Booming economy bringing staffing and overtime problems to St. Joseph County Jail

NOW: Booming economy bringing staffing and overtime problems to St. Joseph County Jail

SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- The St. Joseph County Jail has been dealing with a shortage of corrections officers for several months. It’s causing overtime to soar as the sheriff’s department works to fill the vacancies while competing with a booming economy and better paying jobs.

The jail has been plagued with a shortage of corrections officers since the beginning of the year.

"That's when the economy really turned around on us and we started losing people to those other jobs," said St. Joseph County Sheriff, Michael Grzegorek.

The jail has been stretched thin before. Just three years ago the jail was operating with a staff of just 116.

"Back then when we were 116 people budgeted we were wearing our people out," said Grzegorek. "They were working so much overtime we were losing people left and right."

Grzegorek managed to increase the number of staff positions to 145 people after a staffing assessment was done at the jail. That helped cut overtime from $860,000 in 2015 to $360,000 in 2017.

"We were almost up to staff and then boom the economy took a real turn for the better and we started losing people out to the private sector," said Grzegorek.

On average the jail has been about 20-25 people short throughout 2018. That means more people are working overtime once again.

"We always worked under the Fair Labor Standards Act 171 where you have to work 171 at straight time before you get overtime, but because we have so many openings we had to lift that and say look -- if you work overtime it's going to be time and a half." said Grzegorek.

The cost of that so far adds up to about $760,000, but the department is still well within its budget.

The jail is allotted $200,000 in annual overtime and the remainder is coming from the salaries of the 20 plus empty positions.

Unfortunately, the dip in staff has forced the department to hold back some corrections officers who were looking to be promoted to merit officer.

"We ended up with five people who were qualified to be recommended to be promoted and we weren't able to do that because I couldn't put us down in the jail," said Grzegorek.

Grzegorek says, they now risk losing them to another police department on top of those leaving for better pay.

Right now corrections officers in St. Joseph County have a starting salary of $36,000 a year and $39,000 after the first year.

"Now you are looking at those salaries compared to say the trailer factories in Elkhart where they are starting minimum 25 dollars an hour and a full wage package," said Grzegorek. "That's pretty tough to compete with."

He says, right now their best hope is those with their sights set solely on law enforcement.

"If someone wants a law enforcement career the county police is a really great place to do that," said Grzegorek. "I knew the day I started here that this is where I was meant to be and this is where I was going to spend my entire career and where I was going to retire from."

Even though Grzegorek is not retiring, he will be leaving this post at the end of the year as a new sheriff takes over the jail and the short staff that comes with it.

The new year isn't only bringing a new sheriff, it's bringing a new starting salary for corrections officers. The new starting salary will be $37,750 and $40,750 after the first year, with increases in the 4th, 7th and 10th year up to the 15th year. That also includes a direct pension and health benefits. If interested you can apply online.

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