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Jail visiting hours curtailed

Fri., Nov. 7, 2008

Staffing shortage forces officials to limit sessions to daytime hours

Spokane jail inmates’ time to visit with friends and family will be limited to daytime hours starting next month because jail staffing is down.

While visiting hours will be extended by an hour and 15 minutes a day, they all fall within the typical 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. workday. Weekend visiting hours were cut in June, officials said Thursday. Current nighttime visiting hours will be discontinued.

The change will result in overtime-pay savings – the primary reason the jail budget is in the red. But jail officials say a staffing shortage, not overtime, is behind the change in hours.

Inmate advocates say the new visiting hours could have an adverse affect on both the facility and the prisoners.

Starting next month, visiting hours will be 8:30 to 10:45 a.m. and 1 to 3:15 p.m.

Limiting visiting hours to when many people are at work could cut off inmates from their families, which would be detrimental to everyone involved, said Beth Colgan, an attorney with nonprofit law firm Columbia Legal Services.

“You could see increased mental health problems,” she said. “You have people re-entering society who have been cut off from their family for a period of time. It has the potential to cause safety problems within the jail.”

Breean Beggs, a civil rights lawyer and executive director of the public interest law firm the Center for Justice, said it’s been proven that inmates are more likely to re-offend when they are separated from their support systems.

Spokane County Jail Capt. Jerry Brady said nighttime visiting hours will be restored once staff levels are up.

Cutting the hours is an attempt “to run the jail as efficient as possible until we get back up to staff,” Brady said.

This summer, the jail unexpectedly lost corrections officers through resignations, medical leave, military deployments and family leave, officials said. “It was like a cascading effect,” said Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich. Although the county is aggressively trying to recruit new corrections deputies, the jail remains down about 14 positions, Brady said. As a stopgap measure, 10 corrections deputies will be moved from swing shift to day shift because more deputies are needed during the day to facilitate inmate needs, such as appearing in court.

Having more deputies on day shift “also will give them (inmates) a little more time out” of their cells during the day – an hour and 15 minutes more – Brady said. The prisoners are currently getting out about an hour a day.

Plans to prevent a sudden staff shortage in the future are in the works, Brady said.

“We’ve talked to civil service, and they used to do a hiring process once per year,” he said. “Now they have an ongoing hiring process.”

The jail also will be able to pre-hire before there’s an opening – when a retirement is planned, for example.

By the end of 2009, “we will have worked this so it (filling positions) is more seamless,” Brady said. “It will be better than what we are doing. It will be a step in the right direction.”

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