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New jail annex sits idle due to staffing shortage

Posted at 11:42 PM, Jan 22, 2020
and last updated 2020-01-23 00:48:25-05

The Nueces County Jail currently sits at 92 percent occupancy, which poses a major problem when it comes to overseeing inmates.

Additional beds are available at the McKinzie Jail Annex, but Nueces Co. Sheriff J.C. Hooper said they can't be used because he doesn't have correctional officers to properly supervise the facility.

Hooper gave KRIS 6 News a private tour of two brand-new dormitories currently sitting empty. The county spent almost $2.5 million on space. Now its needs qualified personnel to operate it.

"The issue is a shortage of staff," Hooper said. "A shortage of correctional officers."

The Nueces Co. Jail houses about 975 inmates.

Hooper said his corrections staff is understaffed by 30 employees, but not having enough manpower isn't something new. He said very sheriff before him has dealt with staff shortages.

The problem, he said, is finding the personnel he needs so working conditions are manageable and safe.

"It's a tough job," he said. "The economy is so good right now -- there are jobs that are paying $16, $17, or $18 an hour. There are other jobs out there that are paying more than that."

To get hired, a candidate must be 18 years old, be a U.S citizen, have a high school diploma or a GED, and pass a series of background checks, along with a drug screening. Once cleared for hire, the employee can start immediately as a cadet making just over $33,000 a year. The county then has 90 days to get them certified.

"It's not for everyone," Hooper said. "But if someone wants to get their start in public service, in the criminal justice system, this is an excellent starting point."

On top of 12-hour shifts, many of the current correctional officers are working overtime, which can lead to burnout and exhaustion. Retaining officers then becomes a problem.

With two new dormitories and the ability to house 96 more inmates, occupancy across both facilities should be at 84 percent, which would alleviate the main facility's overcrowding issue.

"It's a bit depressing that we have two brand-new 48-bed dorms that we can't occupy," Hooper said.

County commissioners approved funds to hire 11 new correctional officers, and a new collective-bargaining agreement offers a pay increase. Once certified, an officer can soon be making just under $40,000 a year.

For more information on a career as a correctional officer, click here.