LaTonya Chaimes, the Calhoun County Jail lieutenant, on Thursday asked county commissioners a question that’s been on the minds of corrections officers in the county for months:
How will the commission spend a $500,000 state grant intended to address overcrowding at the facility?
For years the county jail has faced overcrowding, so much so that federal inmates were recently moved from the facility to make room. But another problem brought up by the sheriff and jail staff is the pay rate for corrections officers, which starts at $10 an hour. The sheriff has often said his jail effectively serves as a training ground for nearby detention facilities that pay more.
Chaimes asked the commission Thursday if any of the grant will go toward pay raises.
Commission chairman Lee Patterson said county leaders are working to find solutions to the overpopulation problem and to find revenue for pay raises. But, he said, stipulations of the grant say the money can’t be used for pay raises.
Chaimes said that Commissioner Tim Hodges visited the jail and promised to secure the money to get them raises.
“I guess that has changed,” she said after Thursday’s meeting.
Hodges said after the meeting that neither he nor the commission had ever promised raises were coming, but he said the ultimate goal for the commission is to get a pay increase for the jailers.
In terms of the grant money, Hodges said the county plans to spend about $150,000 toward a day-release program for up to 150 inmates. He said that will alleviate some of the crowding at the jail as well as the pressure put on the jail staff.
Hodges said the rest of the $500,000 grant has yet to be assigned to a specific project or expense.
And county officials say the compensation for the Calhoun County Jail is comparable to that of neighboring counties.
Brian Conary, the county’s human resources director, pointed to a 2016 study from the Association of County Commissions of Alabama. It found that the average starting pay for a jailer was $13 an hour for the 16 counties with populations greater than 81,000. Conary said the starting pay for full-time correction officers in Calhoun County is $12.63.
County Sheriff Matthew Wade says the figure county officials use is the rate for an employee approved by the civil service board. All jailers start out at $10 an hour and are not eligible for retirement benefits and vacation time until or if they they are approved by the board.
“They’re putting day-labor rates on people being a corrections officer,” he said.
Wade added that the discrepancy is an issue throughout his entire department. He said his office has been under budget because he can’t fill the positions.
The sheriff said the pay disparity is most evident when one looks at the number of applications for jailer compared to other positions. He said a call for secretary candidates received 123 applicants. There are times when he posts an open position for corrections officer and receives no applications.
“Those kind of things are frustrating,” Wade said.