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Pierce County Jail guards being laid off

The Pierce County Sheriff’s Department is laying off 16 corrections deputies and demoting four jail officers because of a $5 million budget deficit.

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jailTACOMA — The Pierce County Council voted 6-1 Tuesday to approve a $3 million budget for the county jail that includes laying off up to 16 corrections officers starting Oct. 2.

The council, however, set aside $60,000 for incentives that could lead to possible early retirement of some Pierce County Jail guards, which could result in the saving of one or two of the 16 jobs overall, a county spokesman said.

The council also encouraged the sheriff to work with the Corrections Guild to allow for job sharing, part-time furloughs and retirement incentives to try to reduce some of the cuts.

The reductions were needed in order to help overcome a $5 million budget deficit for the jail, which has lost contracts from some cities for housing their inmates.

“This is a major loss in jail revenue caused by the recession combined with efforts to run jails as profit enterprises,” Pierce County Sheriff Paul Pastor said. “This revenue loss resulted in a very large budget problem, which, in turn ,prompted the proposed layoffs of 16 corrections deputies”  (10 additional positions were eliminated through attrition earlier this year.)

“I do not wish to layoff these deputies but the financial situation is the driving factor. I appreciate that the County Council was able to provide some funds to assist with anyone who wants to choose early retirement to allow those who will serve longer to stay employed,” Pastor said.

“I will continue to work with our personnel and their bargaining units to see if there is any way we can lessen the blow.  I hope to hire some of these people back as vacancies occur in the coming year.”

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.

jailTACOMA — The Pierce County Sheriff’s Department is laying off 16 corrections deputies and demoting four jail officers because of a $5 million budget deficit, The News Tribune of Tacoma reported Monday.

The newspaper said the employees were notified Friday, and that the layoffs will take effect Oct. 2.

The county jail’s budget shortfall apparently is the result of the cities of Tacoma and Lakewood sending their misdemeanor bookings to jails that charge lower rates, leaving the Pierce County Jail with less income. The News Tribune said Fife charges about $20 for booking inmates and $65 per day per prisoner, while Pierce County charges $212 for booking inmates and $85 per day.

The Pierce County Council will take final action on budget cuts Sept. 17.

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