Cutting mandatory overtime leaves Hamilton County Jail shifts short staffed, records show

Cutting mandatory overtime leaves Hamilton County Jail shifts short staffed, records show

December 25th, 2012 by Beth Burger in Local Regional News

The Hamilton County Jail

Photo by WRCB-TV Channel 3 /Times Free Press.

Document: Hamilton County Jail 2nd shift duty roster

Hamilton County Jail 2nd shift duty roster for Dec. 5, 2012.

With mandatory overtime reduced at the Hamilton County Jail, corrections officers now are working below staffing levels outlined in the department's policy, according to documents obtained by the Times Free Press.

Corrections officers are frequently unable to cover necessary positions; one lieutenant on second shift has documented running the jail with eight fewer officers than policy dictates, records show.

On some shifts, only one officer is assigned to the fourth floor -- where inmates with mental or physical illnesses are housed along with sex offenders, according to some of the December duty rosters.

When questioned about the shortage of officers on a floor, Hammond responded, "No, that's absolutely not true. I put an order down a year ago that I would absolutely not tolerate less than two officers on a floor."

The linear construction of the jail, built in 1974, requires jailers to walk the halls to monitor inmates. The sheriff's office policy states "that an assisting officer will be physically available within sight or sound of the officer entering the housing unit."

Department policy calls for at least six people to man the booking and intake area. Ideally, eight people should staff the area, according to the policy.

Records show that on several days on second shift, three officers are assigned to the booking area. On most days the area is staffed with four to five officers, according to the rosters.

"You're always going to get the argument we need more people in booking," Hammond said during an interview this month. He said he did not know how many officers staffed the area, but did say, "I would have to look at the numbers, but it's been adequate. I can tell you that."

Hamilton County Commission Chairman Larry Henry said he has some concerns about the management at the sheriff's office. He's not sure the commission would be open to giving more money for the jail budget, if Hammond asked.

"I have talked to some corrections officers, too. I know they are short and working some long hours. Naturally, there's some concerns," Henry said. "I think the sheriff needs to be talking to us."

Overtime has been one of the biggest expenditures at the jail. Throughout the year, officers were working mandatory overtime with shifts lasting 16 hours and working six days per week.

A jail advisory committee recommended eliminating mandatory overtime for now as a way to save money, said Don Gorman, director of administration for the sheriff's office.

"They [corrections staff] were using quite a few people and they couldn't tell us why they were using them," Gorman said. "They are looking at some of the areas where they can cut, where they really don't need that extra person and send them home."

By the end of the month -- six months into the fiscal year -- the sheriff's office will likely have spent its entire $478,350 overtime budget. As of Dec. 12, the department has already spent $438,202, he said.