Academic journal article Public Personnel Management

Causes of Employee Turnover in Sheriff Operated Jails

Academic journal article Public Personnel Management

Causes of Employee Turnover in Sheriff Operated Jails

Article excerpt

Almost every county has at least one jail with a sheriff as the chief administrator. The remaining counties have jails operated by a jail administrator, the state, or private correctional companies. Factors leading to employee turnover are undeniably one of the areas under their charge. Unfortunately, most sheriffs primarily think of themselves as law enforcement officers, as protectors of the community or as political candidates. While this may be very much on a sheriff's mind, the largest portion of the budget lies in the county jail and the people who work there. The typical high turnover experienced among the jail officers (employees supervising inmates) employed there should be a serious concern for jail managers, county commissioners, and legislative bodies.

The employee turnover problem, which is a major expense item in jail operations, is analyzed in this research. Employee turnover is expensive in terms of expenditures for the recruitment and training of replacement officers and for covering overtime in vacant positions. More to the point, it robs a county of its investment in an experienced, confident and stable jail workforce. This study concludes that it is sound management practice and not just salaries and benefits that tend to reduce employee intent to leave a job.

Jails often consume substantial portions of the counties' operating and capital budgets, and employee wages are the largest piece of the pie. To be sure, in our litigious society, the jail is often also the county's largest exposure to liability; furthermore, mismanagement leaves the county open to judgments, forced settlements and higher insurance premiums if the county is not self-insured. Voters should be interested in the cost-effective administration of their local jails since jails are a significant burden in tax dollar allocation. Therefore, efficient operation of the jail emerges as a key element in cost reduction or revenue enhancement for county governments.


Turnover occurs when an employee leaves a specific job or organization permanently and his/her services are no longer available. (2) As a result of turnover, a new employee must be hired. Recruitment, selection, hiring, placement, training and separation are among the direct costs related to employee turnover. (3)

Workforce cost is the largest expense for sheriffs' departments and the jail normally has the greatest number of personnel among the sheriff-controlled departments. Because about 70 percent of all jail expenses are employee related and because employee turnover costs approach 50 percent of a departing employee's salary, turnover expense is a key element in cost containment in jail operations. (1) Typically, county sheriff department turnover occurs most often among the correctional officer employees. (7) As a result, the present study focuses on this category of employees.

An extensive literature review on this jail turnover issue emphatically points out that a fundamental way of decreasing employee turnover is to raise the level of job satisfaction. (6) While much of the support chronicles early research in this area, this study extends this topic and goes much further through the inclusion of a survey of jail employee attitudes. The traditional turnover process typically begins with employee dissatisfaction, thoughts of quitting, undertaking a job search and evaluating prospects. It culminates in a decision to quit. (4) Intent to leave, the antecedent to turnover is the employee's estimated probability that her/his resignation is impending. (5) It follows that an increased probability of intent to leave corresponds with resultant higher turnover. Consequently, it is important to examine variables affecting both intent to leave and turnover.

Factors external to sheriff operations can affect employee turnover rates and intent to leave as well as work related elements and personal characteristics. …

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