• October 17, 2019

Jail expansion relies on adequate staffing - Odessa American: Local News

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INMATE UPDATE Jail expansion relies on adequate staffing

County closing gap on jailer shortage

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Posted: Friday, October 11, 2019 4:10 pm

The Ector County Law Enforcement Center’s jail expansion project is nearing completion but a slight jailer shortage could limit future use of the costly facility if left unresolved.

Construction on the 60,000-square-foot building is projected to come to a close before Thanksgiving and Ector County still has about 18 vacancies out of the 97 jailer positions budgeted for this fiscal year.

Ector County Sheriff Mike Griffis said the problem has been persistent but he is hopeful the county will be able to maintain enough employees to meet state mandated inmate-to-jailer ratios necessary for utilizing the new space.

“If we can just get our current facility staffed, I think we can maybe utilize at least part of the expansion with some of the personnel we have now,” Griffis said.

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 inmates. Griffis said the county is paying current jailers overtime to ensure state mandates are met.

The jail can hold up to 667 inmates and the expansion project will increase the detention center’s housing capacity by adding 412 beds. Ector County Sheriff’s Office spokesperson Sgt. Gary Duesler said 877 people were in custody as of Tuesday, with 645 inmates kept in Ector County and 232 of those incarcerated, about 35%, farmed out to other counties due to a lack of jailers and space in Ector County.

For every inmate that Ector County cannot house locally, the county must pay a cost to transfer them to another jail. Ector County has paid $3 million to 11 counties in 2019 through August for expenses associated with outsourcing prisoners.

The ECLEC expansion was proposed as a way to reduce accrued fees from the travel, housing and care expenses of outsourced inmates.

County commissioners previously 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 included about $1.4 million in professional services, the $142,700 bond issuance cost and other soft costs, such as advertising and travel expenses.

County Auditor Randy Donner stated in an email the county has spent about $19.1 million of the debt issuance thus far and has $4.7 million in outstanding purchase orders. The remaining balance of the debt issuance can only be used to further expand the project or pay off the debt.

The sheriff emphasized that this expansion was a necessary step for a county with a growing incarcerated population regardless if all positions can be filled by the anticipated completion date of Nov. 25.

“I do think long term it was going to be needed,” Precinct 2 Commissioner Greg Simmons said. “Whether our timing was right is the question because we weren’t fully staffed with what we started with. As long as the county continues to grow, we’re going to continue to need more space to keep those that violate the law.”

ECSO received a larger slice of funding this fiscal year from revenues collected by the Ector County Assistance District to aid in adding personnel to the department, but filling positions like jailers has proven to be an ongoing challenge for the county with businesses in the oil and gas industry competing for the same pool of employees.

Financial incentives like sign-on bonuses have been discussed and dismissed due to concerns that staff members hired prior to the start of such a policy would be upset and potentially leave their position, or that new hires might leave within months after receiving the bonus and the county be left with a financial loss.

Simmons said county officials settled on offering referral bonuses for county employees who successfully recruit others to the open jail positions and another pay increase for law enforcement, despite those county employees receiving a 16 percent bump in pay in fiscal year 2018-19.

Ector County Human Resources Director Pat Patton said in an email jailer and deputy positions received a 15% increase, while some other law enforcement positions in the sheriff’s office and jail received an increase falling between 10% and 15%.

“It’s going to take some time,” Simmons said. “Jailers are one of the hardest positions to fill but the sheriff feels like he is on the right track right now with the pay where he thinks it needs to be to be competitive and to try and lure some people into these positions.”

Odessa, TX

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