Local News

Pierce County jailers: Layoffs will put public safety at risk

TACOMA — Sixteen correctional officers at the Pierce County Jail who just got pink slips for budgetary reasons spoke out Tuesday, not just about their personal job loss but about public safety as a whole.

From the outside, the jail blends in — but on the inside, this place is more of a prison than a jail.

pierce county jail“It’s dangerous,” said correctional officer Kelly Hageness.

Earlier this year, 400 beds were shut down because of a budget shortfall. Now Hageness is one of 16 correctional officers who has been told she will be out of a job next month.

“I am still processing on what is going on. I am speechless,” said Hageness.

But others who addressed the Pierce County Council had plenty to say.

“I accept in the job that I do that I will get hurt but I do not accept that a citizen of Pierce County will get injured because somebody wants to save money,” said one correctional officer.

The jail is $5 million in the hole this year after the city of Tacoma ended its contract with the county, taking its inmates to smaller jails.

“It’s less expensive to house people at other jails that don’t have to provide medical, mental health,” said Pierce County sheriff’s spokesman Ed Troyer.

With about 27% of its beds out of service by next month and violent felons being their first priority, other criminals could be let go early.

“Maybe DUIs, misdemeanors, property crime, theft, forgery that type of crime, we may not have room for them,” said Troyer.

County Councilwoman Joyce McDonald is assuring the public there is no threat.

“Bad guys are not being released into the streets of Pierce County. That has not happened and will not happen,” said McDonald.

Most in the crowd didn’t buy that, convinced that the 16 layoffs are just the beginning of safety problems for Pierce County streets.

“Something bad is going to happen,” said one correctional officer.

The County Council has requested a performance audit of the jail. McDonald says the current business model is broken and needs to be fixed.

Three council members in committee already voted for the layoffs. The full council is expected approve the layoffs next Tuesday.

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