The Budget Impacts Staff and Inmates at the Alachua County Jail
The Alachua Board of County Commissioners special budget hearing last night was more lively than usual thanks to a passionate disagreement between Sheriff Sadie Darnell and the board members. They just can't agree on where to find $507,000 for the Sheriff's budget.
Sheriff Darnell presented a proposal two weeks ago that cited budget reductions totalling six million dollars and said that she can't make any more cuts.
But the County Manager said he can't find those six million dollars in reductions. In fact, Commissioner Mike Byerly said that the amount of funding the Sheriff's Office receives has gone up, even as the need for service has gone down. He said, "At some point the county, as more of the county gets annexed by the cities and the demands for services in the unincorporated cities goes down, the budget has to come down with it."
Sheriff Darnell said that the Commissioners and County Manager have no appreciation for the dangerous work her staff performs and that she stands by her numbers.
She said, "It's not funny when you have to work at that jail and there are 43 bodies that need to come to work every day shift and there are 43 positions staffed...we are critically understaffed at that jail!"
But Commissioners said everyone is feeling the effects of a poor economy and that each area of government has to make it work.
But, one of the areas where Sheriff Darnell said she can't make it work is at the County Jail. At the meeting she mentioned faulty windows, a lack of personnel and overcrowding among other problems.
Lieutenant Lawrence Certain has been with the Sheriff's Office for 19 years and he says that the added pressure is taking it's toll on the well-being of the officers he supervises.
Karen Keith, Support Services Division Manager, says that the budget restraints force her to break regulations for housing inmates, and that can be dangerous. She said, "When you're overcrowded you have more incidents and officers have a harder time controlling situations."
Keith also said that the civilian and supervising staffs are stretched thin, but that they can only deal with the cards they're dealt as they are "at the mercy of the rest of the criminal justice system." She asked those deciding on the budget to consider the challenges faced every day by jail staff.
Several of the Commissioners mentioned they are aware of the difficult situations being faced every day and that they do not intend to micromanage Sheriff Darnell on her budget choices, pointing out that money can be taken from other Sheriff's Office programs.
The Alachua County Board of Commissioners will make their final decision tomorrow.
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