- Michael Barajas | San Antonio Current
In July, jailers worked 10,000 hours of mandatory overtime compared to 5,001 hours during the same month last year, Bexar County Sheriff's spokesman James Keith said. And to make up for the dramatic increase, Bexar County Commissioners Court this week approved a whopping $512,000 to pay for a little more than 17,000 hours of mandatory overtime for the last two months of the fiscal year, which ends September 30. The sheriff's department has already spent the $250,000 it had set aside for mandatory overtime.
The growing cost of overtime at the county lockup comes as state investigators look into how four inmates managed to commit suicide at the jail in just four weeks this summer. The sheriff's office, however, maintains staffing problems have nothing to do with the inmate deaths.
"The increase in [mandatory overtime] is because of the increase in inmate population," Keith said via email. "We have more units open, which means more employees have to be in position to cover those posts. When we don’t have enough employees to do that, we have to turn to [mandatory overtime]."
According to the Texas Commission on Jail Standards, Bexar County jail hasn't reached maximum capacity, but it's not that far off, either. The jail is about 84 percent full, with 3,850 inmates, according to the latest TCJS jail population report. It can hold 4,596 people. Keith says there are 70 jailer vacancies that need to be filled to meet current staffing needs because of a summer influx of inmates.
However, staffing issues extend beyond managing the current inmate population. Keith explained that the office has had difficulty keeping jailers on the job over the last year, contributing to the increase in mandatory overtime. "We have a lot of people who are eligible for retirement, along with those who choose to quit," Keith said. "Often they only give a 2 weeks’ notice, if that. It takes 9 weeks of training after a person is hired before you can have them on the jail floor alone." Those who choose to quit are either using experience as a jailer as a jumping off point for another law enforcement career or decide it's just not for them, Keith explained.
To fill those vacancies the sheriff's office is holding two detention officer classes at a time. When staffing levels are normal, there's only one class held. Keith said the sheriff's office is also allowing patrol deputies who have a valid jailer's license to work shifts at the jail to help fill the void and manage the summer increase of inmates.