County Commissioners voted to allow the sheriff the add badly needed detention officers and nurses to the jail staff. Mike Smith is the jail administrator for Harris County.
"We've been on an overtime status for over five years, due to the increase in the staffing in the jail. Back in 2004 and 5, we failed jail inspection due to staffing levels, and we went on an overtime program in 2006, and we've not been able to get out of that since then. It's very expensive."
The 20-month hiring freeze meant the sheriff had to pay millions of dollars more in overtime to maintain state required staffing levels. But Smith says the overtime load was affecting employees.
"Our employees are working at least two nights a week overtime, minimum. Obviously, that's a toll on their private lives, so we're trying to increase the numbers working through the court, working through the budget office, working with the county attorney's office. We've come up with a plan to alleviate this problem."
Commissioners also voted to allow the sheriff to directly hire an initial batch of nurses. That will save Harris County about 3-million dollars, by not having to go through contract agencies. Nurses provide care for some of the 97-hundred inmates in the jail system as required by law. Harris County Judge Ed Emmett says some of the new hires could include laid off constable deputies who lost their jobs due to declining revenue.
"We were just being eaten alive by the overtime, and they need to fill those positions. This is the first step, and then they'll start filling them. And through a lot of negotiations that have gone on, people who've been laid off from deputy constable positions, will be eligible to come in and fill some of those positions. So that's good for county employees, generally."
County jail administrator Mike Smith says part-time detention officers will now become full-time employees.
"Plus we can use them in overtime, because they're a lower paid overtime employee than some of our senior people that are in the jail, so it's a big plus for us. And then, we're hiring 60 more temporaries, and at some point in time, we hope at some point in time, to be able to covert those that stay with us into full-time positions."
Last month, Sheriff Garcia told Commissioners the county was wasting about 5-million dollars a year because of the overtime load.