Ohio county sheriff's deputies must work in jail, amid corrections officer shortage

A contract agreement says that the jail needs at least 698 officers to function properly; it has 547


By Olivia Mitchell
Advance Ohio Media, Cleveland
        
CLEVELAND, Ohio — The Cuyahoga County Jail will once again have to employ sheriff deputies and protective services over the weekend, due to a major staff shortage of correctional officers.

Currently, there are nearly 547 correctional officers working in the jail, including 20 in training and 20 on authorized leave, said Adam Chaloupka, an attorney for the Ohio Patrolmen's Benevolent Association.

A contract agreement set forth two years ago by the county said that for the jail to function properly, there should at least 698 officers.

The staff shortage at the Cuyahoga County Jail stems from several factors; the growing inmate population is one of them.
The staff shortage at the Cuyahoga County Jail stems from several factors; the growing inmate population is one of them. (Cory Shaffer/cleveland.com)

The county has authorized funding to hire 725 officers.

The staff shortage stems from several factors. The growing inmate population is one of them.

On Friday, there were 1,617 inmates housed at the Cuyahoga County Jail, according to a county official. The jail's inmate population began to rise in May. The maximum capacity is around 1,750.

This will not be the first time the jail has called for assistance due to a staff shortage. In an emailed statement to cleveland.com, Sheriff Christopher Viland says it is an obligation to ensure the jail is safe.

"I am attempting in every way possible to assist the corrections staff in the performance of their duty to provide safe, effective inmate care while keeping staff safe and supporting the functions they are required to complete," Viland said. "While the Executive and County Council have taken unprecedented action in unilaterally offering large pay incentives to corrections staff for the purposes of recruitment and retention, those changes are new and haven't impacted current staffing yet. Assignment of Protective Service Officers and Special Deputies as additional help will ease the burden on all as we continue to make every effort to bring staff on board."

The county has come up with several initiatives to retain and hire new correctional officers. One of those initiatives, a larger pay scale went into effect last week.

The offer was approved by the County Council and the officers' union in August. The starting salary for a new hire would range from $19.12 to $24 per hour. Those with a year on the job would go from $19.77 to $24 per hour. Officers with three or more years invested could go from $20.85-$25.49 to $28 per hour.

Officers would also get $1,000 bonus for perfect attendance during each quarter of the year. Poor attendance due to officers calling off from work has always been an issue that has plagued the jail.

Officers will still receive the 2 percent pay raise at the beginning of 2022, a negotiation that was made in 2019.

The increase in inmate population is not the only reason for the staff decline. Officers must work 12 hours shifts and if they're mandated to work overtime, then they are locked in for 16 hours, sometimes without a lunch break, Chaloupka said.

Officers have complained about a lack of support from the management team, and constant threats of discipline in what is already a hostile environment.

"They (management team) would rather focus on nitpicky issues than big picture issues, Chaloupka said. "They focus on what time clock they're using, and then threaten discipline because they did use the right time clock, or they seek discipline, ultimately subjecting officers to investigatory hearings and disciplinary hearings."

Chaloupka thinks it's going to take more than a pay raise to recruit and retain officers at the jail.

"In my opinion, retention lies on the interpersonal skills of the management team," Chaloupka said. "If they can develop better interpersonal skills and have more respect for the officers, you'd have a much higher rate of retention."   

(c)2021 Advance Ohio Media, Cleveland

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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