Budget cuts, stiff competition leads to layoffs at Pierce County Jail

TACOMA, Wash. -- Twenty full-time guards at the Pierce County Jail will soon lose their jobs and the jail will lose 160 inmates when their sentences are up as county goes through deep budget cuts.

Spokesman Ed Troyer says once those 160 are gone, they will shut down the two large units where they were held.

"It's tough, it is tough," Troyer said.

They don't just blame a $4.2 million budget shortfall, which amounts to an 8-percent gap in operation costs. They also blame competition from other jails.

"Everyone at this stage of the game is looking for what is the best deal they can find," said Pierce County Executive Pat McCarthy.

The county originally built their jail to become a regional jail for multiple jurisdictions, but also to generate income. In addition to housing inmates, the jail is also a like a business as they charge other cities to house their inmates too -- until now.

Recently two of the Pierce County Jail's largest customers, Lakewood and Tacoma, stopped sending their lower-level inmates there. Instead they send them to Fife, where the jail charges $20 per booking and $65 a day to house an inmate.

Pierce County charges $212 per booking and $85 a day to house an inmate.

"So, as the future goes on and we let less misdemeanors in here and we get a full felon population -- it's like we're running a prison," Troyer said.

County officials worry that increase in more violent offenders could put guards who escape layoffs at greater risk.

As for those who get pink slips, Troyer says they'll hire them back if and when they can. Layoff notices could start going out in the next week or two.