As jail staffing crisis continues, Mecklenburg sheriff to spend $400K on private temps

Unable to recruit its way out of a staffing crisis that has threatened the safety of its jail, the Mecklenburg County Sheriff’s Office has hired more than two dozen private security officers to work through the end of June.

Cost to taxpayers: $400,000.

The 27 new temps come from Strategic Security Corp. of New York. According to its new contract with the Sheriff’s Office, the private hires will augment security at the jail and the Mecklenburg County Courthouse, along with the sheriff’s headquarters on Fourth Street and the office’s administrative services building on Elizabeth Avenue.

The private officers will be paid between $26.89 and $31.35, higher than the new entry wage for jail and deputy hires, which was recently raised more than $5 to $25.25.

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The private hirings were first reported by WCNC.

Strategic Security already works for Mecklenburg County under a contract that went into effect on Feb. 4. The Sheriff’s Office is “piggybacking” on that contract as it struggles to operate the jail with more than a third of its detention center jobs — 157 — vacant.

While the hires amount to only 17% of the jail vacancies, the additon of the private security officers allows the sheriff’s office greater flexibility to redeploy staff to the detention center, said Janet Parker, a sheriff’s spokeswoman.

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Despite the 25% bump in starting pay and the possibility of signing bonuses for new hires, the total number of job vacancies inside the jail has not changed for weeks. Nationwide, millions of Americans — including government workers — have left their jobs during the pandemic.

In December, a state jail inspector told Sheriff Garry McFadden that the staff shortages in the detention center posed “an imminent threat” to both inmates and jail staff. The inspector recommended the sheriff reduce the jail population to under 1,000 until normal staffing returned. At the time, the jail held more than 1,400 inmates. Detention center vacancies stood at 159.

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As of Tuesday — and after more than a month of efforts by the Sheriff’s Office and courthouse officials to release or relocate inmates — the inmate population still stood at just under 1,300, well above the state’s recommended maximum.

A formal Department of Health and Human Services inspection report received by McFadden last week tied the job vacancies to upticks in jail violence through the summer and fall. It also cited the jail for two major safety violations and gave McFadden 60 days to fix them.

During a news conference on Friday, McFadden defended his staff and insisted that the detention center is safe. He said the creation of a new 16-officer unit to ferret out weapons and contraband has led to a major decrease in violence.

Mecklenburg jail ‘a safe place’: Sheriff defends his operation after critical NC report