Douglas County wrestles with jail staffing issues
Many jail officers are working the equivalent of two full-time jobs covering shifts in the jail because of staffing shortages.
Correctional officers could soon see a bump in their pay as Douglas County faces critical staffing shortages in the jail.
The county’s administration committee approved advancing jailers two steps on the pay scale to retain working staff at its meeting Thursday, Oct. 7. Pay increases would range from $1.20 to $1.38 per hour.
“They basically have 24 healthy, certified jailers trying to cover the shifts of 36 people,” county administrator Ann Doucette said. “They know of two more resignations coming before the end of the year. When you look at who's left in the jail, they only have five people that have been there over three years.”
The increases would go into effect with the pay period following county board approval, said Linda Corbin, human resources manager.
Douglas County’s human resources office asked other counties in Wisconsin what they are doing to recruit and retain staff in their jails.
Of the 15 counties that responded, only one reported that its jail was fully staffed. Waupaca County credited its success to good supervisors, minimizing overtime, and a jail captain who comes in during the night shift to just see how things are going.
Other counties reported trying to solve their staffing challenges with everything from signing bonuses and changing work shifts to increasing hourly wages and creating rewards programs to keep corrections staff on board.
Juneau County reported that jail staff are considered deputies, but to get to patrol, they must work in the jail first.
“This proposal is more or less for retention purposes,” Doucette said.
Ideally, jail staff members work 12-hour shifts with three days working and three days off one week, and four days on and four days off the next week of the pay period for a total of 84 hours every two weeks, said jail Lt. Stacey Minter. However, with the current staffing levels, she said many jail officers are working more than 80 hours of overtime in a pay period.
“That’s pretty much two full-time jobs here,” Minter said. “That’s not the average, but I’d be shocked if that wasn’t close … that’s a lot for us to expect from our employees.”
While the county budgeted $125,000 for overtime in the jail this year, Minter said the actual cost so far is closer to $325,000.
The most overtime paid in a two-week pay period was 65.5 hours, said Capt. Tyler Edwards.
According to an analysis of jail payroll, the average overtime per pay period is 17 hours because some employees work very little overtime, Edwards said. They include jail staff on light duty, those on military leave and court officers and administration, he said.
Minter said often when people leave jail employment, they’re not staying in the field because they are burned out and looking for better hours, even if it means earning less money.
“It’s a problem for all agencies and businesses in this city,” Supervisor Nick Baker said. “You see the signs up there wanting people, willing to hire. I think it’s a real serious problem that should be corrected as soon as possible.”
The proposed pay change would put the hourly range at $22.11 to $25.10 for jailers and $25.47 to $28.91 for jail sergeants, still less than the pay scale for jail staff in Carlton and St. Louis counties.
“I think it’s the first step,” Minter said. “I don’t think it’s necessarily enough. It’s going to be a little bit of a thank you.”
Edwards said he’s been pushing for a wage study, and he’s hopeful Douglas County will look at Carlton and St. Louis counties because they are the main sources of competition for filling jobs.
A wage study will get underway in January, but recommendations from that aren’t likely to go into effect until 2023.
“We can’t wait until 2023 because I’m scared we won’t have anyone left to do the job,” Edwards said.
In addition to increasing pay, Doucette said the county is stepping up its recruiting efforts by reaching out to potential applicants directly.
The county mailed postcards Oct. 1 to people ages 21-50 recruiting for open positions in the jail and dispatchers in the emergency communications center.
Since then, the county has received 23 applications for the jail, compared to the seven or eight applications per month officials typically receive/ Edwards said he’s hopeful there will be more applicants by the time they start interviews next week.
New hires recently have started at step two on the pay scale, Doucette said; or step three or higher if they have prior jail experience.
“I think something should be done as soon as possible,” Baker said. “... I hope they can take a look at the budget and see if there is something we can do about it.”
Baker made a motion to increase pay by two steps, a measure that comes with a $65,000 price tag.
The Douglas County Board will consider the proposal at 6 p.m. Oct. 21 in the Government Center Boardroom.
This story was updated at 11 a.m. Oct 14 with additional information about how much the county spends on overtime for jail staff.
It was also updated 9 a.m. Oct. 12 with the correct date of the county board meeting. The Telegram regrets the error.