The Jackson County Detention Center has been in a downward spiral.
More than 200 law enforcement officers stormed the downtown jail late last month, a show of force that resulted in two guards being charged with accepting inmate bribes to smuggle drugs, cellphones and cigarettes.
In early July, a female guard was taken to the hospital after reportedly being attacked by an inmate.
That news was followed by yet another expensive settlement — this one a $437,500 payout — stemming from a 2015 allegation of jail staff severely beating an inmate. The incident was the impetus for an ongoing FBI investigation, a deep dive likely to generate future headlines about what ails our jail.
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So it might seem counterintuitive that applications for the position of corrections officer are up at the 30-year-old facility that has gained a reputation for being a filthy, unsafe, dysfunctional institution.
Nearly 100 have applied in recent weeks, the result of both a renewed push to publicize openings for corrections officers and an increased salary scale.
The applicants come from virtually all regions of the metro area, from both sides of the state line.
Previously, some weeks had passed with no applicants. So this is at least a modicum of progress amid a torrent of troubling headlines.
About a half-dozen officers have been hired so far. New hires must pass a drug test, an in-person interview and a written exam that is commonly used to assess potential guards nationally. They learn on the job and later are given classroom training with sessions led by the FBI and the prosecutor’s office.
The jail has been operating with about 30 fewer guards than it needs, just one in a long list of systemic problems at the overcrowded, understaffed detention center.
Officials are hopeful they will attract more applicants with college backgrounds and people with previous experience in criminal justice — and that the applications will keep coming.
County officials are also considering adding a polygraph test and possibly other psychological assessments to the hiring process. Those changes should be made immediately, given stresses of the work and previous problems with corrections officers taking bribes from inmates.
Many current corrections officers are surely dedicated, well qualified employees who care deeply about their work. They deserve a safe environment, the best training and leadership possible. As do inmates, regardless of pending charges or previous convictions.
An uptick in interest from potential hires is a positive sign at the jail. But it is only one incremental step toward the sweeping overhaul that is needed.
To build on this hint of momentum, Jackson County Executive Frank White and other top officials must show a sense of urgency and a commitment to making wide-ranging changes at the Jackson County Detention Center.
Continuing to attract qualified employees will grow increasingly difficult unless county officials can show measurable improvement at the jail. And hiring a handful of corrections officers won’t alter what has become and entrenched and toxic culture.
But it’s a start.