Northwest News

Pierce County jail deputies offer “olive branch”

Pierce County’s correctional deputies on Thursday accepted a staffing model that they say could shore up the Pierce County corrections budget by allowing the jail to take low-level inmates arrested by the Tacoma Police Department, as it historically did until three years ago.

Sheriff Paul Pastor and County Executive Pat McCarthy welcomed the deputies’ change in position.

Pierce County Corrections Guild President Lisa Shanahan said approving the agreement was a difficult decision for the union because its 235 members have ongoing concerns about jail staffing. She said in a statement that dozens of job cuts at the jail in recent years have created “a perfect storm of excessive mandatory overtime and potential safety issues” that remain unresolved.

Its members approved the agreement to extend “an olive branch to the county and the sheriff’s department and prove that we want to work together for the best possible outcomes,” Shanahan said.

Earlier this month, Pastor announced an impasse in labor discussions with the guild after three months of negotiations. Their rift centered on the guild’s demand that the county reassign more deputies to the jail.

The new agreement drops that demand and appears to follow the outlines of previous negotiations. Twelve deputies and two sergeants would be assigned to supervise the additional inmates, spread across three shifts seven days a week. Shanahan said it would require six overtime shifts daily until additional deputies are hired and trained.

“I applaud this result for its solid long-range vision,” Pastor said in a statement Thursday. “It will help us to work together to partner with cities while working toward an efficient regional jail model.”

McCarthy called the guild’s vote “a positive step forward” in efforts to craft an agreement that would work for both Tacoma and the county. She said the county is working on “recruiting strategies to fill staffing vacancies, which will reduce the need for overtime.”

Tacoma has been sending its low-level inmates to the Fife City Jail since 2012, denying Pierce County a revenue stream of about $6 million that had supported jail operations. The county is required to accept more expensive felony inmates and pay the full costs of housing them.

People charged with misdemeanors are a different matter. The jail can charge cities a fee for housing those inmates while they await court hearings. Tacoma had been Pierce County’s largest client.

The labor agreement does not guarantee that Tacoma will start sending misdemeanor inmates back to Pierce County. The Tacoma City Council and Pierce County Council would have to approve it first.