Much has been talked about regarding how many detention officers we need, how many inmates do we have, what is the average for the year, etc. It is easy to say the state requires a 1-48 ratio of detention officer to inmates. What is not easy is to account for all the other duties the detention staff is responsible for. The job of a detention officer is not as simple as putting someone in a group of other inmates and just watching them.
Last week we talked about how the jail was built in three phases over 20 years. And we can all agree that the newer thoughts on jail construction are much better when it comes to inmate supervision. The old ways are manpower intensive and the new concept is not. I’ll give you an example.
The state requires inmates have three hours of recreation a week. When phase one of the jail became operational in 1990 there was no dedicated area constructed for the inmates recreation. When phase two was built and became operational in 2001, the same problem continued. The answer to the problem was addressed by retired Sheriff Ray Stewart when he did the only thing he could and had an area on the roof fenced to contain the inmates for recreation.
Now remember what we were saying about manpower intensive? Inmates are moved from their cells, taken to an elevator and up to the rec area. Personnel must be devoted to the movement and supervision of the inmates during this process. The area will only hold so many at a time so several trips a week are required. We are still using phase one and two of the jail and the same issue continues to exist in those older areas.
In the new area that was built in 2008, the direct supervision concept was initiated. Now, the same detention officer that is assigned to each of these areas can also be the detention officer that supervises the recreation of the inmates. You may ask how this is done. It is accomplished because a dedicated rec area was built between two 48-person direct supervision housing areas and the officer assigned to each area can simply have the door to the rec area opened and let the inmates in. When one unit of 48 is done then the other side can use it.
Other manpower needs come as a result of escorting inmates back and forth to medical call, taking them to court, and escorting them to the dental call. Additionally, detention officers work in book-in, book-out, inmate property, supervising inmates in the laundry area, kitchen area, in-house work details (i.e.: sweeping, moping, waxing, etc.), they work the control centers, make sure the mattresses are in good repair, pass out laundry, supervise inmates when called by other county offices to come and move furniture, keep the state required inmate classifications up to date, put the state pen packets together for people headed to TDC, move inmates downstairs to visit with their attorney, conduct family/friend visitation and the list goes on. The county does not supply building maintenance to the jail so there are two detention officers that try to keep the drains unplugged, lights working, and any other general maintenance that needs to be done.
While the state does require a 1-48 ratio for general inmate supervision, you also have to take into account all the other duties the state requires and detention officers have to accomplish.
Last weekend we had 469 inmates in jail. We have been running in the 400 range or over since June 9, 2013.
Johnny Brown has served as Sheriff of Ellis County since Jan. 1, 2009, and is a graduate of the National Sheriff’s Institute. He has been in law enforcement for 20 years and holds a Master’s Peace Officer’s Certificate with the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement Officer Standards and Education.