Staff shortage changing how Utah jails operate

Local News

WEBER COUNTY, Utah (ABC4) – For months, staff shortages have affected businesses like restaurants, department stores, and even schools. Those shortages continue to hit different industries across the state, and now, some Utah jails are feeling the squeeze as well.   

It’s eerily quiet inside Weber County’s Kiesel Jail facility in downtown Ogden.  It’s empty inside and it’s not because crime is at an all-time low. “We’re down 35 positions but when you add those in training right now, it’s really like 48 positions,” Chief Deputy Nealy Adams tells ABC4.  

Adams explained that the Weber County Sheriff’s Office has 14 of its 80 enforcement positions open and 35 of its 185 corrections positions, that’s nearly 20% of the force. This, he said, has consequences.   

On the patrol side, he explained, “they’re working with the public and they’re answering calls of service but they’re not actively looking for those people that are breaking the crime, so that we can be proactive in stopping it.”  

On the corrections side, it also affects the way the jail runs. 

“Right now, we are reactionary to the needs of the courts and we’re housing those people that have to be housed,” Adams stated. “But we cannot be proactive in helping those inmates and those citizens that live in this area to be able to serve their time, pay their debt to society, and get to a point where they move on with their life.”  

The Kiesel Jail had to close nearly two years ago under court orders to help prevent the slow of COVID-19. “We are prepared to open the facility back up and start bringing on programs but our staffing levels are too low at this time,” Adams says.   

For the time being, all inmates are housed at the jail on 12th Street at the sheriff’s office. Adams told ABC4 that it looks like this may be the case for a while with only a handful of applications coming in. However, he said the county is working to change that. Part of their work involves making new hire wages more competitive. He explained, “For that training period of six months, they’re paid while they go, they get a full salary, full benefits, they’re currently working on their retirement, they’re earning sick leave and vacation to go to college and to get certified.”   

Chief Deputy Adams said that even if all current applicants could be hired, about half of the positions would still remain open. With the Kiesel facility closed, the county is following protocol laid out during the pandemic in which many people are arrested and released rather than be put in jail until their initial court appearance. There are currently about 300 of those cases in the county.   

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