Declining inmate population leads to layoffs

by Jim Boyle


Responding to a declining jail inmate population, the Sherburne County Board of Commissioners unanimously approved a request Sept. 6 to eliminate 17.3 jail staff.

Sherburne County Sheriff Joel Brott told the Star News the number of all types of inmates are down — county, Huber, Sentence to Serve, as well as federal inmates. This has been compounded by the fact that Anoka County has remodeled a housing unit and will no longer need to contract with Sherburne County for inmate services.

The end result is the Sherburne County jail no longer needs to double-bunk inmates, a move that required an additional 16 staff back in 2006 to provide a security patrol.

“It’s not anticipated, nor thought likely that the Security Patrol Unit will be necessary in the foreseeable future,” Brott stated in a memo to board members and Sherburne County Administrator Brian Bensen.

Up to now, Brott said his department has relied primarily on attrition to scale back its operations at the jail and sheriff’s department. Jail staff was reduced by 9.5 in 2011, with 8.5 coming through attrition. There was only one layoff, Brott said.

As for the sheriff’s department operations, nine staff positions there have been eliminated through attrition.

“In these economic times combined with increased operational costs and lower inmate revenues, it is imperative to be fiscally responsible,” Brott said.

Of course there’s a human side to the layoffs as well that make the action very difficult, Brott said.

“These are people you have gotten to know, and in some cases you got to know their spouses or significant others and you may have met their kids,” he said. “You know it’s going to have a devastating impact on their lives. It’s a terrible situation.”

Brott’s department recently prepared and presented a new staffing plan to the Minnesota Department of Corrections with 17 fewer positions in the jail. That plan has been approved by the state department.

Brott said the new staffing plan will still provide the jail the ability to provide for the safety of staff, inmates and the community, while also allowing the jail to operate more efficiently.

Under the plan, the Special Patrol Unit would be dissolved and support staff will be reduced. The positions that will be subject to layoff in this reduction in force include: 12 correctional officers, two licensed correctional officers and three part-time staff.

The layoffs will be done by seniority in accordance with the applicable collective bargaining agreements and county policy. Layoff notices were to be provided on Sept. 9 to take effect on Oct. 7.

The sheriff’s office will continue to monitor jail staffing needs, and if the inmate population grows in the future it may need to recall staff by seniority, and/or reinstitute the SPU per its original variance.

Union employees have a two-year recall in their collective bargaining agreements; non-union employees have a six-month recall under county policy. The laid-off employees will be eligible for unemployment benefits.

The total savings in salary and benefits for the laid-off positions for the balance of 2011 through the end of 2013 is at $2.14 million.  Once the costs associated with laying off employees are factored in, the total savings is conservatively estimated at $1.85 million.

The costs of layoff are severance (payment of PTO and comp time) as well as the estimated cost of unemployment compensation.

The grand total of three years’ salary and benefit savings for both the positions being held open and the employees being laid off is $3.2 million.