GOLD BEACH – Sheriff John Bishop told county commissioners this week that he has had to pull more deputies off the road to staff the jail, which is seeing more staff resign due to working conditions, pay and doubt that they will have jobs next year.
“I am now having to pull a significant amount of staff off patrol,” Bishop told the commissioners Wednesday. “I had another deputy resign yesterday. One day soon I will not have any deputy on the road. There are so many overtime hours they are getting tired.”
Bishop said he recently had 125 applications for jobs as corrections deputies.
“We got four able to pass the state tests and be hired. Three of those we hired have quit. They didn’t realize what abuse they would get and the working conditions,” Bishop said.
The abuse includes inmates yelling at, spitting on or throwing feces at the officers, he said.
“We are trying to fill these positions,” he said.
Bishop said he expects applicants will be minimal at best.
He said he would be using parole and probation, administration, wherever he can find someone to staff the jail, which requires a minimum of two deputies a shift, three shifts a day. And he said only two deputies isn’t safe.
Bishop said after hiring a corrections deputy, it takes three to six months to put one on duty without a coach.
Commissioner David Itzen asked the sheriff why he couldn’t get good applicants for the jail jobs.
“Two reasons,” Bishop said. “The pay. It’s too low.”
The other reason, he said, is taking a job working for a county with an uncertain future.
Bishop said the pay scale for corrections officers is low for the work and abuse they must put up with. And he said with the county’s financial shape, no one knows they could count on having a job next summer.
He noted that Josephine County has had numerous corrections officers laid off because of the cutbacks in their jail to meet their budget.
Bishop said he asked if some of them would come over to Curry County.
“The wouldn’t bite,” he said, because of the pay and uncertainty.
“This job’s not made for everybody,” Bishop said. “We continue to do the best we can with the resources we have. We have said all along we would get to this time. The time is here. We are mandated to have the jail and to keep the peace. We will continue to try.”
Itzen said the county must do something.
“We’ve got to get stability for the county so people are not worrying every year whether they’ll lose their job and get back to the right place with pay.”
Commissioner George Rhodes asked “At what point are we going to quit worrying and close the (jail) down?”
Bishop said the county still has the constitutional mandate to have a jail.
“The citizens will hold us accountable,” Rhodes said. “This board’s liable if someone gets hurt.”
He said the Curry County jail is old, without video surveillance and without pods.
“We do need a new jail,” Bishop said. “This one is 50-something years old and doesn’t meet standards.”
He said it’s too expensive to ship inmates out to other jails.
“The costs would have to come from the general fund. It doesn’t have that,” Bishop said.
“We know what to do. We have to find out how to do it. We know it takes money,” he said.
County commissioners approved a budget for the fiscal year that began July 1 by taking $350,000 from the vehicle replacement fund, $700,000 from the County Road fund and $450,000 from the county’s working capital to keep the county operational until July 1, 2013. But after that, they don’t expect to have enough in the county’s general fund to keep operating.