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  • Writer's pictureBruce Mattare

I Went to Jail Last Month

Updated: Feb 4, 2022

My naysayers shouldn't get too excited. I went to jail through the front door and not the back one for processing. Sorry to disappoint you.

While there I discovered we have a bad habit of waiting until a crisis before acting. Shame on those who manage this way.

I went to jail because I wanted to shadow the jail deputies and see what their issues and challenges are, and boy was it not good. In short, here are the bullet point issues:

  • The jail deputies are seriously understaffed

  • Most generally leave within 2-3 years for more pay

  • We may be paying more in overtime and training than if we paid closer to a market rate

  • Taxpayers are on the hook for the potential liability related to understaffing

The jail is open for tours to the public. I would encourage every one of you to go. Meet the fine men and women who help keep bad people off our streets.

Most people see the patrol deputies out and about, but few see our jail deputies in action. They're a terrific bunch of people. I can confidently say every citizen in Kootenai County should be proud of them.

However, (in my opinion) they aren't being treated right...and the BOCC knows this. It's time for that to change. Please let me explain what's happened:

Right now most jail deputies last somewhere between 2 to 3 years on average. A lot of them leave for other departments or patrol jobs (driving a cruiser). Some change careers, which is almost always associated with more pay.

As a business owner, I can tell you that losing your human capital because of pay is a death knell. But what's most disturbing is that this issue, no crisis, could've been avoided had these employees, among the other county employees, been addressed every year based upon market conditions. Crises like this are almost exclusively the result of ignoring the problem for many years until they become "fires."

Few county citizens realize just how underpaid our jail deputies are compared to Coeur d'Alene Police, Post Falls Police or Spokane law enforcement. It's not uncommon to get $5k to $10k more in your pocket annually through a lateral transfer. It happens through a combination of more pay and lower benefits' expense (believe it or not there was a year when the county gave deputies a raise but they ended up with less net pay after having their contributions for health care raised at a greater rate).

Now when a jail deputy leaves, he or she takes with them valuable experience we the taxpayers have paid for. It also means we need to pay to recruit and train another person to take over that position, which can easily cost taxpayers over $100k when it's all said and done.

The second problem is that as deputies leave, the experience gap grows between those who stay and those who are new. To put this into perspective, about half of all jail deputies have less than three years' experience. Further, there are several open positions that, because they are open, means lots of overtime for existing staff. That's another pending issue I will discuss in another blog post.

This means taxpayers are now paying time and a half for work that should be at regular time (I was told that taxpayers paid 1,100 hours of overtime this last half-month of payroll [last month]). It also means that we're putting additional stresses by requiring deputies to work overtime at the expense of being properly rested. It's a practice that cannot go on in perpetuity. But here's where the taxpayers could really be on the hook.

Right now a jail deputy shift is 12 hours on and 12 off. Because jail deputies often work extra hours on top of their 12 hour shift, there is less time to rest in-between shifts. For example, one deputy commutes 1 hour to work. After a 12 hour shift and four extra hours of overtime, that leaves him with about six hours of rest before heading back to work (1 commute, 12 regular, 4 overtime, 1 to commute home = 18 hours).

When you're tired, you're not alert. When you're not alert, you can make mistakes. When you make mistakes in jail, people can end up hurt or worse. When people get hurt, lawsuits follow. When lawsuits come, taxpayers often pay. This also applies to having enough staffing to do contraband searches. Being short staffed reduces the frequency of such jail operations.

The idea of somebody getting hurt because of a fixable situation is unconscionable. I'm not a proponent of giving people extra money for the sake of it. I'm also not a proponent of being cheap today at the expense of potentially paying way-more tomorrow, especially when it comes with significant liability.

Most citizens I believe want a strong Sheriff to ensure that their Rights are being protected. If that's the case, then as a community we should want to properly fund the Sheriff's Office with competent and qualified deputies who will help fulfill that mission. Otherwise, we seriously risk paying a lot more in the long run because we're saving a few nickels today.

I know the BOCC is aware of this problem, but their approach to addressing this is doing nothing until there's a crisis. Now there's a crisis with the jail deputies, dispatch and many other parts of the county payroll.

To me that's bad management.

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