis this week to offer local job seekers the option of part-time work as a jailer. In his request to commissioners, Griffis stated adding part-time workers could help the facility cut back on overtime, give full-time employees more days off and aid the jail in meeting inmate-to-jailer ratios.
The detention center has a housing capacity of 667 inmates. The Texas Commission on Jail Standards mandates there must be one jailer for every 48 inmates on each floor of a facility for direct supervision of incarcerated individuals.
Griffis said outsourcing becomes the county’s only option for overflow inmates when there is not enough staff.
Ector County currently has interlocal agreements for the housing and care of about 230 inmates with the following counties: Mitchell, Garza, Burnet, McClennan, Limestone, Lynn, Hudspeth, Hale, Yoakum and Scurry.
Ector County commissioners accepted an interlocal agreement with Hudspeth County on Tuesday that included an increased rate totaling $50 per day per prisoner.
The cost of housing incarcerated people in other county jails varies from each facility. Griffis said the price can be $35, $46 or $51, “it just depends on where we send them.”
Officials estimate outsourcing inmates costs the county more than $2 million annually.
County officials are pushing to fill jailer positions before the ECLEC jail expansion comes online in October because without a sufficient amount of employees inmates cannot be brought back to the county despite the added space.
Precinct 3 Commissioner Dale Childers has voiced his concern numerous times during meetings and said that the shortage of personnel in the jail needs to be resolved.
The jail addition project includes adding a 60,000 square foot building at the ECLEC with 412 beds, bringing the total number of beds at the jail to 1,019.
“We’re fixing to open up this fancy, new jail and we don’t have any jailers,” Childers said.
County commissioners originally approved an expansion to the jail to be paid for by a $25 million debt issuance, but the main contract awarded to Cooper Construction came in lower at $18.9 million. Additional costs accrued included $1,380,450 in professional services, the $142,700 bond issuance cost and other soft costs, such as advertising and travel expenses.