Grand jury says county jail staff understaffed and underpaid

A Madera County grand jury report released June 19, says the recruiting, hiring, and retention of Madera County correctional officers that work at the county jail in Madera is nearly impossible due to salaries that are uncompetitive with other correctional institutions in the Central Valley - and that situation has caused an understaffed jail, creating a safety risk to officers.

The grand jury report, the last of the 2014-15 fiscal year, points out a number of Department of Corrections staffing and budgetary issues at the jail, including an officer’s starting salary is $2,710 per month (20% below the next highest county), and the cost to train an officer is $18,000.

A 2003 Madera County Jail Security Audit reported that the medium security inmate to officer ratio of 60 to 1 was excessive - yet 12 years later that ration has grown to 100 to 1 for medium security, and 64 to 1 for maximum security, creating a safety risk to officers, inmates and the public.

The report said that in the last three years the Department of Correction (DOC) hired 30 officers and lost 32, costing Madera County about $576,000 in training costs.

Other findings of the grand jury include:

* Over the last five years, DOC vacancies have never been fully filled, and less overtime would be required if all open positions were filled.

* The average daily DOC inmate population has increased 31.7% since 2003, but staffing has not increased. Due to Public Safety Realignment (2011 Assembly Bill 109), the jail now houses more violent offenders.

* Correctional officers are armed only with a chemical agent. When called to assist, outside law enforcement agencies cannot enter the jail with firearms.

On Dec. 11, 2014, the Madera County grand jury visited the Department of Corrections jail facility at 14191 Road 28. At the time, the jail held 410 inmates. on May 1, 2015, the grand jury interviewed the DOC’s Director, Chief Manuel Perez, regarding officer staffing, and increased inmate population - issues that are a constant drain on jail management.

“We are doing the best we can with the limited budget we have,” Perez said.

The grand jury recommends that the Madera County Board of Supervisors establish parity in pay with other correctional agencies by increasing correctional officer salaries by 20%, and expedite the hiring of 10 correctional officers.

The report also stated that the jail staff be commended for prioritizing safety concerns despite dangerous inmate to officer ratios.

The DOC competes for the recruiting and hiring of qualified CO’s with approximately 10 state and federal correctional institutions within a 100-mile radius.

All the 2014-15 grand jury reports can be seen by goggling Madera County grand jury. Reports include Madera Cemetery District, veterans services, and planning.