Bexar County Sheriff Javier Salazar is launching a new initiative that he said will be a benefit to both Bexar County taxpayers and to area non-profit organizations. He said it is part of an effort to bring overtime spending under control at the Bexar County Jail.
Salazar calls the effort the Bexar County Gives Back program. He said once local judges are all briefed and agree to participate, some non-violent offenders will be given an option of community service in lieu of spending time locked up in jail.
“So if all goes well, the Bexar County Gives Back will be a program where a judge, instead of sentencing someone to six months, or three months, or a year in jail, they may say ‘we'll put you in jail for 30 days, or not at all, and then you'll have to report to the Sheriff's office three times a week, five times a week to be part of a work crew,’” Salazar said.
The Sheriff said the work crews may do litter pickup or other good deeds for needy organizations.
“They may be at the Food Bank or another non-profit, helping to make food for shut-ins or the elderly population, whatever that may be and we're going to look at putting these folks to work to give back to the community, rather than being here taking up bed space that costs taxpayers money every day,” Salazar said.
Salazar said, “The judges will decide, they’ll say ‘you're an appropriate person for this program. You're not a danger to society. We think you'd benefit more from remaining gainfully employed and staying out of jail, giving back to the community, but you're still not costing the taxpayers of Bexar County any money because we don't have to house and feed you.’”
Salazar said a similar but smaller initiative like this is working in Webb County now and he believes with a few changes, the program will succeed here.
The push is on to reduce the jail population because housing more people means a bigger bill for taxpayers. This week, Bexar County Commissioners approved adding almost one million dollars to the sheriff’s budget to fund overtime pay and benefits for detention staff.
Salazar told the Court he needed 25,000 hours of overtime to get through the month of May. Salazar said because the jail population has been higher than normal, staffing must be increased.
“In 2013, the average inmate population was about 3,600. Now we're looking at 4,200 as our average daily population,” Salazar said. "We are forced to bring people in on overtime to maintain those staffing levels, not just to be in compliance with the law but from a safety standpoint."
Staffing levels at the jail have been problematic for years. Salazar said when he took office, there were just over 100 vacancies in the detention center. He said at one point, they were able to be fully staffed, but there are currently 65 openings. Salazar said the 31 cadets who are in training now, with a late May graduation date, will help bring overtime spending down.
Salazar said his recruiting staff is always working to attract high-quality candidates, but because large numbers of his staff are at retirement age, it is hard to keep up, but he said his own staff members are often the best at bringing in new employees.
Salazar said one officer even convinced his 58-year-old mother to apply for the academy. Salazar said the woman was accepted, finished training and is now working in the jail.
“What better way is there to achieve success? That is success to me. You wouldn't bring your mom into the job if you didn't love your work,” Salazar said.
Salazar said he believes the combination of reducing the jail population through community service and increasing staff with recruiting efforts will bring the overtime budget back under control.