After many years of non-compliance with state standards, Dallas County has nearly eliminated staffing problems at the jail, the Dallas News reports, but only by spending more than $9 million last year in overtime. In the end, hiring enough guards to minimally staff the jail required the county commissioners to pony up an additional $11 million per year. Reported the News ("Overtime bill at Dallas jail tops $9 million," Jan. 16):
Sheriff Valdez inherited the jail overcrowding problem, and since she took charge the county has both hired more guards and taken steps to reduce the jail population to bring the staffing ratios in line. Though she's receive a lot of flak for various problems, she deserves credit for that accomplishment.
Sheriff Lupe Valdez's department spent more than $9 million on overtime at the five jails during fiscal 2007, according to a report made public Tuesday by the county auditor's office.
Some guards volunteered to work long hours to make up for staffing shortages, doubling their salaries with overtime.
In fiscal 2006, the department spent $9.4 million on jail overtime, which at the time was the most anyone could recall being spent. In 2005, the department spent $5.3 million on overtime. In 2004, it came to $1.7 million.
Commissioners approved 266 new jail guard positions last fiscal year, costing $11.5 million, according to the budget office. As of Tuesday, all but 25 of those positions have been filled, said Dr. Mattye Mauldin-Taylor, the county's human resources director.
The new positions were needed to meet the state's minimum staffing requirement of one guard for every 48 inmates – a standard the county hasn't met for the last three years.
However, the achievement will be short-lived if plans to open a new 2,300 bed jail wing in February 2009 stay on schedule. More expensive than building the jail itself will be staffing it. The $11 million per year the county just forked over won't make a dent into that additional staffing need.
At the state's 48-1 staffing ratio (a too-high number for safety's sake, if you ask me, but that's the rule), assuming three, eight-hour shifts, the new jail will require 144 additional front-line guards - perhaps 175 or 200 by the time you add in supervisors, travel details and backup, plus administration and support - call it an additional $8-9 million or so annually, as a ballpark guesstimate, just to staff the planned new unit.
If voters want to use incarceration as the primary government response to every social problem, at some point they have to pay the tab. Dallas taxpayers are discovering that they're only barely able to do so.