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Jail employees receive raise as part of November paycheck

County Administrator Kenny Wayne Jones.
County Administrator Kenny Wayne Jones.(WLBT)
Published: Nov. 30, 2021 at 7:04 PM CST
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JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - A week after compliance monitors reported that staffers at the Hinds County Detention Center had not received a pay raise they had been promised, workers are likely seeing a little more in their checks.

Tuesday, employees at the jail received their first checks with a 5% raise approved by the board of supervisors.

The raise comes about a month after the board passed it, and about two months after it was passed and then rescinded as part of the board’s vote on its 2021-22 budget.

“They actually got not only the 5% at the detention center but also the premium pay,” said County Administrator Kenny Wayne Jones. “So, most of the staff has already gotten that on their check today. We may have one or two we have to go back and look at, but that’s in any organization.”

Jones was referring to the premium pay the board recently approved to give all county employees using COVID-19 relief dollars.

Earlier this month, supervisors approved using American Rescue Plan Act money to give workers a COVID-19 premium bonus.

All employees earning up to $24,999 would receive an additional $4,000, while employees making between $25,000 and $54,999 would receive $3,000. Employees earning $55,000 or more would receive $2,000.

The bonuses are being paid in two installments.

As for the five percent pay raise, Jones said it was just awarded because supervisors didn’t approve it until October 18.

“We just voted on it last month, so it went into effect in November,” he said. “If you check the minutes, it wasn’t passed until last month.”

Jones’ comments come days after compliance monitors told a federal judge that the pay raise had not gone into effect and a day after WLBT reported on those findings.

Monitors were put in place to oversee the county’s efforts to bring its jail into compliance with a U.S. Department of Justice consent decree.

The county entered into the decree in 2016, in part, to improve living conditions at the Raymond facility.

Mandates in the decree included increasing staff at the jail.

A status report submitted to the U.S. District Court Judge Carlton Reeves on November 24 said that staffing numbers had dwindled and that a raise that was promised to staffers was passed by the board, rescinded, and passed by the board again.

According to minutes from the Sept. 17 board meeting, supervisors approved the five-percent pay hike as part of the 2021 budget.

However, after a brief recess, the board voted to rescind the motion and adopt a budget without the pay increase.

The board then voted to reinstate the pay increase on Oct. 18, minutes show.

It’s unclear how much jail staffers earn, with county officials saying it’s anywhere between $22,000 and $28,000.

“We want to get salaries higher across the board, so we can get some competitive people. We need that type of personnel to alleviate some of the issues that we have,” Jones said. “We looked at it from a regional standpoint, and we are lower than other areas.”

The average salary for a detention officer in the state is $30,550. While higher than what county employees earn, the amount is the second-lowest in the nation, ahead of only Puerto Rico, according to USAwage.com.

Jones said the county is taking other steps to address the concerns of jail staffers, including paying employees twice a month rather than the once-a-month, like they are paid now.

“We voted on it at the last meeting,” he said. “We’re going to start a pilot program with the sheriff’s department to pay them twice a month... We’ve got new software that we’re going to implement around February, so it will make it easier.”

Twice-a-month pay, as well as options for direct deposit, are among recommendations monitors have made to help increase staffing at the Raymond facility.

“The county should immediately adopt the additional recommendations submitted by the jail administrator and sheriff to implement a career ladder for those officers so that they do not leave after a few years and to offer nominal incentives such as bi-weekly pay and direct deposit of paychecks, things that are available to most public service workers.”

A step plan has been presented to the board, but no action has been taken, court monitors stated.

As of September 30, the jail had 207 staffers, about 110 short of the numbers needed to be fully staffed, and is on track to have a 30 percent turnover rate this year.

However, Jones said staffing numbers aren’t down solely because of salaries. Staffers also have been let go for allowing contraband into the jail.

“After doing shakedown, looking at some things... there (was) some staff we had to get rid of,” he said. “A lot of things were coming into the jail that (wasn’t) supposed to be there, and there’s no logical explanation of why they were there... That’s one of the factors also, where you may not have the staff because we have to clean up and rebuild.”

Findings in the November status report seem to back up Jones’ comments.

“In C-4 (a high-security confinement/lockdown housing unit) a shakedown was not conducted for a period of four months. When shakedowns are conducted, there is little difference between what is found in A-Pod and C-Pod, even though C-Pod should have a much better record because it is supposedly a direct supervision housing area.”

Monitors added that on August 18, “inmates broadcast a video via social media from within A-Pod utilizing contraband cell phones... When cell phones are found by individual officers or as a result of formal shakedowns, no effort is made to determine how the items were introduced to the facility prior to referring the matter to CID.”

During an October 21 shakedown, 22 cell phones, 30 phone chargers, $21 in cash, several shanks, and unspecified loose pills were found, according to the November status report.

As part of the decree, compliance officers mandate jail staffers conduct random searches of cells and common areas at least once a month and on an irregular schedule to make them “less predictable to prisoners and staff.”

They also said that phone jammers and other equipment designed to “detect, suppress and deter unauthorized communications from prisoners” need to be installed within two years of the decree’s effective date.

Monitors said the county issued a request for proposals to install the devices and received multiple bids. However, they did not know if the county had taken any action. Jones was unaware of the bids and said that the RFP was likely issued through the sheriff’s office.

Interim Sheriff Marshand Crisler could not be reached for comment.

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