Blue Earth County Jail makes changes to combat staffing shortage

Staffing shortages are causing businesses nationwide to cut back, but that’s not an option for correctional facilities.
Published: Mar. 14, 2022 at 6:50 PM CDT|Updated: Mar. 14, 2022 at 6:53 PM CDT
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MANKATO, Minn. (KEYC) — Staffing shortages are causing businesses nationwide to cut back, but that’s not an option for correctional facilities.

Jails require 24/7 supervision, and some are struggling to keep up.

“All the services that someone would need as a human being would need in a correctional facility, we have to be able to provide that. We can’t just de-staff it. We can’t get to a point where we don’t have anybody here or we have very few,” Blue Earth County Sheriff’s Office Capt. Paul Barta said.

The Blue Earth County Jail currently has 42 staffers, five less than it needs to function normally. Barta said several factors could be to blame.

The main one being a $23 per hour starting wage for correctional offers, which isn’t enough to compete with other hiring businesses.

“24-hour shifts, working the weekends and holidays and stuff like that. Some of these private businesses have the ability to scale that back or not have to do that at all,” Barta added.

It’s also a challenging setting to work in that requires an intensive training process.

“We’re looking at a training period of about 12 to 16 weeks,” Barta said.

College law enforcement programs have seen a decrease in enrollment, making it harder to recruit new graduates.

The jail has made some changes to help with the shortage, like closing down one of its housing units to help with supervision.

The county is offering more rehabilitation programs to keep low-level convicts from being put behind bars.

“These aren’t people that are hardened criminals, these are individuals that we have seen that the collateral consequences are much worse than the actual sentence handed down by a judge,” Blue Earth County Attorney Pat McDermott said.

The county board recently approved more funding for mental health and nursing assistance in the jail.

“If you don’t take care of some of the underlying issues, people are going to continue to be in the system. Some would say it’s a revolving door. I say it’s not a revolving door, because they typically don’t get out of the system,” McDermott added.

The efforts have significantly reduced the jail population.

“In pre-pandemic time, we ran about 120 inmates on an average daily population. Through population reduction strategies, we’re now running about 63-ish,” Barta stated.

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