In an effort to boost recruitment, Spokane County Detention Services will now offer signing bonuses of up to $10,000 for some new hires.
Ideally, the agency would have 321 employees running the Spokane County Jail and Geiger Corrections Center. Right now, 297 employees are operating the two facilities and staff are working overtime to make up for the 24 vacant positions.
Mike Sparber, Spokane County Detention Services’ director, said being short staffed is affecting the jail and Geiger’s operations.
“The majority of the posts that we have have to be manned 24 hours a day,” Sparber said, noting that it’s a real burden on existing staff to have to work so much overtime.
In addition to hiring corrections officers, detention services is also hiring for other positions, such as cooks and clerical staff. Those workers are eligible for smaller bonuses. Spokane County spokesman Jared Webley said some cooks could be eligible for bonuses in the $3,500 range.
Spokane County Detention Services isn’t the only public safety agency having a hard time attracting employees and going to great lengths to hire.
The Spokane County Sheriff’s Office is in the midst of a well-publicized effort to hire more officers, offering $15,000 hiring bonuses and taking out billboard space in cities such as Denver, Portland and the Seattle area.
Five-figure signing bonuses might seem extreme, but many officials argue they have to offer more incentives because they’re in a bidding war for a limited pool of public safety workers.
Public safety departments didn’t used to need massive hiring bonuses to attract workers. Sparber said that when he started out in corrections more than 30 years ago, the application process was intense.
“There was so many people that were trying to get in to take that test (that corrections officer applicants are required to take),” he said. “Unless you finished in the top 10 or five, your chances of getting selected was pretty slim.”
But Sparber said in the last decade he’s seen a steady decline in applications for corrections officers. And since the COVID-19 pandemic, hiring has gotten even worse. Sparber said an increase in anti-law enforcement sentiment in the last few years has probably played a role, too.
Not everyone applying to be a Spokane corrections officer will get a $10,000 signing bonus. That figure will be reserved for lateral hires – people who have corrections experience. Bonuses will be in the $7,500 range for people entering the corrections field for the first time.
“The laterals really honestly give us the most bang for our buck,” Sparber said. “I don’t know that we’re targeting laterals; we certainly welcome them.”
Sparber said he thinks the bonuses will significantly help his department. It’s a lot of money, he said.
“It is an honor to be part of the criminal justice system and I’m hoping that this bonus will at least entice folks to give this career an opportunity,” Sparber said. “You don’t hear about our career very often … but we really do serve a vital role.”