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Brown County Sheriff taking creative approach to compensate for jail staff shortage

Published: Dec. 6, 2021 at 5:55 PM CST|Updated: Dec. 6, 2021 at 6:11 PM CST
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GREEN BAY, Wis. (WBAY) - A years-long wait to open a new addition to the Brown County Jail is turning out to happen at just the right time.

While it isn’t due to a sudden increase in inmates, it is due to a big challenge with staffing. So far this year, nearly a third of the Brown County Jail staff has left, with many to get out of corrections altogether.

Brown County Sheriff Todd Delain and his hiring staff are exhausted at hearing the word “resignation.” Last December, the jail was fully staffed, but since the start of 2021, the Sheriff has received 46 retirements or resignations. That’s more than double a normal year.

“This is something we’ve never seen before,” said Sheriff Delain. “We’re very focused on hiring. Our staff is continuously looking at hiring people.”

While many are leaving the Corrections Field entirely, or are transferring to other police jobs, the completion of the new jail earlier this year has also created seven new positions. So far, the jail has hired 25 Correctional Officers, but the remaining 21 vacancies have created a challenge.

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“So now, it’s on me to come up with additional ways to ease the workload r reduce the amount of overtime we have,” said Delain.

Unlike other non-public safety jobs, the jail can’t just leave positions vacant while trying to recruit. Sheriff Delain doesn’t want more overtime stress on current employees - or reduced morale - so he’s looking for creative alternatives.

“What we’re starting to see across the State of Wisconsin are jails that are shipping inmates to other jails and shutting down housing units to better utilize their staff and it’s very likely we’ll do that here in Brown County as we move forward,” said Delain.

Action 2 News has reported for years on the need to expand Brown County’s Jail so there was not a need to ship inmates to other jails, yet the option is again on the table.

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“I have plenty of capacity now,” said Delain. “It has nothing to do with shipping out previously.”

This is all about staffing. He says that he, as well as other Sheriffs, want to keep capacity around 85% to optimize staffing levels. Regardless of whether a pod is full or has only a few inmates, it has to be staffed about the same, so he says it makes sense to move inmates where staff members are.

“I have to balance this... okay burnout of staff, overtime costs, everything else, until we can get past this situation we’re in now,” said Delain.

Technology and design of the new addition helps too - it allows the Sheriff’s Office to move inmates out of the less efficient downtown facility to the new pod.

“The benefit to the new pod is it’s far more efficient. That’s the difference. We will be able to operate that new pod, 124 inmates, with tow correctional officers,” adds Delain.

With as much hiring as they’ve done this year, he says he’s also trying to take the stress off the field training officers who train new hires.

“I just authorized to increase the number of field training officers we have in hopes to ease the potential burnout with our field training officers,” said Delain.

He says hiring won’t slow down over the holidays, and current jobs are posted on the county’s website. (CLICK HERE for a current list of job openings.) In addition, the Sheriff’s Office will be actively recruiting at a job fair at the University of Wisconsin Green Bay next month. The fair is from 4-7 p.m. at Stem Center on January 11.

Starting January 1, correctional officers will receive a county-wide 2.3% wage increase, and the Sheriff hopes any little bit will help.

“It’s starting out at roughly $44,000 a year and going up, with raises at one year, two, three, four, five year, six year in addition to the cost of living,” said Delain.

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