UPDATE: Lexington’s jail continues to experience staffing shortage

According to Fraternal Order of Police #83 President Michael Harris, the jail is about 114 officers and 6 sergeants short

UPDATED STORY POSTED MARCH 22, 2022 AT 6:00 P.M.

LEXINGTON, Ky. (WTVQ) – The Lexington-Fayette County Detention Center hopes a new pay raise approved last month will help address its ongoing staffing shortage.

The pay raise starts corrections officers out at $20 dollars per hour instead of $16.

“Corrections is an interesting field. Corrections has always had staffing concerns, I think that was just highlighted more when we brought COVID into the mix,” said Lexington-Fayette County Detention Center Major of Operations Matt LeMonds.

According to Major LeMonds, more than 900 inmates are housed in the facility at any given time with 167 corrections officers on-staff.

Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) #83 President and detention center Corporal Michael Harris says he’s never seen a staffing shortage as bad in his 12-year career as it’s been over the past few months.

“You have overworked staff who are suffering from physical fatigue and now I’m starting to see the mental fatigue hit. People are agitated, edgy,” said Corporal Harris.

He says he’s 114 officers short and 6 sergeants short of normal staffing numbers.

“Oftentimes now on the weekends, three or four units are going unmanned. That means the inmates are in there with no officer present whatsoever,” said Corporal Harris.

According to American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) President and detention center Captain Jacob Crawford, a smaller staff can mean working up to 3 to 5 days of overtime, and with 16 hour shifts, he says that can take a toll on mental health.

“The main issue you have when you’re understaffed is the expectation to work double shifts. Obviously, physical and mental fatigue–it takes a huge toll on officers,” said Captain Crawford.

In addition to the mental and physical strain, Corporal Harris says the job becomes even more dangerous.

“When you have a weakened staff, you cannot catch everything that’s going on in your unit,” said Corporal Harris.

According to the detention center, there are about 100 job openings that need to be filled. However, Major LeMonds says he’s hopeful.

“I’ve seen more people in the hiring process in the last month than I have in the 3 months before that. Unfortunately, it’s not an overnight fix, but we’re trending in the right direction,” said Major LeMonds.

ORIGINAL STORY POSTED DECEMBER 14, 2021 AT 8:51 P.M.

LEXINGTON, Ky. (WTVQ) – Staffing shortages and high turnover at jails is not new, it’s an issue nationwide. But the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) says it’s even worse at the jail in Lexington, with a 205% turnover rate in just the last five months.

“We are at critical level, we are about to go way over the hill on that,” says Corporal Emily Brian, treasurer for the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) #83.

The Lexington-Fayette County Detention Center has 978 inmates with less than 200 on staff and some jailers say that this makes the working conditions even more dangerous. The corrections officers union says every day is a security issue, not just for the jailers, but for visitors and inmates. The union says staffing is down 50% from where it should be, leaving staff more vulnerable and susceptible to attacks.

“I have been here going on 15 years now and I have never seen the caliber of weapons that we have been seeing just in the last few months alone,” says Brian.

Brian says she was attacked on the job this year and found herself in trouble because she says there was only one radio to share between her and the other patrolling officer, so she couldn’t call for help.

“It can be scary,” says Brian. “But that is what having a great group of support staff that work with you to help you and overcome those challenges, and if we’re short staffed, we don’t have that.”

The union says since July, 41 jail employees have resigned and only 20 hired. According to the union, the jail is short 102 officers which is leads to 16-hour shifts.

“We understand the overtime is part of it, but when you get into the point where you’re working 3, 4, 5 days of overtime a week, it really takes a toll on the mental health and stuff of the staff,” says Captain Shaun Hubbard, president of AFSCME.

The union is negotiating a new contract with the city with hopes for a pay increase as part of the deal to try to attract more people to fill positions.

“This is a hard job,” says Corporal Michael Harris, president of FOP #83. “Some kids grow up wanting to be a fireman or policeman but no one wants to grow up to be a jailer.”

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