Staffing shortages at Kern County jails

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. - Monday night, we looked at how maintenance issues, neglected due to lack of funds to address them, have made the jails unsafe-- for inmates and for deputies.
     
In the second of our three-part series on conditions in the Kern County jails, we're looking at staffing shortages.
Deputies facing mandatory overtime, sometimes working 16-hour shifts several times a week, tired, worn out, and locked in tight quarters with dangerous criminals.
     
The sheriff's department, and deputies' union, both say it has to stop before something catastrophic happens.
"On any given day, there might be 10 or 15 inmates in here waiting to go to court. This is an actively used cell," said commander Tim Melanson.  
 
Melanson is the commander at the Lerdo jail. He's responsible for making sure that the jail is humane for inmates and safe for deputies. The lack of sufficient jail staff means his deputies are working extended shifts, sometimes 16 hours at a time. It's a recipe for disaster. "Studies prove that sleep deprivation and fatigue can cause problems in any working environment, and when you have one as intense as this, having to do a perfect job all of the time even though they've been up for 16 hours."
 
Management and the deputies union are in complete agreement on this-- deputies are burning out and leaving the department at an alarming rate. "It's hard on morale. It causes problems with them being more fatigued at work and making mistakes, said Chief Deputy Shelly Castaneda.  
 
"It's unpredictable when you're going to be held over. It affects beyond just the deputy but the family life of the deputy too. That's why some of those people are leaving because of that toll," said Sgt. David Kessler, KLEA.  
 
The sheriff hopes to hire as many as 53 new deputies. But until they arrive, 16-hour shifts appear to be the norm.
"There's no choice we have in that regard. That does create fatigue when you're running a staff member, 16 hours is a long time to work. If everything goes right, you get by ok. We can control what we do. We cannot control what the inmates do. They're the variable here, and they're the ones that oftentimes dictate whether you're going to have a good day or a bad day, added Melanson.  
 
Like the deputies on the jailhouse grounds, those at the top are running low on patience for this ongoing problem.
"It's a struggle, it's a struggle. But we do have very dedicated people that are working really hard to keep things going. It's hard in these budget times. Morale is down, staffing is short, and people are tired. It's hard. It's hard times, added Castaneda.  
 
Relief may be coming, as the county budget for the next year provides $1.5 million for staffing and other contingencies and an additional $1.3 million for a new academy.
     
But from the time academy recruiting begins until the time recruits attend and pass the academy, clear all background checks, and complete field training, takes about 16 months.
     
Wednesday night, we'll conclude this three-part look into Kern County's jails with a report on how a state mandate has made a dangerous situation even worse for inmates and deputies alike.
 

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