Kansas is giving state prison guards a raise. Gov. Sam Brownback today announced plans to increase pay for uniformed Kansas corrections officers by 5 percent in most state corrections facilities and by 10 percent at the El Dorado Correctional Facility.
The El Dorado facility has a 46 percent staff turnover rate, and other state facilities have turnover of more than 30 percent.
Brownback described the pay increase as a significant first step towards making pay competitive in an effort to retain experienced correctional officers at the state’s correctional facilities where vacancy rates have increased amid dwindling new officer recruitment.
Rep. J.R. Claeys, a Salina Republican, called for a special session to address staffing shortages at state prisons in early August. He suggested 20 percent pay increases for guards at the time. He called the Governor’s plan a temporary solution.
“I called for a special session, because I believe it’s necessary to actually fully fix the problem,” Claeys said. “Find the funding sources and implement a long-term solution, but I’ll take what I can get.”
The money to fund the pay increases come from within the existing budget.
“They’re delaying some projects, and they are literally just grabbing every nickel and dime in the couch cushions,” Claeys said.
The pay raise will lift starting hourly wages at the El Dorado facility from $13.95 to $15.75. In other state prisons, starting pay will increase from $13.95 per hour to $14.66 per hour.
“Addressing recruitment and retention will require commitment from the legislature, and I encourage them to work with the Department of Corrections in the 2018 legislation session,” Brownback said.
In the last few months, the challenges have escalated. In June, inmates staged a sit-in. In July, a prisoner was stabbed in a prison fight.
Members of the Kansas Legislature increased taxes by $1.2 billion in the waning moments of the 2017 session. The budget didn’t address the prison pay issue. Claeys voted against the tax increase, but he says a long term solution wouldn’t require a tax increase.
“Absolutely, 100 percent, can do this without a tax increase. It requires saying that we are going to expand Kansas Correctional Industries,” Claeys said. “We are going to put prisoners to work, and we are not going to ask taxpayers to spend another dime.”
KCI allows inmates to produce goods and services to governmental units at a lower cost. It currently employs more than 1,100 inmates. There’s available space and opportunity to expand, Claeys said. A legislative study recommended using the program to save about $1 million annually. There’s also a state law that requires state government agencies to use KCI for certain purchases when possible.
“We don’t enforce that law,” Claeys said. “And because we don’t enforce that law, taxpayers are footing a bill and prisoners are sitting idle.”
Expanding KCI kills three birds with one stone, according to Claeys. The program reduces state costs, inmates learn a skill, and it reduces recidivism. He noted that many Kansas inmates will one day be released.
“Almost all of these people are getting out someday,” he said. “There is a deadline here…I would much rather they had been spending their time building things. There’s a long term benefit to stuff like that. It saves you money, because then the people have a skill when they come out.”