Boyle-Mercer jail budget would add staff, give raises

Published 8:19 pm Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Five new people would begin working at the Boyle County Detention Center; deputy jailers would get a boost to their salaries; and the jail would improve rehabilitation and re-entry services for inmates under a proposed budget presented last week.

The budget must still be studied and recommended by the Boyle-Mercer Joint Jail Committee, then approved by the Boyle and Mercer county fiscal courts before it could be adopted.

The budget as examined by the Joint Jail Committee on Friday would add a new full-time deputy jailer at a cost of about $50,000 annually for salary and benefits; and a new permanent part-time deputy at an annual cost of around $14,000, according to Boyle County Treasurer Mary Conley.

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The budget also includes approximately $56,000 in funding to hire two contracted positions: a qualified mental health professional and a case worker. The mental health professional would provide services to inmates with mental health problems such as depression or suicidal thoughts. The case worker would help ensure inmates can find housing and access resources when they are released, Jailer Brian Wofford said.

“I think it’s a very important piece, because if we spend this money and provide these services on the inside, and there’s no follow-up or after-care, and they just fall through the cracks, we’ve just wasted our money,” Wofford said.

The mental health professional would be responsible for working with the approximately 10 to 11 percent of the jail’s population who are booked in with mental health issues. Right now, the jail uses a state-funded triage phone line to assess inmates’ mental health, but has essentially nothing else in place to help after that.

“We’re really not meeting the constitutional level of care we’re supposed to be providing,” Wofford said. “… My goal is to focus on Mercer County, Boyle County inmates first. If there’s issues with a state inmate, a lot of times we can get them transferred. But if there’s a state inmate there that needs care, I’m not going to refuse them.”

A fifth new person at the jail could be a “program coordinator,” a position that would be paid for out of the canteen fund, which is funded by fees paid by inmates when they purchase items in the jail’s canteen.

Wofford said the program coordinator would not cost taxpayers any money, but would provide useful programming for inmates such as life skills classes, parenting classes and Moral Reconation Therapy — a program that helps people overcome substance abuse issues.

Wofford said deputies at the jail are already training to provide such programming to state inmates, which will allow the jail to retain more hard-working inmates — who might otherwise be transferred elsewhere to receive the programming — for its work release program.

Wofford said he would like the new program coordinator to provide the same kinds of programming for county inmates who have been final sentenced.

“A lot of the inmates lack skills. A lot of things that you and I would take for granted — how to go to an interview, how to do a budget,” he said. “… A lot of that is from substance abuse. If they started using drugs at 12 or 14, they still have a mind of a 12- or 14-year-old. … One of the things I realized when I was working undercover is most of these guys I was dealing with didn’t grow up with a mom and dad who went to work every day. They were left at an early age to fend for themselves, and like kids do, they made poor choices. But their poor choices led them into substance abuse.

“If somebody doesn’t provide these opportunities, where are they going to get it?”

The budget would also provide a 50-cent raise to jail staff, matching a 50-cent raise already approved in January in order to provide a $1 raise compared to this time last year. And the budget proposes giving an almost $10,000 raise to the chief deputy position, which is currently vacant — Wofford was chief deputy until he won November’s election to become jailer.

The Joint Jail Committee must recommend a budget to the two counties’ fiscal courts by April 1. A special called meeting has been set for 10 a.m. March 25 for the committee to consider any revisions and approve a recommended budget. Both fiscal courts are scheduled to hold regular meetings the next morning.