Concerned about the safety of Scott County’s correctional officers after a guard recently was assaulted by an inmate, their union requested the jail be inspected by the Iowa Division of Labor Services.

Paul Hoffman, business agent for Teamsters Local 238, which represents Scott County’s correctional officers, made the request for an Occupational Safety and Health Administration inspector.

“Due to an influx of inmates, several correctional officers have been assaulted due to inadequate staffing levels,” according to the complaint dated Aug. 11.

The jail, with a capacity of 354, has had an average daily population this month of nearly 300 inmates. The average daily population was 208 in December 2009.  The county has 59 correctional officer positions.

An inspector from the Iowa Division of Labor Services toured the jail Aug. 16 and Friday.

On Monday, Sheriff Dennis Conard said little about the inspections and what possible conclusions the inspectors could reach. Hoffman expects he could hear something regarding the inspection later this week, although the Iowa Division of Labor Services doesn’t have a set timeline to follow.

“Sometimes a fresh set of eyes can shed some light on what is perceived to be an issue,” Conard said. “I think it is important to remember that the jail is the place where we put individuals who don’t function well in society.

“The sheriff’s office has an obligation to provide for the safety of our staff and of those in our custody,” he said.

The complaint was filed two days after a correctional officer was assaulted with a chair by an inmate.  Hoffman, who said he wasn’t prompted by correctional officers to seek the inspection, said the most recent assault was “the last straw.”

Hoffman said there have been 35 assaults on correctional officers since the new jail opened in December 2007. Conard wouldn’t comment on how many assaults there have been in that time or how it compares to the time before the new jail opened.

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“The Teamsters are very big on safety of the employees they represent,” Hoffman said. “We want them to go home like they come into work.

“In the last assault, that correctional officer had to go to the hospital and get 12 stitches above his eye.”

The most recent jail inspection by the Iowa Department of Corrections, performed in November 2009, didn’t note any significant problems. The inspection, which included an examination of staff training records, required documentation, inmate files, jail policy and procedures and a tour of the jail, noted only some minor plumbing issues.

The inspector commented about the jail employees: “The jail staff is very professional and a pleasure to work with. The jail is very organized and professionally managed.”

The county will be at its full strength of 59 correctional officer positions on Monday when one person begins work. However, two pre-trial release coordinator positions are open and won’t be filled, while a court compliance officer will be hired. Although the three are considered state employees, the positions are paid by the county.

“When that person is on board, hopefully it will help lower the population,” Conard said. “We are working on that entire area (of pre-trial release and court compliance) to see if we can’t work that into one group supporting the other group (correctional officers) in its functions.”

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