Jail staff needed, but money big issue

Published 6:00 am Monday, January 22, 2001

Jail-related issues are getting headlines across the state, andLincoln County is no exception.

While state lawmakers are struggling with how to houseprisoners, Lincoln County has the house — just not enough peopleto watch the inmates. Supervisors moved toward addressing thatproblem last week with approval to hire two additional jailers.

We applaud the move, although we wonder if that will beenough.

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The jail is a seven-day-a-week, 24-hour-a-day operation. Withthe board’s OK, Sheriff Lynn Boyte should soon have 15 jailers tocover the workload, which includes shuttling inmates to court whenit is in session.

Fifteen jailers translates to two a day, not to mentionaccounting for days off and potential illnesses. Jail trustysprovide some assistance.

With the county in a deficit budget, there are no easy answersfor Boyte and supervisors in handling the jail staffing issue.

Personnel hirings are not one-time expenses. They become part ofa budget and must be funded in future years, either by taking fromother areas or by the politically unpopular move of raisingtaxes.

“It’s hard to keep spending money on criminals down there whenthe average Joe out there needs so much,” said District 3Supervisor Nolan Earl Williamson at the board meeting last week.”There’s got to be a line somewhere.”

Williamson’s concerns are well-taken. No one wants to spend moreon taking care of criminals than absolutely necessary.

However, some supervisors also seem to get a case of “tunnelvision” when it comes to items that threaten to take money awayfrom their road concerns. Roads are certainly important, but so area number of other county functions, including adequate jailstaffing. With $3.4 million in county bond money already investedin the new jail, the supervisors should make sure the sheriff hasenough staff to operate the facility properly.

Boyte is pursuing a work program where up to 20 state inmateswould be able to work in local supervisor districts or provideother assistance for the county. The county would receive about $20a day reimbursement from the state for housing the inmates.

Perhaps those state funds could be earmarked for additionalcounty jail staff. That would be another step toward addressing theconcerns of everyone involved.