Layoffs at Pierce Co. jail mean fewer criminals behind bars

TACOMA, Wash. - A shortfall in the Pierce County Jail's operations budget is forcing officials to lay off more corrections officers - and jail officials fear it's going to be a continuous cycle.

Affected employees were told about the layoffs on Friday, but those cuts still won't be enough to fix the jail's budget crisis.

The budget shortfall means fewer criminals will end up behind bars.

"We need the resources to run the jail," says Pierce County sheriff's spokesman Ed Troyer. "We don't have the money for the resources, so we're going to have six empty pods at the jail - roughly 400 empty jail spaces that are going to go unused."

Those spaces will remain empty because there are fewer employees to monitor the units. Sixteen corrections officers will lose their jobs next month and four others will be demoted. That's on top of 20 cuts that happened in May.

In a statement, Pierce County Executive Pat McCarthy says the county is making the cuts because two cities are sending misdemeanor inmates to other jails that charge lower rates for booking and housing inmates. She says that has reduced the jail revenue by $5 million.

"I continue to work with the sheriff and the council to identify efficiencies in the jail operations so we can operate it at the most effective level," she added.

Troyer says it is getting to the point where the Pierce County Jail will only house felons.

"We're going to have an all-felony jail, and jails weren't made to house felons. They were made to house misdemeanor, gross misdemeanor (inmates) - people spending shorts amount of times in jail," he says.

Troyer says it's getting to the point the jail won't be able to let anyone in - they're already telling other agencies to look for alternative places.

A committee will review the Pierce County executive's jail cuts and budget on Monday. Then the County Council will make its final action on Tuesday, Sept. 17.