Shortage of correctional officers forces Alaska jail to close for weeks
When the facility lost two of four correctional officers in September, it was no longer able to operate
By Tess Williams
Anchorage Daily News, Alaska
SEWARD, Alaska — A shortage of correctional officers has forced Seward to close its local jail for weeks, and a city official is saying that the facility can’t reopen until two more officers are hired.
Men who would typically be held at the city jail are now being brought to Spring Creek Correctional Center, where a separate area has been set aside for them in the maximum-security Seward prison, said city manager Kat Sorensen. Women are being transported to Wildwood Correctional Complex near Kenai, she said Tuesday.
The Seward Community Jail is a temporary holding facility able to accommodate up to 14 men or women. The jail is often a first stop for defendants who are then transferred to Wildwood Correctional Complex or are released on bail, Sorensen said. Running the jail safely requires at least four correctional officers, although it’s considered fully staffed with six, she said.
When the facility lost two of four correctional officers last month, it was no longer able to operate, closing in mid-September, according to Sorensen. The two employees who remained have been on-call since then and help transport people to the other correctional centers, she said.
The city is hoping to hire more correctional officers and reopen the jail in the near future, but hiring has been challenging, Sorensen said. Alaska is facing a workforce shortage, and Sorensen said the jail is competing with the Alaska Department of Corrections to hire correctional officers because the state prison is also located near town.
“They have a little bit more resources when it comes to hiring,” Sorensen said. “We can offer a sign-on bonus and moving, but they offer more and they pay more.”
City officials have tried to recruit new staff at career fairs and have reached out to former correctional officers in the area, Sorensen said. The pay ranges from $24.39 to $40.62 an hour depending on experience, according to a Seward Police Department post about the job openings.
The situation is complicated by the fact that two people need to be hired to begin operations again.
“We can go through all this work and get one application, which would be great, but unless we have a second one to match it, we’ll have to ask them to hold on until we can find two,” Sorensen said.
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