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'We're managing it': Louisville jail director testifies over staffing issues, recruitment efforts

Metro Council's Public Safety Committee talked with LMDC Director Dwayne Clark, along with Louisville's Corrections union president Wednesday.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — As the Louisville Metro Department of Corrections (LMDC) faces problems like staffing shortages, overdoses and a no-confidence vote in its director, the Metro Council Public Safety Committee talked with LMDC Director Dwayne Clark, along with Louisville's Corrections union president Wednesday afternoon.

Clark testified in front of city leaders, saying he's been working to fix issues.

One area council members questioned the director about was how he plans to fill more than 100 open positions.

Clark said 90 sworn security positions are still open, but that in the past month there has been a 26% increase in new applicants. Two weeks ago, the department hired a marketing firm to help with recruitment efforts, according to Clark. 

He said he also thinks corrections officers’ pay should be bumped.

“I believe they should receive a pay increase,” Clark said. “It'll do a couple of things. It'll help retain and attract staff, qualified staff. I do believe that.”

Clark also said the jail is overcrowded, pointing to an effort to reduce the inmate population.

"Some challenging times, and reducing population is on my mind every day -- on that phone calling, trying to get other counties to get their inmates out of our jail," Clark said. "It's not a good situation, but we're managing it."

"In shambles" and "in crisis" are just some of the words used by Metro councilmembers to describe the situation inside the city's jail, where officers have cited low pay, unfair work conditions and the lack of necessary equipment.

RELATED: Metro Corrections, FOP hold first-ever 'crisis' summit

Metro Council President David James asked Clark: "You don't think that the executive staff at Metro Corrections had any blame or fault into the low numbers of employees that we have now at Metro Corrections? 

"No, I don't," Clark answered.

Corrections FOP Lodge 77 President Daniel Johnson said jail leadership is failing its staff and inmates in ways that aren't sustainable.

"You can bring in 40, 50, 60 [officers] a year like we've been doing, but when you're losing 100 people each year -- you're losing ground," Johnson said. "We had another one leave to go back to the military full-time because he felt safer overseas than working in the jail."

According to Johnson, the jail is short 365 vests and it would take about $200,000 to buy new ones. He said it's a safety concern.

District 23 Metro Councilman James Peden suggested they use federal pandemic relief money to buy vests, so everyone has them.

“This is like sending firefighters into a fire without a coat and a hat," Peden said. "We would never do that in a million years. To be working around people with hidden sharps, guns, and everything else - it's just insane we don't equip you properly. At this point, we're bailing a Titanic with a couple of buckets." 

Andrew Burcham with the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees represents civilian workers at the jail. He said it's not just a shortage of sworn officers, but dozens of administrators in "wildly unsafe" work conditions.

"Every single day somebody quits. The pressure is too much, and the lack of support is so great," Burcham said.

Many have called for Clark to resign. Only Mayor Greg Fischer could force his hand, if he saw necessary. Fischer has previously said Clark is "doing what he can with tough pandemic circumstances."

Knowing this, union officers are looking to Metro Council and its COVID-19 pandemic assistance funding to improve jail conditions.

Meanwhile, Clark is asking the city to trust his process.

When asked by Metro Council members if he knew whether every Louisville corrections officer has a radio, Johnson said, "Not right now, they're working on it."

WHAS11 asked Metro Corrections Assistant Director Steve Durham about this. Durham said officers have shared radios until this year, but the department is working on programming and assigning new radios.

"By the end of next week, we expect all staff to have their own assigned radio. There are enough radios," he said.

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