MALONE — The Franklin County Legislature’s Public Safety Committee met with two representatives of the Franklin County Sheriff’s Department, focusing on staffing needs at the county jail.
The discussion, held virtually on Webex Meet, centered on per diem employees at the county jail after statements from Undersheriff Terance White indicated the jail is currently at its minimum staffing level with 50 corrections officers.
The minimum staffing level creates specific issues when it comes to training new corrections officers, according to White.
“There is no allotment in minimum staffing from the commission (New York State Commission of Correction) for training staff and for breaks,” White said.
Public Safety Committee Chair Lindy Ellis, D – Saranac Lake, started the meeting by asking the sheriff’s department to update the committee on how COVID-19 safety protocols impact the need for correction officers.
According to White, due to the need to quarantine incoming inmates the jail is currently utilizing all eight blocks of the facility.
“Even though we have a reduced population, I think we are at 53 today, we are still utilizing all blocks,” White said.
White said four blocks are used for reception and are where incoming inmates are quarantined for 14 days.
According to Ellis, two corrections officers and three per-diem corrections officers have been approved by the county legislature.
Ellis asked if that met the department’s needs.
According to White, the three per-diem officers also work as state corrections officers who are available when they are not working for the state.
“The issue with the state corrections officers that I have is trips,” White said. “If we have a trip going out, I cannot use them because they are here for eight hours; essentially they are in-house staff that I have.”
Franklin County Manager Donna Kissane asked if it would be helpful if the per-diem officers did not have to be state corrections officers.
“I know the reason around that was we added those because they were already trained, but if that state was lifted and you had the flexibility to hire state and non-state per-diems would that be helpful?” Kissane said.
According to White, it does help that the sheriff’s department is not required to train state corrections officers.
White said the 10 per-diem corrections officers the jail currently has are not corrections trained.
“Each one of those has to go through six weeks of training,” White said, “Once again we are getting back to the training issue. It would be helpful, but are issue is every per-diem that we hire has to go through essentially six weeks of training within a year.”
Due to COVID-19, per-diem officers don’t have to complete the training within a year, but that could change, according to White, who said when the untrained per-diem corrections officers are trained, it will cause additional staffing issues at the county jail since those officers will be taken out of the regular rotation to attend training.
“If they are not corrections trained, I cannot use them on a trip, I cannot use them for hospital coverage, and I cannot use them for a lot of things,” White said, “We are logjammed where we are.”
According to White, he is currently waiting on the New York State Commission of Correction to see if the department can hire more per-diem officers.
White said the training can be done within the county and new corrections officers can be sent to Clinton or St. Lawrence counties when academies are up and running.
Ellis said in the past the per-diem positions were viewed as a career progression opportunity for applicants but more recently have become popular as a second job, creating scheduling conflicts.
Warden Edward Work pointed to the cap on hours for per-diem officers, as a contributing factor to the trend in the per-diem positions becoming secondary jobs for applicants.
Work said the hours for per-diem officers being capped at 1,000 was impacting the number of candidates interested in the position.
“When we interview these people and they already have a job, you can’t expect someone to work at the jail for less than 1,000 hours a year and provide for their family; it just doesn’t work,” Work said.
White said it is hard to find applicants for a part-time position that requires so much training.
“The last crew we hired all have jobs elsewhere, so for them to take off six weeks to come to corrections training, it is virtually impossible to get that done,” White said.
The full county legislature will meet today at 11:30 a.m.
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