GREENSBORO, N.C. — The Guilford County Sheriff's Office is working hard to find the 89 new detention officers that the Guilford County Board of Commissioners approved for the new county jail.
Sheriff BJ Barnes has said the new 1,032-bed jail, for which voters approved more than $100 million in bond debt, could be ready to open as soon as December.
That creates a time-crunch in finding, approving and training new guards from a pool of about 300 applicants.
Maj. Debbie Montgomery of the sheriff's office said: "It takes about six weeks to screen an applicant.
"It will usually take a little longer than that if they've had a long career or they've had a number of out-of-state status positions."
New guards must undergo background, credit and work-history checks. Applicants who make it through still need to undergo 17 weeks of training, Montgomery said.
"Right now, we're using part-time staff, retired officers and I've moved some of my staff over to help with the process," she said. "We're doing everything we can to get these positions filled."
Barnes began pushing the county commissioners to approve hiring new guards shortly after the bond referendum on the jail passed in 2008.
The commissioners put off the hiring for the past two years to avoid a tax increase as the county dealt with the recession.
This year, as the jail approached completion, Barnes and the commissioners had a final confrontation about guards.
Although Barnes previously had a "gentleman's agreement" with County Manager Brenda Jones Fox to hire 166 guards over a few budget cycles, the commissioners made it clear they were not going to approve that many new positions.
Barnes provided the commissioners with a number of options for staffing the new jail with fewer guards, most of them involving shutting down the existing jails in High Point and at the county prison farm.
In the end, Barnes told the commissioners that if he couldn't get at least 89 new guards, then he couldn't open the new jail.
Citing the loss of 25 existing county guards due to the stress of dealing with overpopulated and understaffed jails, Barnes said fewer than 89 new guards would make the new jail unsafe for his staff and for prisoners.
The commissioners agreed to approve the new positions at a cost of about $5 million.