Understanding Jail Staffing Relief

Jail staffing can be incredibly complex, even daunting, at times. Leaving posts unmanned or simply closing up shop because there aren’t enough personnel isn’t an option in the world of corrections. Jails are 24/7/365—always operating, always open, always in need of trained personnel to staff a variety of positions, keeping inmates and the community safe. But your people will take time off: They will call in sick, take vacations, or quit and pursue other opportunities. The question is, will your agency be prepared when staffing relief is needed?

Once you understand the factors that influence staffing, including the facility’s requirements, its posts and its inmates, you can begin to break down your facility’s staffing needs. There are two mathematical tools to calculate relief, Shift Relief Factor and Net Annual Work Hours. Which one you use depends on your available data and the initial analysis of the facility, but both tools require a post analysis in which you identify the staffing needs at each post in your facility. The post analysis is not a schedule in and of itself; rather, it accounts for all posts, and the shifts, days and times they are staffed.

Defining & Determining Time Away

Before you are able to create a staffing plan, you must understand and determine time away. An effective staffing plan accounts for all the time off your staff take, including vacations, holidays, family medical leave, sick time, worker’s compensation, bereavement, jury duty, military time, training and more. Much of the leave time is dictated by your county or agency’s policy or labor contracts. On the other hand, relief influenced by turnover vacancies, new hire training, and breaks/mealtimes are less certain, more irregular and may differ significantly between facilities. Each of these requires more explanation before you decide how to incorporate this into your staffing plan.

  • Turnover/Vacancies: This includes the time it takes to fill a vacant post. As much as possible, the goal should be to plan for upcoming retirements and leave. Hiring typically takes four to six months in most organizations and manyagencies use salary savings to pay overtime while working through hiring and training. Reviewing turnover data allows you to see how quickly the hiring revolving door is spinning—and, as a result, review the heartbeat of your recruitment, selection and retention. In light of current staffing shortages, most agencies can expect their turnover and vacancy leave time to be high and increase in the future.
  • New Hire Training: This includes the time it takes until the new hire can work on their own. This should be calculated for deputies as hours in training, as well as for the training time of the Field Training Officers (FTOs). New hire training is often dictated by policy as an FTO training program that lasts a specific number of weeks.
  • Breaks/Mealtimes: This includes the time staff take for meals and breaks. This time is post-specific, as not all posts will need to be backfilled while staff are on break. Most supervisors, program staff and other flexible posts do not need to be backfilled for breaks. Agencies can also consider filling this time away by careful scheduling, using lockdown time or supervisors to provide a break or meal relief.

Staffing relief can be understood on the basis of the facility’s requirements, its posts and its inmates.

It’s common for agencies to have a mixture of solutions for these three time-away categories including adding it into the Shift Relief Factor or Net Annual Work Hours calculation, overtime, compensatory time or a combination. If possible, your time-away data should be gathered for at least the three years prior to allow you to see changes and trends in your staff profile. But don’t let a lack of data stop you from moving forward. You can always build on your data year after year as you work your way into a well-developed staffing model.

Shift Relief Factor (SRF) & Net Annual Work Hours (NAWHs)

Now that you have the basis for identifying your facility’s staffing needs—an understanding of the time away allotted by policy and by turnover, new hire training and breaks—you can determine either your Shift Relief Factor (SRF) or your Net Annual Work Hours (NAWHs). With the varied shifts seen in contemporary jails, NAWHs is thought to be the preferred method used to calculate full-time equivalents (FTEs), or the number of staff needed to fill the contracted hours. If, however, your data is in days, it’s often easiest to start with an SRF. Either way, the important thing is to start the staffing process.

Shift Relief Factor (SRF) is a multiplier used to determine the number of FTEs needed. The higher the multiplier, the more staff are needed to cover the post. Conversely, Net Annual Work Hours (NAWHs) are the number of hours staff are available to work per year. The higher the number, the fewer staff are needed to cover a post. Note: Calculate your NAWHs by each rank or job classification as you’ll likely see changes from rank to rank. Whereas a sergeant post may need to be backfilled on days away, they likely won’t need break or meal relief replacement. A sergeant is likely to be employed longer and thus accruing more vacation and sick time as opposed to a deputy. On the other hand, those at the deputy rank may require break and mealtime relief replacement and may attend more training

Both SRF and NAWHs provide a good starting place as you determine your needs and how to address staffing more effectively in your facility. Learn more about how to address challenges in jail staffing, calculate SRF and NAWHs for your facility, and develop your own staffing plan in the white paper, “Real-World Jail Staffing: How to Develop a Correctional Facility Staffing Plan that Works.”

Amanda Hassenstab

AMANDA HASSENSTAB worked for a private criminal justice consulting firm for nearly two decades before joining the Lexipol team. During her career, she focused on the planning and operations of new and existing facilities throughout the country. Realizing the heart of a facility is centered around the staff who fills it, jail staffing became her focus and passion. The goal of each staffing analysis Amanda has undertaken was to take a holistic view of the organization and its staffing woes and deliver a practical and functional staffing plan. Amanda is a 20-year law enforcement wife and mother to three teenage children. She enjoys traveling with her family and continuous learning opportunities.

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