Kenton County struggles to find enough guards to staff its jail

Overtime pay is stretching the budget
Posted at 12:00 PM, Jun 19, 2016

KENTON COUNTY, Ky. -- Staffing at the Kenton County Detention Center is eight security guards short, but, so far, that is having no impact on drug treatment programs at the jail, according to long-time Jailor Terry Carl. However, paying existing guards so much overtime is having an effect on the county budget.

The jail’s drug rehab programs for men and women, which are paid for by the Kentucky Department of Corrections, Mental Health Substance Abuse Program, are not affected by staff shortages, said Jason Merrick, Director of Addiction Services. Those two programs cost about $125,000 a year, which covers three full-time and one part-time staffer, Merrick said.

Drug inmates are treated for their specific addiction, while alcohol clients head for AA. Heroin clients receive Medically Assisted Treatment (MAT), which can include a shot of Vivitrol when they are released from detention, Merrick said. Vivitrol, also known as naltrexone, blocks the effects of opioid drugs.

“They are incarcerated, but they are receiving treatment at the same time," said Merrick, who has been on the job since September 2015.

But because of the staffing shortage, the county must pay overtime to its existing jail security guards, which is stretching an already tight county budget, County Commissioner Jon Draud said.

“We got in the problem a couple of years ago,” he said. “So we increased salaries, but we still have trouble finding people. Many just don’t like to work in a jail.”

Anticipated overtime pay during the current fiscal year, July 1, 2015 to June 30, 2016, will be approximately $330,000, Carl said. The jail still faces a stiff challenge finding qualified security guards, Carl and Draud said.

The jail staff numbers 131, including 92 guards. The remainder are counselors, cooks, laundry workers, transportation and office staff. The guards rotate eight-hour shifts on a 24-hour, seven-day schedule.

Currently, Merrick said, the jail is working with a capacity of 70 inmates with issues involving alcohol, heroin or some other drug. The total jail is 602.

“Security is the top priorty,” Carl said.

Being short eight guards, or about 8 percent of the 92 guard staff, jail officials must constantly shuffle sick days, vacations, and training schedules, Carl said.

“Some come to work for two weeks and then say the work is not for them,” Carl said.

The job description for a county Detention Center Deputy runs to four tightly-spaced pages and includes: “perform duties in booking area, including performing strip searches.”

It also notes that “[w]orking conditions include regular exposure to dangerous and/or hazardous situations, continuous noises, bright lights, contagious diseases, humid surroundings, extreme hot or cold temperatures, dust and odors.” And, it says, the deputy is “subject to shift work, extended duty hours, twenty-four-hour call-back, holiday and weekend duty.”

Compensation is $14.30 per hour or about $30,000 per year.

“It is not work for everybody,” Carl said.