Pierce County has several corrections jobs but few applicants

Positions are plentiful but applicants are not.

The Pierce County Sheriff’s Department is trying to hire 12 corrections deputies to work in the jail, but it’s been a struggle to draw a pool of strong candidates.

It’s not for lack of trying — the jobs are advertised on three billboards along Interstate 5 and on movie theater screens. Recruiters also are actively attending job fairs, and the positions are plastered on a handful of websites and across social media.

Still, the number of applicants is lower than officials would like. This month’s list of candidates who passed the written and agility tests numbered 32. November’s list had 68 names on it.

“Part of the problem is because of layoffs we had and the news of budget struggles at the jail, people are not applying here,” sheriff’s Capt. Jerry Lawrence said. “Things have changed and we need to get the message out. We need applicants.”

In 2013, the department laid off 16 corrections deputies to help offset a $5 million shortfall caused in part by Tacoma and Lakewood deciding to book their misdemeanor inmates at facilities that offered cheaper rates than the county jail.

The corrections deputies were offered their positions back last year when funding improved, officials said. The County Council approved hiring eight corrections deputies for the 2015 budget year and there are four vacancies to be filled.

The eight positions are budgeted for $667,000 after the council cut the jail’s overtime budget by $742,000 to $1.8 million.

Lawrence said he hopes the department will hire another dozen or so corrections deputies later in the year if the county can persuade Tacoma and the state Department of Corrections to bring their business back.

The entry-level position pays $4,354 to $5,644 a month, according to a posting on the National Testing Network, the private vendor that handles part of the testing for the county.

The department has hired three corrections deputies who started work Jan. 5 and hopes to continue making hires quarterly. It takes 16 weeks for an applicant to be vetted and for oral board interviews to be completed.

Although some people might hesitate to apply at an agency that went through layoffs in recent years, these are budgeted positions and the county has no plans for future layoffs, Lewis said.

“Things are looking a lot better,” he said. “We went through a brief period with a financial struggle and came out the other end of that. We would not hire people if there’s any indication we won’t be able to retain them.”

There are 244 corrections deputies and 37 supervisors working in the county jail, the second largest in the state.

Lt. Patti Jackson-Kidder has been there 26 years and said she finds the job challenging and rewarding.

“I’m trying to motivate people to abide by the rules and regulations and these are people that don’t normally do that,” she said. “I have to come up with creative ideas. I like that motivation, I like that challenge.”