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Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Atlanta jailers upset about cutbacks

The Atlanta chapter of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, AFL–CIO sent out a press release urging people to "Tell the city 'no' to removing officers from jails." It reads:

The City Council's proposed staffing cuts at the city jail will risk the safety of Atlanta families.

Atlanta's jails are already understaffed — it's a dangerous situation that will only get worse if we reduce the number of officers protecting the jail.

A couple of weeks ago, a public budget hearing at City Hall was packed with angry jailers who condemned cutbacks in their department, explaining to Council members that jail officers have thankless jobs where they are routinely spat upon and verbally abused by inmates.

A few observations: For starters, as a homeowner who lives a couple miles from downtown, I can honestly say that, between cuts in the police force and cuts in the jail staff, I'll take cuts at the jail any day. The city clearly doesn't have enough money to keep all departments at full strength; the jail is lower priority than many other city functions.

Which leads to a second observation. Namely, that the city is trying to get out of the jail business. Atlanta loses millions of dollars of year on its jail, which would make some sense if it were the city's responsibility, but it's not. Instead, the city is effectively subsidizing the Fulton Sheriff's office and the Federal government by leasing bed space — at a loss.

Currently, the Council is in preliminary discussions to have the jail taken over by Fulton County, which is mandated by state law to maintain pre-trial detention facilities. So it makes sense that the city is already eager to cut its jail staff.

Finally, yes, I'm sure being a jailer is a dirty, crappy job. Unfortunately, that's the nature of the work. Certainly, any employer should respect its workers, but the city doesn't owe these people jobs. In fact, if all goes well, none of these folks will be working for the city.

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