Sheriff, others, support need for guards

March 14, 1997


Staff Writer

Sheriff Charles Mades isn't alone in recommending that more correctional officers be hired for the Washington County Detention Center.

A Washington County grand jury, a report by the National Institute of Corrections and Teamsters officials all advocate hiring additional staff.

Mades on Tuesday asked the Washington County Commissioners for funding to hire 22 correctional officers.

Grand jury members who toured the detention center said in a report made public this week that they were "extremely concerned about the understaffing" at the jail.

"On-duty guards frequently entered the prisoner areas without anyone in observation areas to assure their safety," the report said. Jail officials said most areas are under observation, but one officer would be responsible for keeping tabs on more than one area.


In some areas of the prison, one guard checks on prisoners without assistance from other staff, the grand jury's report said.

A report issued last month by the National Institute of Corrections concluded that the jail was crowded and understaffed, Mades said. Staff from the institute, a part of the Federal Bureau of Prisons, toured the facility and provided training for prison employees earlier this year at the request of jail officials.

The institute report noted that some posts being staffed by one officer should be staffed by two officers.

The report said there isn't one accepted ratio of inmates to officers; the preferred number would depend on the design of the prison.

The jail has more inmates per correctional officer than six other area county jails, and the situation is getting worse because the jail population has risen dramatically in the past few months, Mades said.

Mades cited the higher inmate-to-officer ratios and the institute's recommendations in his request for funding for 22 more correctional officers at the jail, which now has 64 officers.

The additional officers requested would cost $644,015 a year in wages and benefits, Mades said.

The daily average of 323 inmates for 1996 works out to a ratio of five inmates per correctional officer. Other county jails in the area ranged from 2.22 inmates per officer to 4.34 prisoners per officer.

So far this year, the number of inmates has soared, hitting an all-time high of 400 last Sunday, Mades said.

"We're not asking for anything that we really don't need," said Cpl. Doug Moore.

Lt. Van Evans, the jail warden, said the ratios don't tell the whole story.

Not all officers work inside the jail and most aren't working at any one time, he said. Of the 64 officers on the payroll, five are transport officers, two work in home detention, a couple are in administration, and others might be sick or on vacation at any given time.

Because of the need to staff the jail 24 hours a day, a fraction of the remaining 50 or so officers are on duty at any time.

"The additional officers would allow us to staff posts the way they should be," Evans said. Also, more backup staff would be available to respond in case of a disturbance, he said.

"We have a somewhat critical situation here," said First Sgt. Rick Blair. "It gets a little dicey sometimes."

When officers enter pods to lock up inmates or make their rounds, they usually do so alone, said Deputy Michael Knight.

"We're outnumbered 70 to 1," Knight said.

An officer stationed in a control room can see into the pod, but isn't allowed to assist if a disturbance breaks out, officers said. Instead, that officer can only lock up the pod and call for help from other deputies, officials said.

Dale McConnell, a business agent with Teamsters Local 103, which is trying to unionize the Sheriff's Department, cited a refusal by 60 inmates to return to their cells in January as evidence of understaffing.

The incident required correctional officers to call for help from outside the prison.

"That shouldn't happen," said McConnell, a former correctional officer. "They should have backup inside the prison."

Another factor has been the change in the type of inmate, Moore said.

Today's inmates are younger and more aggressive than in previous years. Drug dealers from New York, Washington and other cities form factions and make it harder to maintain order, officials said.

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