Jackson County legislators say they strongly favor raises for County Detention Center corrections officers but question County Executive Frank White’s means of paying for them.
“That is mission critical going forward,” acting Corrections Director Diana Turner told legislators Tuesday.
Legislators continue their department-by-department review of the 2018 budget today and are likely to vote to approve it next Monday.
County officials said pay for corrections officers has to be raised to begin to get a handle on turnover and staff openings that are said to contribute to safety issues at the jail, where at least three guards have been attacked since late summer.
Starting pay would rise to $15 an hour on Jan. 1, and employees who stay and complete training and testing would go to $15.75 in six months and $17.32 in a year. Cost: $2.1 million a year.
Chair of the Legislature Scott Burnett, D-Kansas City, said legislators favor that change.
“But we don’t see where that money’s coming from in the current budget that’s presented,” he said.
It appears, Legislative Auditor Crissy Wooderson said, that White’s office has found money sources that include $450,000 from money for outside social service agencies and a larger-than-legally-allowed share from the county’s Combat tax for anti-drug and anti-violence efforts.
“ … I am so tired of the health fund being raided for things,” said Legislator Crystal Williams, D-Kansas City. She said cuts need to be made elsewhere.
Legislator Dan Tarwater, D-Kansas City, said legislators will find the money.
Legislators also have looked at the idea of using sheriff’s deputies to take over transportation duties at the jail, freeing up about 40 corrections officers for work inside the jail. That’s roughly the number of open guard positions the jail has experienced recently. But that would mean hiring more sheriff’s deputies, and the officials haven’t identified money for that.
Legislators also would like to reduce jail overcrowding and save money by expanding such things as ankle bracelets to make sure inmates are staying at home while they await trial. The cost of keeping an inmate in the jail is about $93 a day, compared with $1 to $7 for ankle bracelets.
“That’s easy math,” said Legislator Alfred Jordan, D-Kansas City.
“We’ve heard consistently that overcrowding there is one of the major issues,” Williams told Turner. “If we can get something we can do for you, we should.”
On a given day, about 100 prisoners are free with ankle bracelets, and legislators were told that the county has the capacity to expand that to about 300.
But the Jackson County Circuit Court presiding judge, John Torrence, had some words of caution on that. When someone is charged and has a pending trial, judges weigh a variety of factors, including the likelihood of the person committing more crimes, in deciding who is sent to the jail and who is released.
“I tell you on behalf of the court we do our damnedest to get them out of there if it’s OK to get them out of there,” he said.
But he said 30, 40, maybe 50 people in the jail on a given day – beyond the ones already out with ankle bracelets – pose a low enough risk to consider alternatives.
“The majority of people that are in the county jail,” he said, “are there for a good reason.”