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Commission OKs hiring of additional jail guard

by Paul Darst

STAFF WRITER

At times, the Harrison County Correctional Center can be a scary place for guards.

Because of court dates, days off and vacations, the number of correctional officers sometimes drops to as low as four per shift.

"If anything goes wrong, that could be a problem," chief corrections officer Paul Knotts said. "That would be 20 inmates on one officer."

But that overwhelming ratio will soon change. County Commissioners Thursday approved the hiring of an additional officer who will fill in the gaps in the jail's schedule. The new officer will give guards better control of the facility, Knotts said.

"It's scary sometimes," he told the commission.

Knotts asked the commission for one new officer who will work on each shift when other officers are off.

"It will let me start giving (officers) their holidays and days off," he said. "It's a struggle to do that at times."

Having an additional officer on some shifts will help because of the way the jail is designed, Sheriff Wayne Godwin said after the meeting.

"All of our ranges (of cells) are open, except the one on the fifth floor," he said. "Once those 14 cells are filled up, if we have more, there is no way to lock them down."

The jail originally had steel doors with no windows on each range, but they were removed because officers could not watch prisoners effectively, Godwin said.

"It solved one problem, but created more," he said.

The Sheriff's Office already has a civil service list of potential corrections officers, Godwin told the commission. Three of those people will be selected for interviews to fill the new position.

But the new officer will come with a price.

"If this is that much of a priority, I can go along with it, but something is going to have to be cut from your budget," Commissioner Thomas Keeley told Knotts.

The motion to hire the new officer passed unanimously.

In other action, commissioners agreed to grant $3,000 to this year's Harrison County Junior Police Academy. Salem Police Chief Todd Howell spoke to commissioners about last year's two-week academy.

"The level of education these kids get during the two weeks is just outstanding," Howell said.

"We expect this year's class will be twice the size of last year's.

Howell currently is recruiting school kids for the academy, which will run from July 16-28.

Also during the meeting:

n Commissioners agreed to grant the Harrison County Health Department $25,000 to help with moving expenses, and agreed to give the them the furniture now used in the department.

They declined, however, to extend a March 31 deadline for moving out of the courthouse.

n The commission responded to a complaint about some courthouse workers burning candles at their desks. Commissioners said that the fire code prevents open flames in the building, and ordered the practice to stop.

n The commission gave permission to the Harrison County Senior Citizens Center to connect a new walkway to their building, which is owned by the county. The walkway will connect the existing center to a building now being renovated.

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