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Q&A: Staff Morale

Updated: Aug 11, 2022

Morale is low amongst the security staff, along with most of the staff, for several reasons. I will speak to this as a former employee under this administration and also as a person who spent many years working with and speaking to staff from across departments at the facility.

Morale is low because staff are overworked. Since the beginning of the current administration, both supervisory staff and line staff have asked for hiring to happen. For the first years of the current administration, despite pleas from staff, hiring didn’t happen. The Sheriff himself has stated publicly and on the record several times, that as retirements occur, he actively does not back fill those positions. He states it is a cost saving measure. What is saved is more than exceeded in overtime expenditures and in burnt out staff. Overtime is held on all shifts, nearly daily. The facility has already spent more in overtime this year than it did in all of last and it accomplished that in June. That same month, the facility graduated 5 individuals from a Correctional Officer Training Academy. The Sheriff will use this to tell you that hiring has been successful and we are making strides. What the Sheriff will not tell you is that same month the facility lost 6 staff members to retirements, transfers to other correctional facilities, or taking jobs in other industries because this environment became untenable. This type of turnover happens regularly, whereas Academy graduations do not. The facility is in a constant state of playing catch up because there was not an eye towards the future when this Administration first began making hiring choices. There is now a mad dash to hire in droves as opposed to heeding the concerns of staff years ago and slowly, but consistently, filling positions. This is an example of how listening to your staff, who do the day to day work, could have benefited the facility. This is true of other departments as well, particularly the medical department, where 24hr nursing coverage is non-existent because of staff shortages and inefficient scheduling over the past several years.

Morale is low because staff feel unsafe. The type of individual housed at the facility has changed over the past several years, particularly since COVID. Many are more volatile, more mentally unwell and more unpredictable. The staff want more training and more support from mental health staff who are available to the incarcerated population. Security staff are experiencing assaults and threats to their safety with increasing frequency including one last fall which was so severe it disabled an employee and ended his correctional career. This is not to say staff assaults never happened before this, but what has changed in this Administration are 2 things: the incredibly low staffing levels the facility is working with presently and the number of non-Academy trained staff on the floors. Academy training is a 10 week process to train new hires on how to be correctional officers. Part of this training is safety training in the form of defensive tactics, cell extractions and proper handcuffing technique. There are presently 19 staff on payroll who work the floors but are not Academy trained. This limits the areas where they can work, how they can assist their fellow officers, their knowledge of proper safety and security techniques and endangers their own personal safety. It is difficult to have faith in an administration not actively looking out for the safety of the staff doing the work.

Morale is low because staff feel demoralized. Staff do not feel heard, connected to or respected by the Sheriff and his Administration. It is difficult to feel respected when you are never consulted about decisions which directly affect you and your work. It is difficult to maintain that fire for the job when you have been passed over multiple times for promotion even when you have asked what you could do better, do it, and are still passed over. It is hard to feel respected when you feel threatened and are intimidated by senior Administration staff when you speak your mind, or when you try to stand up for one another. When you time and again try to alert senior staff and Administration officials to possible issues, particularly safety, and are repeatedly dismissed it is hard to feel valued. Or when you have a good idea, you share it with the Sheriff and his Administration and it is initially passed over only to be implemented a number of months later with no credit given where it was due, it becomes not only a hard pill to swallow, but a jagged one.

The facility does not run because of the Sheriff. The Sheriff goes home at night. And on the weekends. And goes on vacation. The facility runs 24/7/365. The facility runs because of the staff. They are the ones providing the care, treatment and safe custody to those who are incarcerated. Nothing happens in the facility without staff, primarily security staff and those in day to day essential roles. They deserve to have a voice when theirs is threatened. They deserve to have the ear of the Sheriff and really be listened to. When you work in a supervisory role, and lose contact with the staff and incarcerated individuals, you forget how much the staff provide, how much they know and what a force of nature they can all be when harnessed together for the same goals. I would be honored to be their leader on September 6th.

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