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May 29, 2014

Raises for prison guards won’t affect recruiting, association says

OKLAHOMA CITY — A pay raise will do little to attract and keep correctional officers in understaffed state prisons, the director of a professional group said.

Starting July 1, correctional officers will see a 6.25 or 8 percent pay boost, depending upon their job description. Legislators included the raises in the budget for the coming fiscal year.

While grateful, Sean Wallace, executive director of the Oklahoma Corrections Professionals, said he doubts a raise that amounts to less than a dollar an hour for most employees will affect hiring.

The prisons are short hundreds of guards, he said, and an 8 percent raise isn’t going to be enough incentive. In addition to boosting the pay of existing correction officers, the state will be increasing the starting pay from $11.83 an hour to $12.78.

“We hope it will make a difference, but we really don’t see it making much of a difference recruiting-wise,” said Wallace, whose organization represents correctional officers.

The group had asked for an 18 percent raise and lifting the starting wage of a correctional officer to at least $14 per hour, he said.

State officials hope the raise makes it easier to hire and retain correctional officers, said Department of Corrections spokesman Jerry Massie, but it’s too soon to tell.

“It’s one of the things we’ve asked for in the past,” Massie said. “We recognize what they were getting paid before is an issue that made it difficult to recruit and retain them.”

The state only has enough guards to meet about 60 percent of its need, said Massie. He said the state is authorized by statute to have 2,583 corrections officers, but only has the funding for about 1,750 — about 68 percent — of authorized posts.

The median pay for state corrections officers is about $29,000, Wallace said. That does not include additional incentive benefits such as health insurance and a state pension plan.

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