Corrections Dept. Wants Funding to Keep Good Officers

Corrections Dept. Wants Funding to Keep Good Officers

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Paul Nelson, KSL NewsradioOfficials from the Department of Corrections say they have a serious problem. They say they can't afford to keep good corrections officers.

There is more than one staffing problem at the Department of Corrections, but one in particular concerns department officials the most.

Department of Corrections Executive Director Tom Patterson said, "Nothing is more glaring than the approximate 140 officer positions that we cannot fill for our prisons."

Patterson says the main problem is money. Officers and guards are quickly recruited to other jobs at county jails for higher pay. He says county jails can take advantage of the training the state paid for.

"It costs us approximately $22,000 to train an officer and to lose that, and to lose the officer, of course that's detrimental," Patterson said.

Patterson says about half of their officers have two years of experience or less. He says they have contracts which require a new recruit to stay for more than that, but those don't seem to be working.

"What we're finding is, those agencies that are hiring our officers away are willing to pay the penalty on those contracts," he explained.

So, he says, the issue goes back to money. DOC will be asking lawmakers for a lot more money, ranging in the millions. How much will it be specifically? They can't say yet. But they sent the request to the governor.

"That is something that is done confidentially, it requires the approval of the governor's office, and so talking about the specific dollars, we won't be able to do until the approval of that budget request," Patterson said.

Plus, he says, the Department of Corrections already asked lawmakers for about $70 million in "one-time" money to finish the facility in Gunnison. He wonders if that will impact the decision. Lawmakers like Sen. Michael Waddoups say they do expect a surplus again this year, but they don't know how big it will be yet.

"The statement for the year-end, which ended June 30, showed approximately around $250 million left over. So, they're saying we could have anywhere from that to $400 million left over in the next year's budget," he said.

Waddoups says he worries if the state boosts its salaries, county jails may respond by boosting theirs.

"We ratchet ours up, and they ratchet their's up. It's sort of a vicious circle that isn't working real well," Waddoups said.

Corrections officials say without a boost in pay for officers, morale and even security may be affected.

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