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Sheriff gets OK to hire part-time jailers

By Michael Wetzel

For the Enquirer

With the Morgan County Jail short 23 workers, Sheriff Ron Puckett hopes to add part-time jailers and reduce the strain on the rest of his staff in a county with one of the state’s lowest unemployment rates.

Puckett asked the County Commission to allow hiring of part-time corrections officers for the first time, and his request was approved unanimously Tuesday.

“Twenty-three workers. That’s a whole shift short,” Puckett said. “We have employees working overtime. They’re tired physically, mentally and psychologically. We can’t attract enough full-time workers. Now with the commission’s help, if somebody wants to come to work four hours a week, we’ll take them as long as they qualify.”

Puckett said his full-time jailers work 12-hour shifts and some of the workers have 16-hour shifts a couple of times a month. He said he needs 24 jailers on day shift and 22 on night shift.

He said part-time employees can work up to 28 hours a week.

The commission voted 4-0 to allow the sheriff to hire 10 part-time jailers and will address hiring more if the demand is there.

Puckett said ideal candidates would be retired law enforcement officers looking for additional revenue to go along with their state retirement. He said jailers can’t have a criminal record or drug addiction, must be at least 18 years old and hold a valid driver’s license.

“We are going to be picky,” he said. “We’re looking for 10. If we can get those, that will be enough to get our guys from having to work overtime.”

Commission Chairman Ray Long said the jailers’ jobs are now considered “professional part-time” and will pay $15 an hour. Regular part-time county workers are paid $12.50 an hour. Two years ago, part-timers were paid $9.88 an hour. It was raised to $11 an hour in fiscal 2022.

“The professional part-time workers are a different class of workers,” Long said. “Not just anybody can walk in the jail and do that. It has to be somebody that has that experience and training or willing to get that training. These are totally new positions we are creating.”

Puckett said the problem of not finding enough qualified help is not unique in the law enforcement field, but has been more of a challenge in recent months. Morgan County’s unemployment rate in December was 1.7%, the Alabama Department of Labor reported last week, and only two counties in the state had lower rates.

Puckett said in his four years as sheriff he has been fully staffed in the jail one time. In October and November, he noticed staffers leaving at a faster rate.

“Now with the work ethics of our society, there is not enough people willing to work,” he said. “We used to interview three to five workers a week for our openings. Now we’re seeing one or two applicants. And we have some new employees who leave before they get their first paycheck.”

In fiscal 2022, Puckett said the jail staff experienced a 40% turnover.

“We’re dealing with a liability issue with new employees. New employees are more likely to make mistakes,” he said. “The job market is wide open for employees. They can shop around for the best deal. … Loyalty to an employer is not there with the younger workers.”

He said somebody working as a deputy or corrections officer has to be motivated by more than the paycheck.

“It’s a calling,” he said. “The jailers have to take care of each other, and they’re responsible for the care, custody and control of the inmates. Not just anyone breathing can work in the jail.”

Sheriff’s spokesman Mike Swafford said 644 inmates were in the county jail Tuesday.

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