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Grant County jail is understaffed
Problem is statewide
Jail Staffing

GRANT COUNTY - The Grant County jail is short on jailers. Sheriff Nate Dreckman reported that he’s trying to fill three positions on a staff of 16, a vacancy rate of nearly 20 percent. It’s been a year since the jail, which currently houses 45 inmates, most of them local, has been fully staffed.’

“There’s stress,” Dreckman said of the staff. “They’re being asked to do more with less.”

So far, the department has not had to resort to mandatory overtime, but voluntary overtime rates are up, Dreckman reported, and the overtime budget is taking a hit. He’s hired a few part-time college students to lock and unlock doors from the master control room, a position that has no contact with prisoners. Some of the deputies who were promoted from the jail to the Sheriff’s Department pull shifts in the jail to help.

Dreckman worries that the starting pay, at $20.85 an hour, is not keeping pace with current wages in comparable jobs. “I’m trying to get the pay up, but it’s a government agency and the wheels turn slowly. We’re doing our best to try and be competitive, but it’s a challenge,” he said.

Overtime pays time-and-a-half, and although Dreckman said he trying to ease the crunch without using it, the annual overtime budget is taking a hit this year.

If you want a career in law enforcement, however, the jail can be a spring-board. “It’s a good building block,” said Ben Wohland. There’s no specialized work experience or required credentialing to get your foot in the door, and the Sheriff recruits his staff from the ranks of the jailers. “If you show good character and you excel at the job, we will send you to the law enforcement academy,” he said. Wohland is a success story: He attended last summer and was hired as a deputy a few months back. He starts field training this month.

Grant County isn’t the only place where jailors are in demand, according to Dreckman, who is also the president of the Badger State Sheriffs’ Association, an organization that provides training and resources for the state’s sheriffs’ departments and serves as a lobbying organization in Madison.

“It is a statewide problem with some jails even having to shut down portions of the jail due to staff,” he said. “Based on the percentage of staff we are short we are right in line with the issues that many other counties are experiencing.”

The high security Wisconsin Secure Facility Program in Boscobel faces even higher shortages. There, the vacancy rate is just under 40 percent.

In real life, unlike Hollywood, one of the most important characteristics of a jailer is compassion, according to Dreckman. “We hire for attitude,” he said. “Compassion, empathy, calm. People with high integrity and the ability to talk to people.”

For Wohland, that’s one of the job benefits. “You’re dealing with someone having a really hard time,” he said. “At the end of the day, you can really feel like you are helping.”