After a six-month investigation, the Madera County Grand Juryreported that the Madera County Department of Corrections needs immediate funding to increase staff salaries, hire more officers and schedule more officers to insure a safe prison environment.
The investigation began on Dec. 11 when the grand jury visited the jail at 14191 Road 28 in Madera. It concluded after an interview with Manuel Perez, director of the department of corrections, on May 15.
The grand jury found that the department of corrections pays its officers less than they would make at any jail in the Central Valley. The starting monthly salary for a corrections officer was $2,710.
The jail’s staffing is extremely low, the report reads. On May 15, the 410 inmates were managed by a daily staff of 16 correctional officers and one supervisor. The jury found that inmate-to-guard ratios were at 100 to 1 in the medium security section and 64 to 1 in the maximum security area.
A 2003 MADERA COUNTY JAIL SECURITY AUDIT FOUND THAT AN INMATE-TO-GUARD RATIO OF 60 TO 1 WAS EXCESSIVELY LOW
The department of corrections also requires staff members to work overtime. The report indicates the jail had used 130% of its budgeted overtime to date.
Because of these conditions, the grand jury wrote, the department of corrections cannot keep its correctional officers from leaving for one of the nine higher-paying jails within a 100-mile radius. The department has had 10 unfilled positions for several months.
This creates a significant financial loss to the county, as it costs $18,000 to train a new officer.
The grand jury asked Madera County, which directly oversees the department of corrections, to immediately raise all salaries by 20% and hire 10 new officers. It also asked for an increase in current daily staffing to create a safer prison environment.
Perez, the department’s director, agreed with the statistics cited in the report. However, he disagreed with the assessment of the jail’s safety, saying that 16 officers per shift is four more than the required minimum.
He said retaining officers is his biggest staffing concern.
“We have to keep the good officers that we invest in,” he said. “The taxpayers pay to send them through the academy, and they go elsewhere.”
He added that he is actively trying to fill the 10 funded vacancies, but it has been difficult because of the high competition among jails for the same pool of corrections officers.
Supervisor Tom Wheeler said the board had not seen the grand jury report. However, the department of corrections was one of the items on a Wednesday budget meeting agenda.
Wheeler said the board discussed how to fill the open, currently funded vacancies. Salaries weren’t reviewed, he added, but the board plans to survey area jails to see if Madera County’s pay for corrections officers is competitive.
The 2015-16 budget recommended by Madera County Administrative Management calls for an increase of nearly $800,000 in employee benefits and salaries from the $7 million spent in 2013-14. It does not recommend hiring additional officers.
Madera County Administrative Management’s recommended increase to total corrections pay/benefits, up from $7,090,138 in 2013-14
Although the grand jury commended corrections staff for “keeping themselves and inmates as safe as possible despite the dangerous inmate-to-officer ratios,” the jail has seen its share of problems.
In September, five inmates escaped from an older section of the jail by carving a hole in a wall. Four were captured within 24 hours, while the fifth was apprehended in Fairmead the following day.
Three of these men were being held on attempted murder charges.
In July 2014, 47-year-old Bryan King escaped by jumping over a fence while taking out the garbage. King was being held for drugs and weapons charges.
And in 2003, five inmates escaped into a waiting car.
Perez, who was an officer in the department at the time, said two of those escaped inmates were recaptured soon after, while another has been apprehended since then. The fourth inmate is currently serving a murder sentence in Mexico.
However, Perez said the department still doesn’t know the whereabouts of the fifth escapee.
|Chowchilla News Day
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