In a May 20 letter to Sheriff Al Lamberti, deputies representing the Federation of Public Employees (FOPE) wrote that staffing levels are falling in the jails, putting deputies' safety at risk and leading to sanitation issues.
The letter, which is signed by five deputies affiliated with FOPE, specifically refers to the Joseph V. Conte Facility in Pompano Beach, which can hold a maximum of 1,328 inmates. The union claims that at any given time, a maximum of 14 deputies are watching 188 inmates in the facility's B Tower. On top of that, deputies complain that often radios don't function properly and can't hold a battery charge.
"Some days there are as few as 6 deputies available to respond to situations," wrote the union. "Having 14 deputies as a best case scenario to respond to areas that can have as many as 188 inmates out is already bordering on dangerous, reducing this number any further is blatantly irresponsible and unsafe for staff and inmates."
The letter notes that the down economy has added tension to the place: "The current problems with the economy are affecting the attitudes of many of our inmates. These people have families on the outside that are struggling just as many of us do only they have the added frustration of being incarcerated. At any time, anything could trigger an explosive situation."
Now some of this is political, of course, and some of it may be designed to protect jobs (Lamberti has plans to lay off 177 employees from the jail system, including about 70 deputies, because of the economy). The union and the sheriff have been at odds for months, with the union supporting Lamberti's challenger during last year's election, Scott Israel.
But six deputies overseeing 188 inmates does indeed sound potentially disastrous. The letter also addresses staffing problems at the Paul Rein Facility in Pompano and the allegation that shutting down sanitation deputies' posts is leading to "staff restrooms being left in unsanitary condition for extended periods of time." Well, that's just nasty. And if the staff toilets are backed up, you have to wonder what it may be like in some of the cells.
"We are always able to find the funding to staff these posts when there is an impending inspection or accreditation audit, why can't we staff these posts for the health and well being of our staff?" the letter asks.
Deputies have also complained that a lack of staffing at the main jail may have contributed to the unprecedented spate of suicides during the past year in which five inmates have hanged themselves to death with bedsheets.
We in the news media often don't report on these matters until something terrible does indeed happen. When charges this serious are put in writing by deputies, no matter how political and contentious the general situation may be, I think it's a good idea to listen.