Sheriff Steve Page recently announced that White County has had to begin moving inmates to other counties because of staffing shortages at the jail.
“It is my job to keep the community safe, but that also includes the inmates here at our jail as well as all of the correctional officers and staff,” Page said, “and I cannot do that with the number of hours that our correctional officers are having to work to cover the shortage of employees that we are experiencing.”
White County Jail can house 165 inmates when they are fully staffed, but Page said he felt it was unsafe to house much more than 90 with the current staff he has available. While he has requested that the state conduct a study to determine the safety ratio of inmates per correctional officer on duty, he knows that ratio will be much lower than what he has available.
“It isn’t safe to have 90 inmates that two officers are trying to monitor and take care of,” Page said, adding that to make up the difference many officers are having to work overtime, putting in and seven days a week if necessary. “I could run a full house if we were only three employees short, but we are about 10 short as it stands right now.”
And the White County sheriff says he fears it is only going to get worse as some correctional officers have resigned because of the extra hours, exhaustion, and no time for family.
The sheriff is responsible for the oversight of the county’s deputies, investigators, and the jail, which houses inmates for the city of Sparta, White County, and the state of Tennessee.
According to the sheriff, the shortage of employees began because officers could get better wages in other counties. Page said that despite talking to the county executive and commissioners during budget negotiations, White County has not come through with additional funds for more employees or increased wages.
“Now we are having to move inmates to other counties just to keep both our employees and the inmates we are keeping here safe,” Page said. “We recently moved all 28 state inmates that we were housing.”
The cost to move the inmates – which included manhours for transportation, medical man hours, transportation – including gas and mileage, and administration costs totaled $1,764.43. White County deputies totaled 59.4 manhours to cover the 2,096.8 roundtrip miles it took to transport the inmates, and there were another 14 hours of administrative duties and three hours of medical duties involved.
While the almost $2,000 doesn’t seem like much, Page said it is the money that the county is now losing for not housing state inmates that is concerning. The state of Tennessee pays White County $41 per day to house a state inmate – and these are people who committed crimes and sentenced in White County, not inmates who have been brought in from other places. That $41 per day for an inmate means that the county is losing $1,148 every day that those 28 inmates are no longer in White County, which equals a projected monthly loss of $34,440 for the inmates who were moved.
“Of course, that number just grows if we have other inmates who are sentenced here but we are unable to house them,” Page said, “and the problem gets bigger if we can’t house county inmates in the future.”
The county isn’t paying for the state inmates to be housed in another jail. However, the county will have to pay for inmates who are serving time for county charges that must be housed in another jail.
“Instead of just losing out on potential money, we will be paying actual money to other counties if we have to move any more inmates,” the sheriff explained, “and that’s a real possibility if our inmate population continues to grow before we find a solution to this problem.”
The issue becomes complex with losing out on potential money coming into the county, the county potentially having to pay money out to other counties, all complicated by needing to find funds to pay enough employees to keep that from happening.
Until a solution is found, Page said he will continue to do what he must do.
“I’m not going to put anyone at risk - inmates or staff,” he said, and further stated he will not overpopulate the ratio of staff to inmates regardless of the financial implications. “My job is to keep everyone in it safe, and I will do whatever that takes, even if it isn’t popular.”
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