Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Reduced jail population spur budget, staffing cuts at Bexar jail, but do they go too far?

With its jail population falling, the Bexar County Commissioners Court is seeking to cut staffing at the county jail in a budget expected to be approved today. Reported KSAT-TV:
While collective bargaining negotiations between the county and sheriffs deputies are on hold for now, county commissioners are expected to adopt a 2012 budget on Tuesday that would reduce the county jail detention staff by 100 positions.

Bexar County Manager David Smith said the county originally called for 128 positions to be dissolved through attrition, but after an extra $6 million in revenue was found, the county dropped that number to 100.

"There were no law enforcement positions involved," said Smith. "It takes us almost two full-time people to staff a one person job at the jail and we also have over 800 empty jail beds."

The jail hasn't been near it's 4,596-inmate capacity since July 2009. This year, it's dropped nearly every month and had 3,915 during a count in August."

It doesn't compute to have the same amount of staff now that we did when we had four-thousand plus inmates at the jail," said county commissioner Paul Elizondo. "We want to run a safe jail, absolutely. We want to run a safe jail but we want to run an efficient jail that frees up funds to be spent on other law enforcement activities."

Some detention officers or their union representatives have argued that reducing the overall jail staff will make it unsafe for both employees and inmates, however Elizondo said the state has told the county that they already exceed the minimum number of required staff members by 200.
Certainly I favor reducing inmate populations to lower incarceration costs. But an email from a deputy at the jail to your correspondent raises questions about the wisdom of these particular cuts.

For starters, the reduction in inmates stems in part from shipping inmates to other counties: "Currently, we have shipped 100 inmates out to Zavala County at a cost of $45.00 per day, per inmate," wrote the deputy. This equates to over $1.6 million per year.  We also have another 24 inmates at Frio County but they are being housed at no cost to us at this time." Why is the county shipping inmates to other jurisdictions? According to my source, lack of staffing to open up currently empty wings in the jail: "Currently, we have 9-10 living units closed which, if occupied, would equal another approximately 650 inmates.  These units are not staffed because we simply don't have the people to put there."

At current inmate levels, the Bexar Sheriff must use overtime to keep the jail staffed, according to my source: "Currently most of our Detention officers are working mandatory overtime, which for now is paid at time and a half.  Every day, approximately 10 officers are kept for an additional shift or part of an additional shift.  At our Annex we also have mandatory overtime but we also have authorization for 2 voluntary overtime slots each workday and, I believe, 3 voluntary slots on the weekends.  This has helped our staffing a lot but you have to wonder when the money is going to be cut off or run out for overtime and then there's the issue of just working your people to death with overtime."

I don't understand how reducing staffing will help lower costs if the county must turn around and cover shifts paying time-and-a-half. Indeed, commissioners seem aware that reduced staffing will increase overtime costs. "Along with keeping 28 positions, the county plans to use $1.5 million of the new-found revenue to help pay for overtime for extra shifts or when the jail population increases," reported KSAT-TV. It's difficult for me to understand how, if it requires overtime to staff the jail at current levels, Commissioner Elizondo could claim that the jail "exceed[s] the minimum number of required staff members by 200." There's a disconnect in there, somewhere - some hidden rationale that eludes this writer. If you've got more jailers than you need, why are you paying some of them overtime?

The union, laments my deputy informant, is "focused on our collective bargaining agreement rather than the immediate issue of staffing." Indeed, they may soon end up fighting for their very existence. Commissioner Kevin Wolff, son of Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff, has called for a petition drive to decertify the union, which could come as early as this November. So the staffing cuts will likely be implemented, and we'll see the effects, for good or ill, down the line.

Indeed, if Commissioner Wolff and his supporters had their way he would privatize the jail outright, and my deputy informant fears cuts in the current budget may be setting the Sheriff up for a battle over privatization down the line:
Losing 64 officers and not replacing them is going to make things very difficult at the jail for staff and inmates.  While we are forced to work mandatory overtime we have to worry about when the money is going to run out and then we are essentially working for comp time, which we wont ever get to use due to...staffing issues. The loss of the 64 positions is just the start of the problem.  The attrition will continue past that because people quitting, retiring, getting fired etc. are just facts of life.  The call ins and absences such as sick, military leave, FMLA etc. will still continue unabated and the jail will become a more dangerous place than it is already.  I think our Commissioners are aiming to get the jail to fail a TCJS inspection (we have passed every inspection under our current Sheriff) and cripple our staff so badly, which will make the chances of failing a TCJS inspection that much easier, and either shame the Sheriff or force him to have to privatize.
If that's really the motive behind the budget cuts, it's quite a cynical one. Hopefully such speculation is ill-founded, but we're talking about a tense, politically charged situation where such tactics are not out of the realm of possibility.

No doubt, reducing jail and prison populations is the best, quickest way to reduce incarceration costs, at both the county and state level. So Bexar's inmate reductions on their face create an opportunity for savings. But the data on overtime and the practice of housing inmates in other counties raise the possibility that Bexar commissioners may be cutting more than is justified by the lower jail population. Cutting the jail budget is a good thing, but it must be done safely and smartly.


A Texas PO said...

I seem to recall that, just a few years ago, BCJ was being raked over the coals for not having enough staff on board to actually fill the jail to it's constructed capacity, and for having too many inmates with not enough staff. Now we're at the opposite end because the Commissioner's Court has figured out that it is cheaper to pay other counties to house these folks and the pre-trial release program has been working (albeit, still underutilized). Another example of San Antonio politics (and the obvious anti-union stance of politicians) continuing to make really odd choices in Bexar County.

Anonymous said...

124 inmates being housed in other locations but 800 beds available locally?

Elizondo said the state has told the county that they already exceed the minimum number of required staff members by 200?

Why is the county shipping inmates to other jurisdictions? According to my source, lack of staffing to open up currently empty wings in the jail: "Currently, we have 9-10 living units closed which, if occupied, would equal another approximately 650 inmates. These units are not staffed because we simply don't have the people to put there."


Anonymous said...

Turn the thugs loose.

In Benton Township, Michigan, two armed thugs wearing masks burst into a near-deserted Walgreens at 4:30 a.m. The pharmacist, Jeremy Hoven, defended himself. Walgreens fired him.

A video shows how events unfolded.

Watch the Video Here

Gritsforbreakfast said...

10:45, what does a crime in Michigan have to do with jail staffing in San Antonio? That's pure, off-topic trolling. Take it elsewhere, please, or else stay on topic. My blog, my rules.

Anonymous said...

It seems the union at the Bexar County Probation Department is causing more trouble for the new chief.

One union member has recently been fired and another two have been suspended.

Anonymous said...

People need to know that it is not just mandatory overtime that the Officers are working but there is ALOT of FORCED mandatory overtime going on. Let's say on a Monday morning for first shift is your assigned Mandatory OT day and you work it...ok well then you work first shift after you are finished with your night shift. Fine. You complete your 16 hour day and then go home and sleep the few hours you can and wake up and come back to work for the night shift thinking my OT is done for the week. Riiiiight when you are about to finish your shift and walk out the unit or corridor or where ever you are assigned you get that call that says "Captains Office" on the caller ID and guess what you are being told........"I'm going to need you to stay today" and you reply "but Sir I stayed yesterday on my Mandatory OT day" and he says "well I'm FORCING you to stay today" and you reply "but Sir I can't stay" and the responses are usually "well stay or find another job" or "I'm going to need a report" and if you do a report now they will not accept it saying "I'm not taking reports anymore" In all fairness it is not our shift commanders fault....they are the middle man, the bad guy, the horrible person stuck between the Administration and the Officers who by the way are WORN out and exhausted! This has been going on for about....close to 3 years now.

I hope someone somewhere does something fast for the good of the Officers that work there. It is a VERY dangerous place and the inmates are even expressing how they know the place is spinning out of control and take advantage of tired Officers. The jail does NOT need to be privatized!!!! The jail is not only getting dangerous for Officers but for inmates as well so if you have a "mijo" or "mija" in there who has a misdemeanor better hope the other inmates who are institutionalized don't take advantage of them or beat them up and send them to the hospital.

Anonymous said...

Another thing......numbers can be thrown around all day.....bottom line is there are a very limited amount of Officers left to fill in spots even if there are no call ins for the day. If there are no call ins.....SOMEONE is still going to stay OT because there are still slots on the roster that need to be filled! Good luck to the over worked, stressed out, comp time working (after this chunk of money runs out) Officers in the Jail. I hope someone somewhere gives a damn about you and fights for your safety and sanity. I hate to say "jailer" The term "he/she is JUST a jailer" is downright stupid. The men and women in that Jail have worked hard to obtain their peace officers license to move forward with their careers, something that is required for you to go on patrol. For people to come in and want to break down that place, over work them even more by cutting positions, threaten to strip them of their peace officer license, pay them with Comp time and walk all over and talk about them as if they hardly exist needs to actually go in there and work how they work. They would be exhausted!!!!