Sheriff Brian Bellendir reported on operations at the Barton County Jail during Monday’s county commission meeting, answering questions about the facility and the staff. It’s been 10 years since construction of the detention facility.
In 2013, 1,906 people were booked into the jail. The population averages 92 inmates per day.
Last year, employees traveled over 50,000 miles to pick up prisoners. Usually this involved driving, but they also flew to Nevada and North Carolina. There are currently prisoners in New Mexico and Wyoming that need to be brought back.
Bellendir said there have been no suicides at the jail this year, but attempted suicides are “constant.” Inmates are often drug users or have mental issues. This creates special challenges for the staff.
“It’s like running a motel — with people that don’t want to be there,” he said.
In the past two years, water leaks have been a problem. Some issues date to construction of the jail, and others are due to lack of maintenance, he said. Repairs have been made and a maintenance plan implemented.
Dietary issues are also a challenge. “We hired a dietician who made a six-week menu and can address special needs,” he said. “It’s made our operation a lot more efficient.”
Inmates may also have medical needs.
“The population that we deal with, on the street they no medical issues; in jail they have all kinds of medical issues.”
A new 300-page policy manual with an inmate handbook was finished in the past year. Parts of the manual had not been updated since Jim Daily was sheriff in the 1990s, Bellendir said.
When jail construction was paid off, remaining funds were set aside for maintenance. That fund won’t last forever. There are 13 HVAC units on the roof of the jail, and they are serviced in the spring and fall. Replacing them will cost thousands of dollars some day, Bellendir said.
One of the biggest challenges for Bellendir as an administrator is staffing the BCSO. Detention officers are paid $12 an hour and patrol officers are paid $13 an hour to start, and it is hard to keep the staff at full force. Other law enforcement agencies nearby generally pay $1-2 an hour more than Barton County, he said.
“Two weeks ago I had four openings,” he said. There were several applications but in the end there were four suitable applicants. “Two turned me down for pay issues. Our pay range is below that of a lot of the other governmental agencies around us.”
Of the two people hired, one started Monday and one will start in two weeks, but there’s a training process.
“Detention officer is a demanding job with potential for high risk,” he said. A patrol officer may be exposed to criminals for a few minutes on any given day. “(Those at the jail) are exposed to bad guys all day and all night.”
Commissioner Jennifer Schartz asked if the pay comparisons included fringe benefits. Bellendir acknowledged that Barton County offers good benefits, but said many young officers don’t place as much value on health insurance.
Meanwhile, with the staff short and two people out for personal reasons at this time, Bellendir said he is worried there will be some overtime.
Commissioners commended the sheriff and his employees.