Warren County was forced this week to close its county jail in Monmouth due to a lack of available correctional officers. That led to the transfer of about two-dozen inmates to the Mercer County Jail in nearby Aledo.
Warren County States’ Attorney Andy Doyle said it is difficult for the county to keep correctional officers on staff. He said it comes down to money.
“Basically, [Warren County] pays $7.00/hour less than Knox County,” said Doyle. “So anytime we get someone hired and get them trained… they go to where they can make some more money.”
Doyle said full-staffing at the Warren County Jail would be ten correctional officers. But he said the county rarely has more than six on staff.
The issue came to a head this week when one of the county’s correctional officers left to take a new job, at a time when three other officers were already on pre-approved leave.
“It really became a short-term problem that we did not have enough staff to run the jail,” said Doyle.
Doyle said the jail’s population has been running over capacity of late, with 25-30 inmates being housed there. He said ideally, there would be two correctional officers on duty along with a jail administrator.
But in reality, it is often a single officer overseeing the entire jail population.
“That’s a constant and ongoing issue,” said Doyle. “It is a safety concern for both the people who are in custody and the correctional officers that the staffing levels are at where they are.”
Doyle said the county is optimistic that this will be a temporary closure. He said three correctional officers should be returning from leave soon, joining back up with the three active duty officers and possibly some new hires.
“So we are hoping within the next couple weeks to at least bring a portion [of the inmates] back and house them in Warren County but it’s all going to depend on a constant rotation of people going on vacation or sick or whatever the case is.”
Doyle said the county is trying to come up with language in its hiring agreements that would discourage new employees from leaving for a higher-paying job once their training is complete. That could include forcing an employee to reimburse the county for training expenses if they depart within a certain number of months.
The county is also going to have to come up with a way to pay for the cost of relocating about two-dozen inmates.
Doyle said Warren County will have to transport its inmates to and from the Mercer County jail for court, drastically increasing fuel costs and it will have to pay Mercer County $40/inmate/day, or nearly $30,000/month. He said the jail’s budget already runs in the red, so there is no money to cover this unexpected expense.