The Board of Clark County Commissioners on Tuesday authorized the sheriff’s office to hire eight new deputies and one jail commander, a move that corrections officials say will allow the jail to expand the number of inmates it can keep behind bars.
The authorization was expected, as it won’t require the county to dip into general fund revenue. Commissioner Ed Barnes and David Madore voted for it. Commissioner Tom Mielke, the board chairman, was absent from the meeting.
The county’s corrections branch, an arm of the sheriff’s office, runs the jail and will use roughly $1.51 million it expects to receive from the Washington Department of Corrections over the next two years to pay for the new positions. Under contract, the state pays the county to house offenders who have violated the terms of their supervision and to set aside 27 work-release beds for state offenders.
“This will bring us to full capacity,” Jail Chief Ric Bishop said.
Even with new deputies in place by spring 2015, Bishop called the move a “temporary fix.” With the number of inmates on the rise — around 760 a day on average in 2014, the highest level since 2007 — something had to be done to make more jail beds available, he said.
“We are looking for longer-term solutions,” he said, including a possible expansion of the jail within the next 10 years.
By hiring new deputies, the jail will be able to expand operations within H-Pod, its dormitory-style living quarters, and at the Jail Work Center on Northwest Lower River Road. In total, the hiring of new deputies will allow the corrections branch to staff an additional 142 beds.
Mental health concerns
While Madore and Barnes both lauded the sheriff’s office for finding a funding fix to pay for the new hires — one that didn’t tap county coffers — the commissioners also said they wanted to see more done to improve the jail.
“It concerns me that a lot of the people there have mental problems,” Barnes said.
Improving mental health services at the jail has been pegged as a long-term goal, Bishop has said, but financial resources for that purpose continue to be stretched thin. Soon, the jail will open its refurbished suicide-prevention wing, which has been specifically designed to be more soothing to suicidal inmates.
Madore also suggested corrections think long term about ways to increase capacity at the jail.
But for now, officials said they were happy to be adding more employees to the sheriff’s office. Earlier in the year, the commissioners approved hiring eight new patrol deputies.
Darin Rouhier, financial manager for the sheriff’s office, said “this revenue stream from the state will benefit the community.”