Jailer shortage puts strain on departments' budgets

Jailer shortage puts strain on departments' budgets
(Source: KAIT)
(Source: KAIT)
(Source: KAIT)
(Source: KAIT)

BATESVILLE, AR (KAIT) - A jailer shortage is creating other issues at the Independence County Jail, officials said Thursday as they continue working to find a solution to the issue as well as finding ways to raise salaries for deputies and guards.

A public safety committee met Thursday night to go over the issue, which officials say has created an impact on the department's budget. The jailer shortage is due to low pay, Sheriff Shawn Stephens said, noting it is the reason he cannot keep the jail at full staff.

Earlier this year, Stephens said the issue is important because jailers often face difficult situations.

"We start them and top them at the same pay and they have to deal with people that threaten them, throws urine on them, throws feces on them," Stephens said. "And that's not a desirable job."

Stephens recognizes that the $11.18 an hour they offer to jailers is not a competitive salary.

He said they often have problems keeping guards for both sexes but right now they are searching for three more female guards.

"We hired six and one of them came in and worked one day and never came back and two of them never showed up for the first day," Stephens said.

Their hires are often leaving to go to other jails or prisons that can pay more.

The department does not have any female guards, meaning they cannot house female inmates at the jail. In turn, the department has to pay other counties between $35 and $45 a day to house the female inmates.

The county has made agreements with Lawrence, Jackson, and Craighead County jails to transport inmates there when they have beds available.

"One county we're paying $45 and another county we're paying $35 a day," Stephens said in May. "The money's not in our budget. We're having to cut our budget in other places to be able to house our inmates."

Also, the problems have impacted the budgets of local police departments when they have to take an inmate to another jail.

"Until Judge Griffin and Sheriff Stephens figure out a solution we're stuck in the middle," said Batesville Police Chief Alan Cockrill in May.

The police department is paying to house inmates in the county jail, but if a woman is arrested right now, they have to transport her elsewhere.

Cockrill said he was concerned because it is taking officers away from patrol for sometimes two or three hours at a time.

"That's a lot of manpower off the streets of the City of Batesville, not to mention the fuel costs and the wear and tear on my vehicles, and all the other extra expenses," Cockrill said.

The chief said those types of expenses were not factored into their budget this year, but there is not much the city can do right now.

Batesville Fire Chief Brent Gleghorn, who also serves on the committee, said the issue is key.

"I believe whatever we come up with in this committee that our local citizens will support it. We need more patrol deputies, we need more patrol officers, we need salaries where they'll stay here once we get them," Gleghorn said. "We get them here, we get them trained, they find a job somewhere else and they're gone."

Stephens said he plans to seek to raise salaries for deputies and guards and wants to hire more deputies for patrol.

The committee will continue to study the issue and will present a plan to the Independence County Quorum Court.

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