Kenton guard shortage not hurting jail treatment programs

County has tough time keeping hires
Posted at 12:01 PM, Jun 19, 2016
and last updated 2016-06-19 13:40:35-04

COVINGTON, 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 Jailer Terry Carl.

Drug-rehabilitation programs for men and women at the Covington facility are paid for by the Kentucky Department of Corrections’ Division of Mental Health and Substance Abuse, explained Jason Merrick, director of addiction services. Those costs are about $125,000 annually, which covers three full-time and one part-time person, Merrick described.

Drug inmates are treated for their particular drug with alcohol clients heading for Alcoholics Anonymous, and heroin clients receiving medically assisted treatment, which can include a shot of Vivitrol when they are released from detention, Merrick said.

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

The staff shortage, according to County Commissioner Jon Draud, is forcing the county to pay overtime for jail security guards out of a tight county budget.

“We got in the problem a couple of years ago,” said Draud, “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, which ends June 30, will be approximately $330,000, Carl said. The jail still faces a challenge finding qualified security guards, Carl and Draud said.

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

Currently, Merrick said, the jail is working with a capacity of 70 inmates who have problems involving alcohol, heroin or some other drug. The jail’s total population is 602.

“Security is the top priority,” 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. For a detention center deputy, the job description runs to four tightly spaced pages and includes: “Perform duties in booking area, including performing strip searches.” And, “Working 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.” Also, “Subject to shift work, extended duty hours, twenty-four hour call-back, holiday and weekend duty.”

The compensation is $14.30 per hour, about $30,000 per year.

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