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Politics & Government

Not enough corrections staff in Washtenaw County jail

Courtesy of Washtenaw County

Almost one quarter of the budgeted positions for corrections officers in the Washtenaw County jail are unfilled.

Washtenaw County Sheriff Jerry L. Clayton is calling this a "critical" staffing shortage, some of which is due to natural attrition like retirements, dismissals and resignations.

According to Clayton, an acceptable and normal vacancy rate is 8-10 percent.

Clayton said the staffing levels do not currently present a safety risk and the sheriff's office has not declared a state of emergency.

In response to the situation, Clayton said his office is ramping up recruitment efforts, but won't lower its hiring standards.

According to Clayton, salaries for corrections officers start at about $38,000. He said retirement benefits have been greatly diminished over the years, and this has made it more difficult to compete with higher salaries offered in the private sector.

"I think there needs to be an increase in pay, and I'll advocate for it," said Clayton. "And I also know that the decision-makers around budget have to balance a lot of different demands on money."

He said the staff shortage means more mandatory extra shifts and increased stress on jail staff, and that in turn could prompt more staff turn over. So his office is working to spread the burden of mandatory overtime to include corrections staff who work outside the jail.

"You can only mandate staff to work double shifts for so long before you just burn them out, and we're concerned about that." Clayton said. "And in the summer months we don't want to declare the kind of situation where we're voiding vacation time and things of that nature. We want to make sure that the staff has the chance to have time off, to rejuvenate and recharge their batteries.

Clayton expressed pride in the professionalism of the corrections staff.

"I've got to say this," said Clayton. "From an operational standpoint, although the staffing has been challenging, the performance of the people who are there continues to be outstanding."

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