By JENNA RAE
ST. LOUIS COUNTY (KMOV) — In a special meeting, the St. Louis County Council voted to give the employees at the St. Louis County Justice Center a raise.
The $3 per hour increase will be paid for with federal COVID relief funds and applies to non-salaried employees. The vote was part of a rare afternoon session in which the county council quickly moved the plan through the parliamentary process. The proposal was signed by St. Louis County Executive Sam Page.
The acting director of jail services is also asking for $500,000 to hire 15 full-time security staff for six months, because of staffing shortages. The vote comes after a corrections officer was nearly beaten to death by an inmate. It’s the second officer assault in less than a month.
“We 80 officers short. Mr. Page, I need you to listen. We need help across the street,” Martha Wheat pleaded.
Wheat’s a corrections officer at the St. Louis County Justice Center and has been there for years. She went to council last week voicing concerns and was there again Tuesday with the same plea.
“Our plea is falling on deaf ears, no one’s listening. St. Louis County Justice Services needs some assistance,” Wheat said.
Now, concerns from Wheat, her colleagues, and the jail’s Acting Director are being heard.
“This is something that’s very important, just in terms of retaining and recruiting those staff, and it’s also important for the safety of the jail and our operations,” Acting Director Scott Anders said.
In the last week alone, Anders said they’ve interviewed 50 people for corrections jobs. Seventeen of those are already in the process of being hired.
“The initial training they go through is one month in classroom training, then they have on-the-job training,” Anders explained.
Anders said he’s hoping to get new hires on the floor of pods in a matter of months. However, some corrections officers don’t think a $3 raise is enough.
“It’s never enough, but I will appreciate it,” Wheat said.
The elephant in the room still remains the safety within the jail, a concern voiced by dozens of employees.
“Eighty percent of them [inmates] have violent crimes, so you’re always thinking what if something goes wrong, what imma do, where imma go?,” Wheat said.
Wheat and other corrections officers said they’re not going anywhere and have no plans to leave the jail, they just want to feel supported. They said it starts with a pay increase, which is one way to do that.
“County is a decent place to work when we’re fully staffed. I’m not gonna tell anybody it’s just a walk in the park because everyone can’t do corrections,” Wheat explained.
On the inside, Anders said, procedures are already changing creating a safer, more productive workplace.
“We have two officers in the pod. We implemented that immediately, and we’ll be providing additional training for our staff on defensive tactics and how to de-escalate situations,” Anders said.
Right now, corrections officers inside the County Justice Center are receiving $18.18 per hour. Starting in December, they’ll be bumped up to $21.18 an hour.
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