Graham Kilmer
MKE County

Milwaukee County Jail Only 56% Staffed

Sheriff's office struggles to staff jail, projects overtime deficit for 2022.

By - May 17th, 2022 08:24 pm
Milwaukee County Jail and Milwaukee County Courthouse. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

Milwaukee County Jail and Milwaukee County Courthouse. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

The Milwaukee County Jail is currently understaffed by nearly 50%, according to a new report from the Milwaukee County Sheriff’s Office (MCSO).

In a report dated May 11 and headed for the Milwaukee County Board, the MCSO said the jail is staffed at approximately 56% of what was budgeted for 2022. The jail is budgeted for 251 officer positions and only has 140 that are filled.

But the number the MCSO can muster to work in the jail on a regular basis is ever fewer.

“On average per month there are 10 officers unavailable due to injury or modified duty.” the report said, further reducing the number of officers available to 130, or 52% of the budgeted staff for 2022.

The struggle to fully staff the jail is not a new one for the MCSO. In 2019, MCSO officials went to the county board asking for a pay increase to improve retention of corrections officers.

At the time, the jail was budgeted for 263 officers and had fewer than 200. Jail Commander Aaron Dobson told supervisors that Milwaukee County was regularly losing officers to nearby counties where the pay was higher.

This staffing trouble was producing a massive amount of forced overtime then as it is now. In the recent report to the county board, the MCSO noted that it was projecting a $4.7 million overtime deficit in 2022. Based on a breakdown of where the overtime has occurred thus far, the majority of this will be in the jail.

As of the most recent pay period, 51% of overtime, or $1.2 million has been for the jail. The sheriff’s patrol operations came in second, accounting for approximately 16%, and courts operations followed with 13.3%.

Despite this deficit in overtime spending, the MSCO reports that it is projecting a 2022 budget surplus thanks to $3.4 million in savings on salaries and fringe benefits and nearly $1 million in commodities and services. There’s also a $1.1 million contract for law enforcement services at Froedtert Memorial Lutheran Hospital that the MCSO will soon seek approval of from the county board.

The report heading to the county board is the result of a 2021 policy passed by the board that requires every county department to report to the board anytime it is projecting a deficit of $100,000 or more for the year, or if it is projecting an overtime deficit of $1 million or more for the year.

Supervisor Ryan Clancy sponsored the resolution after his first year on the board when he unsuccessfully sponsored 15 amendments to the 2021 county budget seeking to reduce the overtime budget for the sheriff’s office. He introduced a similar amount again in 2022 seeking to move funds out of the sheriff’s budget and into other Milwaukee county departments and services. The second time around, Clancy managed to reduce the sheriff’s 2022 budget by more than $2 million. Though the MCSO still saw its 2022 budget go up by $4.5 million in 2022 relative to 2021.

In 2021, the sheriff’s office was being pulled before the board for overtime deficits like the one it’s reporting again in 2022. Then, as now, MCSO officials said the majority of overtime was occurring in the jail because of understaffing.

Ted Chisholm, chief of staff to Milwaukee County Sheriff Earnell Lucas, told the board’s Finance Committee in June 2021, “The decision of whether or not to authorize overtime is made every day on every shift, frankly by every supervisor at the rank of sergeant or above, and they are, in many cases, making the difficult decision not to staff positions on certain shifts.”

As the MCSO leadership said in 2019, they believe the key to fully staffing the jail is compensating jail staff at a rate that is competitive with neighboring counties.

A step was taken in that direction in the 2022 budget, with $3 per hour premium pay funded with $1.5 million in American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds for correction officers in the jail, House of Correction and Vel R. Phillips Juvenile Justice Center. As noted in the budget narrative, this pay was budgeted to “address pay competitiveness regionally and retention within correction officer positions.”

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