Virginia prisons seek wage hikes amid staff crisis
RICHMOND, Virginia (AP) – Virginia prison officials say they are experiencing a serious staffing crisis and are looking to increase correctional officer starting salaries by about 25% in an effort to recruit and retain officers.
The Richmond Times-Dispatch reports that the Department of Corrections says it faces a shortage of more than 1,600 correctional officers, a situation they say puts the safety of inmates, staff and the public at risk.
The COVID-19 pandemic, rising unemployment benefits, uncompetitive wages and the availability of less demanding jobs have exacerbated the difficult task for recruiters.
When the pandemic struck, the number of job vacancies increased by an average of 56 per month to 1,390 in June and 1,621 on Friday.
“This is the worst personnel crisis the department has ever seen,” said Lisa Kinney, spokesperson for the department.
Although the state’s prison population has grown from around 30,000 inmates to 24,500 in the past two years, DOC officials say it’s temporary. They argue that they still need full staff and cannot start closing prisons and facilities.
Other law enforcement agencies that pay higher wages go after correctional officers, specifically recruiting them through job openings. Starting salaries for regional prisons range from $ 38,000 to over $ 41,000. In federal prisons, salaries start at $ 43,495, plus recruitment and retention bonuses, according to the DOC.
In response, the DOC is seeking to increase the starting salary from just over $ 35,000 per year to $ 44,000, and to increase the salaries of senior supervisors.
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