County announces plans for Correctional Institution, Work Release employees

LaGRANGE – The Troup County Board of Commissioners held a press conference on Monday to lay out their reasons for deciding to close down the Correctional Institute and Work Release, and announce their plans for the future of both the employees and work release programs.

The county’s main reason for closing down the Correctional Institute – and by extension the Work Release – came down to the money that it costs to take care of state inmates, whose costs are only partially covered by the state.

“As most of you are aware, Troup County has made a most difficult decision to close our Correctional Institute because for many years we’ve had to supplement the cost of housing state inmates,” said County Commission Chairman Patrick Crews. “Troup County has requested an increase in the daily – per diam – money for housing those inmates. It’s been set at $20 since 1998. This request has fallen on deaf ears. It costs Troup County between $35 and $40 a day to care for these inmates, and we can no longer afford to continue these expenses.”

The top concerns of many citizens who learned about the closing of the C.I. and Work Release Programs were the 73 employees who will no longer have jobs, and the numerous jobs performed around the county by work release inmates, ranging from clearing road kill to emptying trash cans in local government offices. The county announced plans to minimize both issues as much as possible, while admitting that visible differences will still be readily noticible.

“Today I’m announcing that Sheriff James Woodruff has agreed to continue with the Troup County inmate work program and work release programs,” said Crews. “We’d like to thank the sheriff and his staff for his willingness to set down and keep these programs. This allows Troup County to maintain 17 positions that could be filled by current CI (Correctional Institute) employees, and also today we are announcing a couple of other things to help.”

The county commissioners also announced a hard freeze on county jobs, which means that the county plans to transfer jobs between departments instead of hiring new county employees.

The county currently has 33 positions available, ranging from a part time recreation assistant with an hourly rate of $7.25, to an accountability courts coordinator who could make up to $52,000 a year as well as notably seven positions at the county jail which are currently available.

Not all positions will fit with correctional institution employee skill sets or salary needs, but the sheriff’s department alone could be hiring almost a third of the 73 employees affected by the decision between already open positions and the 17 employees that will be added to the sheriff’s department to help with the Troup County Inmate Work Program and Work Release Center.

“We also plan to put in a severance package for any employee who will work until an estimated July 1, 2017 and is not placed in another position,” said Crews. “This will help us in the transition as we begin to move those prisoners or inmates around. We are also looking at a possible early retirement buyback program for our current employees that will free up some jobs that could be filled by current C.I. employees.”

Troup County representatives have also contacted Harris County, Coweta County, Carroll and the City of Columbus regarding possible placement with those governments and have found 28 job openings in those counties that they hope to assist employees in connecting with. The county is also working with the Georgia Department of Corrections’ Human Resources Department to connect corrections officers that have been working for Troup County with state corrections jobs.

“From the very beginning when I was approached by the chairman and the county manager and was told that they were going to have to close the C.I. and the work release program, the first thing that we started talking about was how many jobs can we save, and can we save the program,” said Woodruff. “I am happy to be able to step in and try to save the work release program because as you know the men in that program are able to do their time, to be able to repay their debt to society, to send money home to support their family while they are in jail, to maintain that good job that they’ve got.”

Chief Deputy John Whitney is expected to take over the program under the sheriff’s office which will use an estimated 40 county inmates to do some of the jobs like trash pickup that were previously covered by the almost 200 plus state and county inmates prior to the decision. The City of LaGrange is reported to be already in the process of creating a plan to complete the work previously carried out in the city by the Work Release inmates who will have been completely phased out by the end of June. July will be the beginning of the county’s new fiscal year.

“One of our motives is to minimize any impact that we can on employees,” said Crews. “We feel for them and their families. This is the most difficult decision as we said. This has been brought on by the fact that we were committed to funding a pay increase for our current staff, and we went through the process of a pay study, and so we had to make some very difficult decisions to fund that.”

The pay study gave numbers to back a fact many people within the county already knew: If county employees don’t make enough money to live off of, and they can drive 30 miles down the road to make more money, then Troup County will not be able to retain employees whether it be for positions in the sheriff’s department, fire department or even custodial. That need for more pay to retain employees did not however lessen the impact of the closing on the Correctional Institute, but officials promised in the meeting to continue working to find jobs for those affected by the closure.

“I know that they’re concerned,” said Woodruff. “I would be concerned, but I don’t want them to panic because we are going to work tirelessly to get every one of those people placed before the time runs out.”