published Monday, December 17th, 2012

Bradley County sheriff raises staffing concerns

A Bradley County Justice Center officer processes an inmate who was  being released after serving her time at the Cleveland, Tenn., facility in this file photo.
A Bradley County Justice Center officer processes an inmate who was being released after serving her time at the Cleveland, Tenn., facility in this file photo.
Photo by Tim Barber.

CLEVELAND, Tenn. — Bradley County Sheriff Jim Ruth and county commissioners again are discussing staffing levels for the Corrections Department.

Ruth recently told commissioners he's concerned about jail staffing in light of a growing inmate population and previous sheriffs' shifting of corrections positions to patrols and court services.

"That's the way I see things have been done in the past by prior sheriffs who have moved and shuffled [personnel] where they need to ... and using the corrections budget to do so at times," he said.

The corrections budget is funded for 92 corrections officers, but the department employs only 78.

"I guess the problem we have is that amount of money was funded to staff the jail and that's the budgeted number that has been there ever since," said Commissioner Ed Elkins, who said he knew corrections money had been used to fund other jobs in the sheriff's office.

During budget talks in June, Ruth told commissioners his office was in a crisis situation. He noted that the County Technical Assistance Service recommended 102 corrections officers for a jail the size of Bradley County's.

The average daily population is 460 prisoners, up from 400 inmates a few months ago, law enforcement officials said.

"It's no secret the jail is the biggest liability to the county," Ruth said.

Cutting the number of patrol deputies to have more jailers just creates another liability, Ruth said. The Bradley County Sheriff's Office now has eight officers on patrol at any given time, which he considers "minimal" for the county's population of just more than 100,000.

Commissioners also addressed hardships of the job and the correctional officer turnover rate.

"What people tend to forget in that position is that you're basically an inmate yourself," Commissioner Jeff Yarber said.

Commissioner Adam Lowe recommended thorough studies of inmate population trends and corrections funding and expenses dating back the last five or six years as the next steps for the county's Finance Committee or Law Enforcement Committee.

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