Jail officers receive pay raise

Ryan Lengerich

Adult detention center officers were given a 10 percent raise by the Curry County Commission when officials were told staffing at the facility was dangerously low.

Curry County Adult Detention Center Administrator Don Burdine said Tuesday significant staffing problems may result in sending more prisoners out of county or risk security problems.

Burdine cited high turnover and a lack of new applicants to fill vacancies as reasons for staffing concerns.

Curry County Manager Geneva Cooper called the situation an “emergency.” The five-person board voted unanimously for 10 percent raises for detention officers, sergeants and lieutenants at the jail.

The raise will not affect juvenile detention center workers or transport officers.

Burdine said at full staff the county employs 20 detention officers, four sergeants and two lieutenants. Currently there are 16 detention officers and one lieutenant. Three more detention officers are on leave with injuries or illness.

“Even full staff we’re a skeleton staff,” Burdine said, adding a loss of one more detention officer will cause him to move more prisoners out of county.

As of Tuesday, 195 inmates were being housed at the Curry County jail. Overcrowding has forced 78 inmates to a facility in Dickens County, Texas, and 14 to Parmer County at a daily cost of $38 per inmate.

Cooper said county reserves are depleted, but funds for the raises could be taken from extra money slated for detention center renovations.

“We don’t have much wiggle room,” Cooper said.

A detention officer works stressful 12-hour shifts, Burdine said, a major contributor to trouble finding applicants to fill the empty positions.

“We’re not dealing with the general population, we’re dealing with people who are volatile and drug addicts that are coming down,” Burdine said. “I had an officer the other day on the job who had a cup full of feces thrown at his face for no reason. It’s not pleasant, it’s not glorious, they don’t get pats on the back.”

Starting salary for a detention officer is $9.25. The pay increase, which begins with the next pay period, will push it to $10.18.

Burdine said he has already been forced to pay overtime to staff needed to fill voids, another “imposition on the budget.”

A single shift consists of five detention officers and one sergeant, he said. Two detention officers cover booking and monitors leaving three officers to oversee the 195 inmates.

Burdine said he was surprised the board took action so quickly; he attended the meeting only to alert the commission to the situation.

Board member Pete Hulder said more money will entice applicants, and the jail must have adequate staffing.
“We can’t afford not to do it,” Hulder said. “I don’t think we have a choice.”