Retention bonuses approved for understaffed Iowa jail

"What we're looking to do is create an incentive for jail employees due to the fact we've lost so many in such a short period of time."


By Tom Barton
Quad City Times

DAVENPORT, Iowa — Scott County corrections staff will receive a retention bonus in 2022, so long as they remain employed with the county over the next six months.

Sheriff Tim Lane has said the Scott County jail is facing a staffing shortage after 12 correctional officers have left in the last three months. Three corrections officers are in training.

As of last week, Lane said the Sheriff's office has eight vacant corrections officer positions and one vacant food service position.

"What we're looking to do is create an incentive for jail employees due to the fact we've lost so many in such a short period of time," Lane told supervisors at their meeting Tuesday. "We're concerned what the next six months will bring for us."

Supervisors unanimously approved a resolution providing an additional $1,000 in compensation for Scott County Jail employees. To receive the bonus, employees must be employed on Jan. 2 through June 18 and have used less than 126 hours of leave during that time. The additional pay will appear on employees' final payroll check for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2022.

Scott County Jail employees eligible for the retention bonus include corrections officers, custodial staff, food service staff, supervisors, administrators and court compliance and alternative sentencing coordinators.

The retention bonus is in addition to a 3% pay increase starting July 1 for correctional officers previously approved by supervisors.

"I hope to have success in hiring more employees, but there's no guarantee," Lane said Tuesday. "We're not getting the qualified applicants we need. This gives us six months of keeping the jail afloat, with the possibility of slowly increasing."

The process of hiring new correctional officers is long. It involves an extensive background check, a polygraph and a physical. Once an officer is hired, they have to go through a 12-week intensive training program.

Lane told the Quad-Times and Dispatch-Argus earlier this month employee turnover at the jail had slowed during the pandemic, but as hiring has picked up again, the jail has seen an increase in officers leaving.

"Jail staff works 12-hour shifts which are not conducive to overtime. We have had correctional officers working three days in a row on 16 hour shifts and working their days off," Lane told the newspaper.

Bailiffs and deputies from the Sheriff's Office have also stepped in to help with transports and hospital duties for inmates.

If the staffing issue isn't solved, Lane said the county may also have to house more inmates in other jails, in order to shut down a general housing unit.

"It is unknown at this time what employee level will put us at a critical point," he said.

Lane noted other jails and correction facilities across the state and nation are experiencing the same staffing challenges.

A seven-month security review of Iowa's prison system released this week found the state can't recruit and retain enough correctional officers and nurses to adequately staff its prisons.

The Iowa Department of Corrections "would benefit from bolstering staffing to meet current facility security requirements and the challenges of managing a modern correctional system," according to a four-page summary from state-hired consulting firm CGL Companies. "Existing staffing gaps create high levels of overtime that exacerbate the already difficult issue of staff retention."

Supervisors on Tuesday also approved hiring a new senior assistant attorney with an annual salary of $85,000 to help an understaffed Scott County Attorney's Office struggling to fill open positions.

Scott County Attorney Michael Walton said he reached a tentative agreement to hire Caleb Copley, special assistant U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Iowa who previously worked as an assistant Scott County attorney.

"He has felony-level trial experience," Walton wrote in a memo to supervisors. "I have previously stated I need an attorney who can pick up a file and go to trial 'next Monday' if needed. Caleb fits that description. ... One of his current specialties is firearms prosecution. We intend to use him in that role here. He will be a valuable resource for other attorneys and law enforcement."

Walton said the requested salary is reasonable based on Copley's experience and the duties of the position. According to Copley's resume, he has successfully investigated and prosecuted multi-defendant drug trafficking organizations responsible for large-scale drug distribution, gun crimes and drug overdoses often resulting in death in the Quad-Cities and surrounding areas.

His resume states he has also developed strong professional relationships with federal, regional and local law enforcement agencies, including the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, FBI, Scott County Sheriff's Office, Quad City Metropolitan Enforcement Group and Davenport and Bettendorf police departments.

— Reporter Emily Andersen contributed reporting to this article.

(c)2021 Quad City Times, Davenport, Iowa. 

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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