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Idaho offers higher pay to get, retain correctional officers

August 30, 2021 GMT

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — State officials are boosting pay and offering bonuses to try to attract and maintain correctional officers.

About 24% of correctional officer positions at the Idaho Department of Correction were vacant last month, including 190 vacancies at the agency’s prisons in Kuna, south of Boise.

“Attracting and hiring the right people to our security ranks is only one part of the equation,” Jeff Ray, the department’s public information officer, told the Idaho Press. “We’re putting an equal amount of emphasis on retaining the staff who have and continue to admirably serve the people of Idaho.”

New correctional officers will receive $19 an hour, up from the previous $16.75. New hires will also get $1,500 bonuses and be eligible for $1,500 yearly retention bonuses during their first five years.

Current employees will see hourly raises ranging from $.75 for wardens to $2.25 for correctional officers starting Sept. 5. Also, on Oct. 15, all current correctional officers will receive a one-time retention bonus of $1,500.

Correctional officers often must work mandatory 16-hour shifts because there aren’t enough workers.

“It’s hard to have a life outside of work,” said Department of Correction Director Josh Tewalt. “It’s hard on those folks.”

Tewalt said that the pay Idaho offers correctional workers isn’t competitive with surrounding states. He said the Snake River Correctional Institution in Ontario, Oregon, pays its new correctional officers $22.64 an hour.

Democratic Rep. John Gannon of Boise called for pay increases this month after a staffer was attacked by an inmate.

“If the Corrections Department can’t keep its employees safe at the prison, the problem is serious,” Gannon said in a news release. “Understaffing, employee turnover and turmoil at the prisons south of Boise is creating a dangerous work environment for our state employees and dangerous conditions for offenders who want to do their time, move on, and never return.”