South Carolina detention center urgently needs deputies

State - Regional

FILE PHOTO

MONCKS CORNER, S.C. (AP) — A sheriff’s office in South Caroline is in desperate need of deputies to staff its detention center.

In the last three months, the Berkeley County Sheriff’s Office has lost 18 deputies at the Hill-Finklea Detention Center in Moncks Corner. Those losses bring the deficit to 29 since the beginning of the year — more than half of the facility’s 54-person staff, WCSC-TV reported.

“This is very unusual for us,” said Sheriff Duane Lewis. “Even during the pandemic, we maintained our staffing levels and didn’t have any openings for a period of time.”

In the last three months, Lewis said they’ve seen a massive drop in job applications and an apparent eagerness from employees to leave the detention center industry as a whole. In that time, they have seen just eight applications and hired five of those individuals.

“We are not getting the applicants,” Lewis said. “We will get two or three applicants and they just never show up for the interview.”

Lewis said there are a number of factors pointing to the shortage, including the mental and physical stress associated with working inside a jail, the COVID-related employee shortage, and the general challenge in the law enforcement sector to recruit employees.

The jail was built to hold 291 inmates but has housed up to 500 at one point, and with that many inmates, a staffing shortage only means more risk to current employees.

“We are in a situation where it has become critical for us to get some people on board. We have people working overtime trying to cover the shifts and do all those things,” Lewis said.

The starting salary for detention deputies in Berkeley County is listed as $32,346 to $37,198 a year. Lewis said that’s comparable to the surrounding area, with Charleston County advertising positions at the Al Cannon Detention Center at $35,025 to $47,644 a year.

Still, Lewis said there’s one big difference when it comes to pay.

“Other agencies have a step system where after a year and then three years, you’re eligible for step raises and that continues on even after promotions,” Lewis said. “There are some incentives and pay increases for educational experience as well . . . these other agencies have those in place and we just don’t have those yet.”

The sheriff’s office is embarking on a project to study its compensation plan, which Lewis hopes will result in a more structured approach to salary increases. In the meantime, the county council has agreed to allocate $20,000 to aid in recruitment.

Lewis said they will be offering a $500 sign-on bonus for new employees and a $500 recruitment bonus for current employees who find people who will eventually be hired.

“It’s a worthwhile profession because it gives them an opportunity to work with a small group of professionals who are highly trained,” Lewis said. “We have always said here that we are like a family.”

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