Ramsey County jail faces staffing shortage, hiring freeze

A police union letter describes the Ramsey County Jail as in a “state of emergency.”

The Law Enforcement Employees’ Union sent letters — obtained by Fox 9 — to Sheriff Matt Bostrom and county commissioners. The letters, sent on Dec. 2 and 5, detail “a major issue in the jail with regards to officer and client safety due to the shortage of staff and a hiring freeze.”

One letter notes “there was close to 500 hours of overtime” on one weekend; another letter says “30-38 full time” correctional officers are needed. The jail currently has 102 full-time officers.

A senior corrections officer told Fox 9 the jail has had staffing issues for more than a decade, but staffing has been “completely off the charts” in the last couple years, describing working as “when you show up for work today, you don’t know if you’re going home tonight.”

The Ramsey County sheriff’s office is not disagreeing with the letters.

“The sheriff’s office is not disputing anything in those letters,” said Undersheriff Joe Paget, who oversees the jail.

“It’s definitely a money issue, it’s a funding issue,” Paget said. “Over the years, we’ve exercised the use of overtime to manage some of our operations needs in the jai. And there’s a point when the overtime gets to the point staff are being squeezed.”

“The issue of being forced over and not being able to go home at the end of your shift and having that pit in your stomach, I absolutely get it and understand it,” Paget added. “It not only affects the employee, but affects the relationship at home.”

A senior officer said the shortage has become “almost borderline dangerous.” A union letter to county commissioners says the “amount of overtime being forced on your employees is taking a toll on their personal lives, health and safety…It is only a matter of time before something happens.”

More than a year ago, Ramsey County hired an independent firm to conduct a staffing review. A draft is complete, but the sheriff is awaiting the final results before showing them to county commissioners, who “look forward to the presentation,” according to a spokesperson.

“The quick answer is we need more help, we need more staff. Exactly what that number is, we will work that out,” Paget said.

The Ramsey County sheriff’s office says the timing of the letters have no relation to Sheriff Bostrom announcing he was leaving to work at Oxford in England.

“The timing of this is just that, it’s coincidental,” Paget said. Additionally, Paget said the sheriff had been fully involved in the jail despite being oversees for 30 days of the last 8 weeks. Paget noted the independent staffing review started more than a year ago.