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'480 inmates to 2 officers': Jail faces critical situation due to staffing shortage

“We have inmates getting beat so bad they're in the intensive care because the intercoms didn't work. We have officers being overrun by inmates because we're outnumbered."

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The inmates aren't running the jail, but the numbers are on their side.

The union representing the officers of Louisville Metro Department of Corrections is sounding the alarm on a critical staffing shortage at the jail this weekend.

The Fraternal Order of the Police president said there were only 18 officers working on Saturday when there should have been 50. He’s now calling for immediate action to address the problem.

“Right now it is the worst that I have ever seen in my 17 years,” said Louisville Corrections FOP President Daniel Johnson. “We're literally facing numbers of 480 inmates to two officers.”

Louisville Metro Corrections has been dealing with staffing shortages for the last few years, but Johnson said this weekend it reached a critical level. According to Johnson, on Saturday, there were roughly 1,630 inmates in the jail and only 18 officers working security.

Right now, the jail has 120 open positions, and that’s not including the 38 staff members who are out after testing positive for COVID-19.

“We have inmates getting beat so bad they're in the intensive care because the intercoms didn't work,” Johnson said. “We have officers being overrun by inmates because we're outnumbered.”

Johnson said many of the officers are working forced overtime, which means 16-hour shifts, often with no breaks.

“More people are going to get hurt, whether it's inmates or staff, it is just a matter of time,” Johnson said. “It's not a fear of what might happen. This stuff is happening right now.”

Starting pay for corrections officers is $17 an hour. The FOP has been pushing for Mayor Greg Fischer and his administration to renegotiate the current contract that expires in 2023.

“We need to raise the starting pay significantly and not a dollar or two to be competitive. We need to pay more than these places to attract the most qualified applicants,” Johnson said.

A spokesperson for the Mayor's office said they are aware of the issue and referenced three recently announced pilot programs aimed at boosting recruitment and retaining workers. They include a $1,000 payment to current employees now, and another in June, but Johnson says it’s simply not enough.

“A $1000 payment did not have the desired effect that the mayor's office wanted to have because that wasn't a significant amount of money for these people who are going through what they're facing,” Johnson said.

Johnson said more recruitment efforts are needed, and even suggested getting assistance from the National Guard until staffing reaches a more sustainable level.

“We can't wait three weeks. We can't wait a month,” Johnson said. “Something has to be done today. It has to be done by Monday. We can't do another weekend like this.”

Right now there are eight people in the academy, but Johnson says that won’t even cover the 12 officers that have already left this month.

Sister station WLKY reached out to Metro Corrections for a comment, but has not heard back at this time.

Watch the video above for more on this story.