Concerns about the Juvenile Detention Center (JDC), May 20, 2021

Updated: Jan 9

Commentary given at the Washington County Quorum Court Meeting on May 20, 2021.

Congratulations, Judge Wood, on your decision to run for Lt. Governor, and good luck in your campaign.

I would also like to thank the Court for passing the ordinance last month to give much needed raises to most JDC staff positions. It is one good step in the right direction. If we are going to invest in our county's future, it makes perfect sense to invest in those who work closest with that future, our children.

As many of you may remember, I teach at JDC. In my role, I am able to have an outsider's perspective on the inner workings of that facility as well as some of the county's overall governance.

10 days ago, last Monday, Judge Wood and Attorney Lester responded to a plea from JDC by giving each staff member an opportunity to share safety concerns due to the facility being severely understaffed. While 19 members equal full staff, there are currently only 8 plus 1 trainee. Do the Math. It is a triage situation, at least in the short term, leading to understaffed shifts and burnout. It is my understanding that you assured them that you would have solutions for them by last Friday, 6 days ago. It is also my understanding that they have yet to hear from you. Evidently, you have bigger fish to fry. In the meantime, this is an urgent situation that may require drastic measures.

Now let's talk about tonight's agenda. The last two items are about giving the attorney an annual $20,000 raise while also thanking most of the county's detention staff with a one-time bonus of up to $1300 for risking their health and their family's health throughout the past year's pandemic. The timing of these two ordinances seems tone deaf and incongruent.

I understand wanting to increase a salary in order to compete locally but also believe that he would not have taken the job to begin with if that were his primary concern. In fact, I believe his position has increased his public profile in invaluable ways, all while having the option of working remotely.

Meanwhile, JDC and County Jail staff had no choice but to show up in person day in and day out to do thankless jobs in somewhat unsafe conditions in the best of times. And Covid was always lurking, sometimes quite loudly, and may still be.

Which of these jobs revolves around constantly keeping our county safe? Which of these has always had a high turnover rate and needs higher wages in order to maintain both a fully trained staff at all times as well as safety for both those working and those incarcerated?


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