An incentive program that offers correctional officers gas gift cards in exchange for perfect attendance has helped address chronic staffing shortages at the Kennebec County jail. County commissioners voted Tuesday to extend the program at least three more months. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal file

AUGUSTA — For at least three more months, perfect attendance by corrections officers at the Kennebec County jail will make them eligible to receive $100 gift cards for gas.

On Tuesday, commissioners for Kennebec County voted unanimously to continue the pilot rewards program launched in June as part of a bigger initiative to deal with the staffing crisis at the jail.

At the same time, commissioners also agreed to unfreeze three budgeted corrections officer positions so the jail can add staff to cover its increasing responsibilities as pandemic restrictions ease.

Earlier this year, the jail was operating at essentially half its budgeted staff, with 26 corrections officers covering all shifts. When corrections officers called in sick, those already at work were compelled to work overtime shifts to maintain staffing levels.

Those forced overtime shifts affected employee morale and led to stress and burnout among the corrections officers that remained on staff.

On Tuesday, Lt. Corey Goodchild said in June 39 corrections officers had perfect attendance, and in July and August 37 corrections officers had perfect attendance.


“It cost us $11,300 in gas cards,” Goodchild said. “But it saved us approximately $25,000 in lost time. I think this has shown this is a really good program, and we’d like to continue it for at least another few months.”

Lost time, Goodchild said, is what the county pays out in sick time and overtime.

From March to May, there were 232 callouts that resulted in more than $52,000 in lost time.

“I think it’s a great idea, because it works,” Patsy Crockett, commissioner for district 1 (Augusta, Chelsea, China, Manchester, Sidney, Vassalboro, Windsor) said.

When commissioners initially approved the rewards program, they also approved offering sign-on bonuses of $5,000, to be paid in two installments — $2,500 after six months on the job and $2,500 after a year.

While the jail has been able to hire about 15 more corrections officers, officials are seeking to hire three more to help cover their increasing duties.


Goodchild said activities that were suspended in the early months of the pandemic are starting to be restored and the inmate population in the jail is on the rise.

“We have to do recreation five days a week, and we have to ensure everyone in the jail is offered to do recreation if they accept it,” he said. “We’re taking 138 people outside if they want to. Obviously, we break them into groups by gender and classification. It can be pretty taxing on staff.”

Among the other changes are increased court appearances from the jail and supervision for outside work crews.

“We’re doing work designed for 50 people with about 41 people,” Goodchild said.

Unfreezing the three corrections officer positions is critical, Sheriff Ken Mason said.

“It’s necessary because it is safety and risk management,” Mason said. “It’s my responsibility to make sure my staff is as prepared and safe as possible in an environment that can be dangerous.”

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