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'It’s not a very rosy picture' | Geiger Corrections Center facing closure as staffing shortages persist

The department has a total of 330 positions, including all personnel from cooks to corrections officers. There are currently 56 vacancies.

AIRWAY HEIGHTS, Wash. — Staffing shortages at the Geiger Corrections Center in Airway Heights may soon cause Spokane County to close the prison permanently, according to Detention Services Director Mike Sparber.

Sparber told Spokane County Commissioners about the prison's staffing shortages in mid-September. KREM 2 obtained a copy of that meeting to learn more about the shortage and its potential impacts.

As inmate populations increase to pre-COVID numbers, the prison needs more officers. However, Sparber said there are not enough in the pipeline to offset the number of officers leaving their jobs.

"It’s not a very rosy picture, but that’s what it would come down to. You’re just managing the bed space," he said. "Staffing levels have dropped to an all-time low of 35 officers, there are currently 12 in the hiring process. But, as you're well aware, it takes about nine months before they're eligible to be on solid duty.”

To accommodate more inmates and fewer officers, employees at the Geiger Corrections Center, which usually houses lower-level offenders, are being moved to cover shifts at the Spokane County Jail. The move is leaving the Geiger facility with an ominous future, according to Sparber.

“As the attrition grows, and the fill vacancies don't occur, we would have to limit services out at Geiger until the point that we'd actually have no Geiger staff on the floors out there," he said.

The department has a total of 330 positions, including all personnel from cooks to corrections officers. There are currently 56 vacancies.

Even with the county offering $7,500 sign-on bonuses for new hires, Sparber told county commissioners the jail is not seeing the interest they did in the past.

"I think what's really difficult right now is we're more of a feeder for law enforcement," said Ashley Cameron, the Spokane County Human Resources Director.

According to Cameron, the staffing issue extends beyond pay and bonuses. The prison is losing people to burn out and other law enforcement agencies competing for workers.

"That's where people want to be, and because so many jobs are opening right now, we're just not seeing the level of interest in a corrections facility when there are so many law enforcement officer positions open," Cameron explained.

If the staffing shortage continues, Sparber said the prison would have to start cutting things like work crews at Geiger, then move to different floors, eventually leading to the closure of the facility.

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