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One of two long overdue Bexar County jail studies released

Bexar County Sheriff Javier Salazar addresses the public in a TPR file photo.
Joey Palacios
/
Texas Public Radio
Javier Salazar released the study from Detain, Inc.

The office of Bexar County Sheriff Javier Salazar released a long overdue study of the jail on Friday.

The new report focused on how to better staff the facility that has struggled to keep up at a critical time. The number of people jailed remains high, and deputies complain about the state of both the jail infrastructure and their quality of life.

Staff turnover last year was 33%, according to the report from Detain Inc., and the amount of overtime shot up 115% between 2018 and 2021.

The report targeted pay increases (15-20%) and the use of forced overtime decreases. The county paid the lowest of the four largest metropolitan jails in 2021.

The use of overtime is keeping the jail running in compliance with minimum safety standards, but has pushed the county into a negative feedback loop. As the use of forced, mandatory overtime goes up, the ability to retain staff goes down, increasing the need to heap more overtime onto people.

The report recommended going to a 12-hour shifts to reduce the total number of days people work.

“In other words, you have to have more bodies, more deputies to cover the same amount of time on 12 hour shifts, then you do eight hour shifts. However, what that might possibly do is help slow down our turnover,” Salazar said.

It may allow for more days off and give people additional confidence in their schedules that they know when they go in, when they leave, and when they are off. That’s something that has lacked the past few years, according to the Deputy Sheriffs Association of Bexar County, the deputies' union.

“I’m 100% behind it,” said Ron Tooke, president of the group, He added that he hopes it will reduce the amount of time people are working.

“They're already doing 12 hour shifts — let's not kid ourselves about that. So why not give them set 12 hour shifts, and then give them an option of taking their day, or day and a half, or two that they can actually get away from that place?” he asked.

One of the chief complaints from his members is how forced overtime affects their lives, he said. Another is the loss of accrued holiday and vacation hours at the beginning of each fiscal year. He said nearly $3 million in compensation had been taken from his members since 2016.

Tooke is cautiously optimistic the plan could work, but, he added, it isn’t the first time he has heard plans to solve this problem. Salazar said he will try out the new shift schedule in one of the three facilities that make up the jail.

There was growing animosity over the past six months between the jailers union and the county as they pushed for improvements during this budget cycle. Tooke has repeatedly said the two jail audits weren’t released before the budget was set for political reasons, an opinion shared by some commissioners' staff.

The sheriff and the county commissioners seemed to race each other to hire independent consultants (independent of each other) last October. When the two studies were initially discussed, both had been anticipated to take “a few months” or less than a year. Ever since then, it's been a series of delays.

Bexar County commissioners have yet to release a study they voted on last October from Florida-based American Correctional Consultants. County staff told TPR they hadn’t received a finalized version of the study yet.

Salazar unilaterally released his report to the public on Friday, taking county staff by surprise. They had to get copies from the press.

Salazar praised the detail in the 60-page document, which gave executive staff a lot of homework and called on them to collect more data to deliver better results. Tooke questioned how a staff already struggling to keep enough bodies in it to remain in compliance with safety standards will have time plan and execute new data collection plans.

Salazar praised the document and said everything it is is achievable.

The study recommended against privatizing jail functions. It said it could find no empirical data on cost savings.

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Paul Flahive can be reached at Paul@tpr.org and on Twitter at @paulflahive