NAMPA, Idaho (AP) - Insufficient staffing has forced Canyon County in southwest Idaho to suspend indefinitely a program that allows non-violent offenders to perform manual labor rather than being put in jail, the sheriff said.
Canyon County Sheriff Kieran Donahue said seven employees left in the last week. By the end of July there will be 23 open positions, and 18 of those are for detention officers at the Canyon County Jail.
"I just don't have the manpower," Donahue told the Idaho Press-Tribune in a story on Thursday. "It's a critical situation."
He had to transfer the officers from the program, known as the labor detail, to the jail to maintain the federally mandated number of detention officers, Donahue said.
"(The county labor detail) is imperative, and it's incredibly imperative to the Caldwell Housing Authority," Donahue said. "I think it's going to have a devastating effect on our communities."
The county labor detail provided 12,000 hours of labor to the Caldwell Housing Authority in 2013, he said. Crews also worked on county roads, and they helped set up such events as the Canyon County Fair and Caldwell Night Rodeo.
Since 2006, county officials say, the county has saved about $230,000 by having offenders work the labor detail rather than house them in jail. Also, the labor-detail program has put in nearly 50,000 work hours in the county.
About 300 offenders are in the labor detail, but it's not clear what will happen with them now. Donahue said he's working with the courts to find a solution.
A lack of funding means the county can't pay deputies wages that are competitive with agencies in Boise, Meridian, Nampa, Ada County and Parma, he said.
Donahue estimated that, with the cost involved in training deputies, the county has lost $1.6 million in the last month as the workers depart. "We have to invest in our No. 1 commodity: our people," he said.
County commissioners in the past approved $286,000 for raises for the department of more than 300 employees. But the sheriff's office requested about $770,000, an amount the agency said it needed for raises to make deputy pay competitive.
"We can't hide from these issues, and (the commissioners) can't keep burying their heads in the sand," Donahue said. "This isn't a cry for me to make more money. This is a cry for my deputies to make enough money to live on."
Information from: Idaho Press-Tribune
Update: Canyon County commissioners have released a statement:
"We were surprised to learn in the papers this morning that the Sheriff had suspended the SILD program. At no time during the Elected Officials meeting on Monday, the Sheriff's budget meeting with us on Tuesday, or at any other time - either to us or any other stakeholder in the local criminal justice community - has the Sheriff raised the possibility that he would suspend the SILD program due to his difficulty in retaining employees, or for any other reason. In fact, it should be noted that the Sheriff's Office will see a roughly 8% increase in its "A" budget (salaries & benefits) during Sheriff Donahue's first two years in office, as well as a more than $2 million dollar increase in its overall budget.
"As County Commissioners, we strongly believe that a continued Labor Detail program is in the best interest of Canyon County and its taxpayers, and are interested in creating solutions rather than exacerbating problems. We hope to get additional information about these circumstances, and meet with the Administrative District Judge, Prosecuting Attorney, and the Public Defender's Office in the near future to see if we can work out a way to continue to offer this valuable program with or without Sheriff Donahue's help. We know it can be done. Former Sheriff Chris Smith, for example, faced similar issues with employee retention and limited resources during his time in office but was nevertheless able to deliver high quality service to the taxpayers, including the very program Sheriff Donahue apparently intends to abandon."