FORSYTH COUNTY, N.C. (WGHP) — If one travels near the Forsyth County Detention Center in Winston-Salem, they’re met with an abundance of road closures, heavy equipment and workers as the area is changing with the introduction of the county Hall of Justice construction.
Upon further inspection, however, things are being adjusted inside the detention center itself as a new study has been ordered to examine what is and may not be working within its walls.
“You have to be able to evolve and adapt,” Forsyth County Sheriff Bobby Kimbrough said. “That’s a must.”
As the sheriff’s office leadership came under recent questioning pertaining to challenges with recruitment and retention within the detention center, Kimbrough said he was provided with a previously confidential report conducted in 2016 with the same goal as the report that is in progress.
“Some of the factors was pay. Some of the factors was scheduling. Some of the factors was the shift work,” he added.
With the previous study looking into the FCSO’s status under the former sheriff Bill Schatzman, Kimbrough said he had been unaware of it until recently. A summarization of its observations included the following findings: “issues at the detention center are complex, systemic, deep-rooted and will take time to correct…the ‘authority divide’ between Forsyth County and the office of the sheriff contribute to the complexity.”
It also referred to short staffing, burnout, management practices, shifts, the new hire process and compensation philosophy and pay practices.
“They do it because they love it, but at the same time, money matters,” Kimbrough said of detention center staff.
Days after Kimbrough detailed the report, County Manager Dudley Watts provided FOX8 with another previously confidential report completed in January 2018 where detention center employees were surveyed the month prior.
At that point, the county said, detention officer II and detention officer III positions had already been created, and a short staff pay differential of 65 cents per hour had been introduced.
The findings from the 2018 report showed “significant improvement from 2016 in several areas,” while there were “a few questions where 2017 results [were] less favorable than 2016.”
Some of the greatest “unfavorable” returns were in response to questions concerning the organization effectively dealing with employees who have poor job performance, the organization responding to employees’ suggestions, management creating an atmosphere that contributes to free and easy discussion and management’s concerns about employees as individuals.
That said, many of the questions concerning management did see improvement in 2017 compared to 2016. The same was said for employee relations, commitment, job satisfaction, training, pay/employee benefits, turnover and personal appraisal categories.
“You have to have the ability to deescalate with your articulation,” Kimbrough said of the detention center. “You have to have the ability to move people, outthink them and outtalk them when you work over there.”
In response to the reports, Watts said the county shifted back to a grade and class compensation structure and the current human resource information and payroll system will be replaced next spring.
He added the county surveys the market every year and adjusts compensation ranges accordingly.
During and after the pandemic as detention centers across the country became dramatically short-staffed – even forcing some states and municipalities to declare a state of emergency to address the issue – local leaders throughout the Piedmont Triad further explored options to lessen the burden on remaining staff.
In January 2022, Forsyth County introduced a county-wide 5% pay grade and salary increase. In January 2022, a $2 dollar per hour shift differential was approved for detention center employees.
The big bump for the detention center, however, came in September.
“I don’t control the money,” Kimbrough said. “I wish I did because if I did, there would be a waiting line every day. It’d be like Chick-fil-A wrapped around the building.”
County commissioners approved a $5,000 sign-on bonus and $5,000 retention bonus as well as changes to hiring guidelines. The sheriff’s office said its vacancies have started to drop as a result. The detention center had vacancies in the 80s coming out of the summer, but with contracted security and new hires, sheriff’s office officials say they’re now short less than 50 people in the detention center.
It should be noted that the contracted security cannot perform all functions of a detention officer and are not county employees.
While the results of the latest study are pending, Kimbrough said he did not wait to adjust detention center staff.
“I was the warden at North Carolina Correctional Institution for Women,” said Benita Josephine Witherspoon, who was recently brought on as the detention center’s quality assurance coordinator. “My career spans over 32 years with the department of public safety.”
Witherspoon admitted she walked into the new role with her hands somewhat tied when it comes to employees.
“You should have enough staff to maintain security or oversee or manage the population that you do have, and that definitely is not here or in corrections across the United States,” Witherspoon said.
With new hires, Witherspoon hopes her staff will be able to adequately serve and protect themselves and the inmates.
“You can’t help all 32 in your housing unit. If you help one then you’ve been a success,” she said.
While Watts did not provide FOX8 with an approximate completion date for the latest study, he said the goal is to have the results to the sheriff and commissioners as soon as possible.
Kimbrough hopes when the study is completed, it recommends more enhancements for the pay of his employees both current and future.
“In a society, you could not function without law enforcement,” he said. “People say they could. They tried it. It didn’t work for them too well.”