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If you’ve got questions about the Greene County Jail that’s being built or how to become a detention officer, Sheriff Jim Arnott will have the answers.
Arnott is hosting a community roundtable 6-7:30 p.m. on March 3 at Willard South Elementary School at 4151 W. Division St.
The $150 million jail project is on schedule for completion by the end of April and remains true to budget.
“We are on time and we are on budget,” said Capt. Dave Johnson, who is overseeing the project for Arnott.
Johnson has been with the sheriff’s office for 26 years.
It will take a few weeks after completion for jail staff to train in the new facility before prisoners are transferred, Johnson said. The existing county jail is at 1000 N. Boonville Ave.
Detention officers needed at the jail
In the meantime, Arnott needs to hire more detention officers.
Through social media, the office has been recruiting hard. It has, for example, highlighted with short bios current detention center officers and touted the benefits, including a starting salary of over $40,000 annually — $21.88 to $23.88 an hour, which factors in holiday pay accumulated over a year.
The job offers fixed 12-hour shifts (with a 7 p.m. shift change); employer-paid health insurance and retirement benefits; and up to 208 hours (26 days) of annual leave.
Applicants for detention officers must have a high school diploma or equivalent. No prior experience or education in law enforcement, military or security is needed, but it is preferred.
Applicants don’t need to be credentialed through the Peace Officer Standards and Training Program.
Those interested can apply online at greenecountymo.gov/sheriff. (Click on “Now Hiring” on the bottom of the page and then scroll down to “detention officer.”)
Selected candidates will be screened for illegal drugs; will be given physical and psychological examinations; and will have their criminal background checked.
Qualified applicants must participate in a four-week corrections officer academy.
Arnott has said it’s been difficult hiring detention-center officers because of COVID-19 and rising competitive salaries at places like Costco and Amazon.
The jail project includes three buildings on 23 acres at West Division Street and North Haseltine Road. The department’s office will be under the same roof as the jail.
The facility will have 1,242 beds and will be fully compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act, which was passed in 1990. Those regulations have become more comprehensive since then, Johnson said.
The current jail has a capacity of 601 prisoners in the main building on Boonville Avenue, and capacity for another 390 in a temporary facility across the street — for a total of 991.
The jail population on Thursday, Feb. 24, was 909, Johnson said.
Jail designed to help prevent self-harm
The existing county jail was built in 1983. It is in a five-story building.
A July 7, 1983 Springfield News-Leader story said it housed 204 prisoners when it opened, compared to the 120 housed in the old jail “where some inmates were housed in the basement and others released early to make room for new ones.”
In 2001, a two-story addition was completed to the jail on Boonville.
Greene County residents approved a half-cent sales tax increase in 2017 to pay for the new jail now being built.
Its design reflects the trend in prison construction to decrease contact between detention officers and prisoners by bringing services to the prisoners, rather than moving them from place to place within the jail.
It accomplishes this, in part, Johnson said, by bringing meals to the internal housing units rather than moving prisoners to a common dining area, Johnson said. Similarly, religious services occur within the housing units; prisoners don’t go to a common chapel.
Video surveillance also decreases the time detention officers are in direct contact with prisoners.
Johnson and a team of seasoned officers have tried to think of every measure they can take to prevent prisoners from harming themselves while in custody, particularly hanging themselves.
Throughout the jail, even little hooks where a prisoner could hang a towel are made so they dip down and flatten if anything weighing more than a towel is placed on them.
In the cells, mirrors are not made of glass, which can be used to harm oneself or others, but of reflective stainless steel.
Johnson called the county jail the “biggest provider of mental health care” in the Greene County area.
The new jail’s medical unit includes a doctor, psychologists, nurses and dentists.
The jail has multiple, small rooms with an open roof at different housing units — but no weights because they can be used to hurt someone.
“We have to provide enough amenities to keep a mind occupied,” Johnson said. “We have tried our best to spend the taxpayers’ money wisely. And we have put in a lot of thought.”