No good reason not to give raises at jail

Published 3:56 pm Wednesday, December 19, 2018


The Advocate-Messenger

Based on comments from multiple Boyle-Mercer Joint Jail Committee members last week, it seems like raises for employees at the Boyle County Detention Center are a possibility in the future. But the officials would like to give those raises later rather than sooner.

Email newsletter signup

We have a tough time following the logic on that, given what we know about the jail’s financial and physical situations. As jail officials have admitted for years, and as the newly completed study of the jail finds, the facility is woefully inadequate to handle the needs — or the sheer number — of inmates it’s housing. But Boyle and Mercer counties haven’t yet landed in legal trouble because of it — something that surprised the consultants who completed the jail study.

The consultants and local officials have credited the jail’s employees with making the difference and keeping the counties out of any federal lawsuit, which could take control of the local criminal justice system away from local officials and hand it to a federal judge.

The jail is currently in “what I call tinderbox status,” consultant Dr. Kenneth Ray said in September. “It takes a spark and it’s going to go. … But for the excellent management of that facility, and the way in which I saw your officers and staff treat the prisoners with respect, and how clean it was — I think that’s kept you going longer than many others would … But it wouldn’t take much of a spark to trigger litigation.”

Despite the accolades, jail staff are still paid less than what many can make in safer and less stressful jobs at factories. Joint Jail Committee officials have discussed the possibility that even fast food jobs could begin to lure away deputy jailers. And they’re paid those low wages while working a dangerous job — Jailer Barry Harmon called it the “deadliest job in America.”

Those facts alone suggest this is an extraordinary situation that requires unusual action — such as providing raises midway through a budget year.

But there’s even a cushion available when it comes to the budget: Due in part to the low salaries at the jail, it’s been operating at less than a full staff for more than a year. Those savings could help cover the initial cost of $1-an-hour raises — estimated at about $121,000 — Boyle County Magistrate Jack Hendricks has said.

Given all this, three members of the Joint Jail Committee — Mercer County Judge-Executive Milward Dedman, Mercer County Attorney Ted Dean and Boyle County Attorney Lynne Dean — all agreed last week they were still iffy at best on the idea of giving raises right now.

They whole-heartedly agreed the jail staff need and deserve raises, but they like the idea of waiting until the next budget cycle to tackle the issue.

“I promise I’m going to look hard to find that money. I’m going to ask my fiscal court to find that money … I just don’t think that now is the appropriate time on our end,” Ted Dean said.

But wait — if the raises are coming anyway, and there are already savings in the current budget to cover the cost for this year, and the jail is already a “tinderbox” for lawsuits, then why wait?

Lynne Dean suggested if raises are given out mid-budget to the jail staff, then other agencies would also want raises and ask for them outside of the normal budgeting process.

But we think it’s obvious the jail is currently in crisis, while other agencies and departments are not. If there’s a structure fire, you put it out as quickly as you can with fire trucks and firefighters. You don’t leave it burning because you’re afraid someone else might ask the firefighters to rescue a cat.

Maybe there are other, unspoken reasons officials have for delaying on the raises. If there are, they should be spoken; otherwise, we don’t see any good reason to wait.

The Joint Jail Committee meets again on Jan. 11, at 1:30 p.m. in the Boyle County Courthouse. The issue of raises was tabled last week, in order to be brought back at the January meeting. We hope at that time, officials will change their tune and move forward with the raises right away.

As Jailer Harmon told the other Joint Jail officials, “We’ve got to step up to the plate and take care of the people that are taking care of us. If we don’t, there’s going to be a breakdown.”