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Berks County Jail System facing correctional officer shortage

The Berks County Jail System is facing a staffing shortage.

System administrators told the Berks County Prison Board on Wednesday that the facility has 36 vacancies. The jail is allotted 244 correctional officer positions, which include jobs in custody, maintenance, community service, kitchen and warehouse positions.

Warden Jeffrey Smith said COVID has had an impact on staffing levels because a lot more is being asked of the staff as procedures have changed. That has exacerbated the already difficult task of recruiting officers to work an often thankless job in a challenging environment.

Jeffrey R. Smith, the Warden of the Berks County Jail System, poses for a portrait outside the Berks County Prison in Bern Township Wednesday afternoon March 31, 2021.
Warden Jeffrey Smith

“We are actually trending downward,” Smith said following the meeting. “We have had a serious number of retirements over the past year which impacted the number of vacancies.”

Smith said that while having open positions is nothing new for the jail, the current shortage is larger than he’d like. It results in having to pay officers overtime, and creates a risk of burnout among staff, he said.

Smith said the county has helped jail administrators increase its recruitment efforts by using social media to reach more potential candidates.

Jail officials are also offering incentives to fill the open positions, and last month waived the $30 fee to take the examinations prospective employees need to pass to be hired.

“We will generally generate about 100 to 150 applications a month from people that are interested, but when it comes time to take the test we had about 10 showing up at a time,” Smith said. “So this last one we waived the fee and had over 20 show up.”

Smith said the jail administration is in the process of conducting interviews and is looking to conduct another test in early October.

Before taking the written test, applicants must go through a physical agility test. If they pass that and the written test, an interview will be scheduled. The final steps in the hiring process are a background check, drug screening, and medical and psychological screening.

That’s all before an applicant would be accepted into a training academy.

The starting salary for new officers is just over $50,000, and after a year on the job they make a little more than $64,000.

“If you like to help people or make a difference in someone’s life, this job definitely has its rewarding moments,” Smith said. “You may not get a ‘thank you,’ but you will see that you can have an impact on someone.”

If you are interested in becoming a correctional officer visit the website to apply.

Source: Berkshire mont

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