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Ala. county jail cuts vacant positions to increase CO pay

Morgan County commission approves position eliminations and an 8% increase in pay for full-time COs

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By Erica Smith
The Decatur Daily

MORGAN COUNTY, Ala. — Two months after getting the OK to hire part-time jailers, the Morgan County Sheriff’s Office has gotten raises approved for its full-time corrections officers as it continues to seek solutions to a staffing shortage.

The Sheriff’s Office will eliminate five vacant corrections officers positions to free up money in its budget for the raises. Starting hourly pay will increase from $16.02 to $17.30, a jump of almost 8%, after the Morgan County Commission approved the raise and elimination of positions during it meeting Monday.

Officials said the Morgan County Jail had 22 vacant corrections officers jobs and will be trying to fill 17 of them after eliminating five of the open positions.

“We’re hoping that by raising the pay scale that we can lure more people into putting in (an application),” Commission Chairman Ray Long said. “That’s the key is to try to get more people to put in. ... Will it work, hey, I don’t know, but we’ve got to try.”

Richard Moats, Morgan County Jail captain, said he believes the pay raise will entice more people to apply and also help with retention.

“In the current economy with so many places hiring, pay is a factor,” Moats said. “Any increase in pay helps us to stay competitive in the marketplace. We are hopeful that this will help us keep current employees and enhance our recruitment efforts.”

Long said each correction officer already on staff will move up a pay grade.

Puckett previously said there was a 40% jail staff turnover in 2022. Mike Swafford, Sheriff’s Office spokesman, said that has not changed.

“Turnover has continued to be an issue and has stayed consistent since 2022,” he said.

Long said the commission hopes the $1.28 per hour raise helps the jail with retention and recruitment.

“We’ve got to try something because probably a month ago we had 25 openings and that’s a lot because we only have around 115 (corrections officers) or so anyway,” he said.

Long said the corrections officers work a lot of overtime due to the shortage.

“They’re getting tired; it’s a lot of overtime when you’re 20-something short and people have to make up,” he said. “It’s just working our people to death. A lot of people like overtime, but nobody likes a lot of overtime.”

Swafford said full-time jailers work 12-hour shifts and both the day and night shifts operate with a 20-person staff.

“Overtime is worked every day as we continue to recruit additional staff,” he said. “We utilize an overtime schedule to help avoid burnout.”

In January, the commission approved the Sheriff’s Office hiring 10 part-time jailers to help with the shortage. Swafford said the jail currently has four part-time corrections officers and that has helped with the shortage.

“It allowed flexibility in our scheduling which allowed us to recruit individuals that otherwise couldn’t work our standard 12-hour shifts,” Swafford said. “It also allows us the flexibility to add additional personnel during peak periods.”

Swafford said the jail’s daily population is around 625 and it is difficult to find employees because not everyone is interested in working in a correctional facility. He said it is important to find quality candidates that are able to safely maintain the custody, control and care of the facility.

“The facility holds numerous individuals accused of various crimes including murder, rape, abuse, assault and more. We believe that we currently house more individuals accused of murder than (at) any other time in recent history,” he said. “Many would not entertain the thought of working near these individuals.”

However, Swafford said the career can be rewarding as the job offers advancement opportunities, excellent benefits, and the opportunity to serve the community.

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