Kentucky starts making push to hire correctional officers
Jury still out on whether locality pay, shift premiums, other increases will work
FRANKFORT, Ky. (WTVQ) – With locality and shift bonuses and 10% pay raise now in place, state leaders hope higher wages will help fill critical vacancies at the state’s prisons. But some wonder whether minimum salaries of $41,600 a year are enough to attract enough workers, much less qualified workers who will stay long term.
The Kentucky Department of Corrections is hiring correctional officers to help fill 1,038 full- and part-time positions available at 13 state prisons.
To help attract and retain officers, an extra $2.13 an hour has been approved for all employees working between 6 p.m. and 6 a.m. at state prisons. An extra $2 an hour has been added to locality premium for employees in designated security positions. The Governor had already approved a 10% pay increase for the security staff of adult correctional institutions that went into effect Dec. 16, 2021. These changes bring the starting hourly wage to $20 an hour for a correctional officer working between 6 p.m. and 6 a.m.
“We depend on our correctional officers every day,” said Gov. Beshear. “This work is essential, and increasing officer pay is one necessary step that was needed right away.”
The Governor’s proposed budget also makes bold investments in public safety, including aligning funding with Rep. Buddy Wheatley’s proposed legislation – House Bill 135 – that returns hazardous duty positions, including correctional institution staff, to a defined benefit pension plan for their retirement.
“I appreciate the Governor for doing the right thing and investing in our correctional staff,” said Justice and Public Safety Cabinet Secretary Kerry Harvey. “And we must continue to invest in our DOC staff if we are going to provide the public safety needed to create a better and safer Kentucky for generations to come. I call upon my friends in the General Assembly to pass House Bill 135. Without fixing their pension, we will not be able to adequately attract and retain correctional officers and DOC staff.”
DOC Commissioner Cookie Crews said they are experiencing the highest vacancy rate in the department’s history for correctional officers and said pay increases will help with recruitment.
“I am extremely appreciative of the Governor’s support of our employees by offering shift and locality pay to help DOC not only attract but retain an essential workforce,” said DOC Commissioner Crews. “When DOC provides the appropriate level of security and rehabilitation in the state’s prison system, this reduces further harm and violence in our communities. I strongly encourage Kentuckians to consider joining Team Kentucky as a correctional officer.”
DOC correctional officers ensure the safe and secure control of our prisons. Correctional officers provide coverage for posts that are either direct inmate management, direct inmate observation or perimeter protection of the prison. They oversee inmates inside and outside of the prison, provide counsel to inmates on minor issues and refer serious problems to staff specialists.
There is a five-week basic academy for all individuals hired to be a correctional officer. Some of the specific requirements are listed below. Correctional officer applicants must:
- Have a high school diploma or GED;
- Be able to physically respond to an emergency situation;
- Not have been convicted of a felony, a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence or trafficking in narcotics, drugs or controlled substances; and
- Have and maintain a valid driver’s license.
As of Jan. 31, there were 9,690 individuals were in state custod.