State News

January 4, 2014

Pay for correctional officers trails Southeast

 Georgia pays its correctional officers less than other Southeastern states, and it cost taxpayers roughly $30 million to retrain 3,000 replacements for officers who quit during the last financial year, according to state auditors.

The audit concluded that boosting pay alone may not reduce turnover. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that auditors said long shifts and dangerous conditions were contributing to turnover in the state’s Department of Corrections and the Department of Juvenile Justice. Lawmakers on the Senate Appropriations Committee sought the audit.

“I’m concerned about the turnover and I’m concerned about the low pay,” Juvenile Justice Commissioner Avery Niles said. “It’s one of those type things that if we don’t address it aggressively it’s going to continue.”

It’s unclear whether state leaders will act to raise pay. Rep. Jay Powell, R-Camillia, who chairs a House subcommittee that drafts the budget for public safety agencies, said policymakers need to fulfill promises made over the last few years to other law enforcement agencies that saw their funding dwindle during the last recession.

“The fact of the pay (is low) is something we have known for a while. The extent of the problem we did not know,” Powell said. “It’s serious. The extent of the problem is now quantifiable, and now we have to deal with it, to find the resources, to decide when and over what period of time we’ll deal with it.”

Auditors found there was a 31 percent turnover rate for correctional officers in the state Department of Corrections during the financial year ending June 30. The cost of replacing 2,100 officers who left was roughly $19.3 million. The turnover rate was 57 percent at the Department of Juvenile Justice, which spent $9.7 million to retrain 787 replacements.

Pay was among the key reasons that correctional officers quit, according to the audit. The starting pay for officers in the Georgia Department of Corrections was $24,322, which lagged each bordering state except for South Carolina. Some local governments in Georgia also pay their correctional officers more. Pay for correctional officers in Gwinnett County starts at $37,000.

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