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Jail hurting for lack of staff

BY Samantha Oyler - soyler@chronicle-tribune.com

Grant County Sheriff Reggie Nevels says there is a shortage of jail officers not only in Grant County, but nationwide.

Capt. Todd Fleece said the Grant County Jail is currently short 13 correctional officers. That number could change depending on what county officials decide to do about inmate overcrowding and the juvenile detention center. If the county chooses to renovate the detention center to house female inmates, they would need to fill 16 total job openings. 

“Three additional positions may not seem like much, but it’s a huge hurdle to overcome,” Fleece said.

One major reason for the lack of officers is the low pay.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual wage for correctional officers and jailers was $44,330 as of May 2018.

That number is about $10,000 higher than the average correctional officer salary in the state of Indiana.

Capt. Ed Beaty said the Grant County Sheriff’s Department is doing all it can to find new applicants, including attending job fairs, corresponding with colleges and universities in the area and trying to get officers more involved in the community.

“We’re using every opportunity we have to get our brand out there,” Beaty said.

Beaty said that the department hasn’t been fully staffed for at least four years now.

While that issue might be due to trouble recruiting applicants, a majority of those who do apply don’t make it through the rigorous testing.

Prospective law enforcement officers can expect to endure a physical test, a written test, a drug screening, a polygraph test and training at the Indiana Law Enforcement Academy.

While requirements might differ slightly depending on the position, Nevels said the department will not sacrifice its standards in order to gain more officers.

Beaty said the department invests a lot of resources into training its officers.

With all the training, testing and necessary equipment, the department loses roughly $20,000 every time an officer leaves.

Some officers move on to other agencies that offer higher salaries, which benefits those agencies because they don’t have to invest as much for training.

Although the department might lose officers, Chief Deputy Tim Holtzleiter said the jail must have a minimum of six officers present at all times.

Going below that minimum could cause dangerous problems.

Fleece said inmates eventually learn how the jail operates and some try to use these shortages to their advantage.

“We’re not going to put our officers in jeopardy because of low staff,” Holtzleiter said.

To make up for the loss, the department has to put some officers into overtime, which Fleece said runs the risk of “burning the candle at both ends.”

Officials in the department have been trying to make the job more desirable to applicants, but Nevels said they can’t compete with places that offer things like incentives for earning a college degree or differential shift wages.

For some applicants though, it’s not about the money.

“It takes someone with a special heart to do this kind of work and serve their community,” Nevels said.