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Commission OKs hiring four jailers

By By Kerry Whipple-Bean
Just two days after a jail escape officials blamed on short staff, Escambia County commissioners on Friday approved four new staff members for the detention center.
The county will pay for the new staff – which will cost $124,712 a year – by housing more federal inmates.
"None of this would have been possible without the sheriff's willingness to work to house federal inmates," Commission Chairman David Stokes said. "It's a shame the state does not pay us for what it costs for state inmates."
The jail will make room for more federal prisoners by moving some inmates on the work release program to a new work center being constructed in downtown Brewton.
The jail currently houses 31 federal inmates, for which the county receives $32.42 per day per prisoner. The state only pays $1.75 per day per inmate.
Sheriff Grover Smith thanked the commission for granting the new staff – and thanked the current jailers for their work as well.
"They've been working short-handed," he said. "I appreciate the job they do for me and for our county."
The county has actually been working on improving the staff level for weeks, but Wednesday's escape underscores how much the added security is needed, said Capt. James Freeman, the jail administrator. The jail normally has four people to a shift, but only three were on staff at the time.
"That's been the problem," he said. "We're short-staffed and under-funded."
In addition to the new staff, the commission approved boosting a part-time assistant jail administrator to a full-time position.
The jail currently operates with four officers per shift, including two permanent posts, Freeman said. The new staff will allow an additional officer per shift.
"We have a rigorous daily routine," Freeman said. "There's a tremendous workload."
Commissioner Larry White noted that every grand jury report he has seen mentions the need for jail staffing improvements. Each grand jury inspects the jail during its term.
"We're taking on federal prisoners so we can improve the financial situation so we can better secure the jail," he said.
"I'm happy we can do something to improve the volatile situation at the jail. It will enhance our capabilities."
Commissioner Wiley Tait agreed that the new staff is necessary.
"I'm proud to be a part of doing what it takes to make the jail safe," Tait said.
Commissioners Todd Williamson and William Brown could not attend the meeting but have been involved in discussions about the new staff, Stokes said.
Freeman said he will begin searching for new staff immediately.
The work release center could be open in as little as three weeks, Freeman said, which will free up space for more federal inmates in the jail.
The work center – located across the street from the jail – will have 42 beds.
Right now, Freeman said, only 15 inmates are on work release, although more are eligible. Freeman said the county did not want to move any more to work release until the security staff situation improved.