State prison guards deserve pay raise

The American Press

Entry-level prison guards will go from making $12.70 per hour to $13.97 per hour.

American Press composite

Having an adequate number of correctional officers is important to ensure safety for not only the inmates at state prisons, but the staff as well. However, if they aren’t paid enough, it’s hard to find qualified candidates or keep current employees from leaving.

The Department of Public Safety and Corrections has seen its share of corrections officers leave the job not long after being hired. In fact, 814 of the 1,117 entry-level prison guards hired in 2016, or 73 percent, quit within the first year. Many get the training they need, only to get a higher-paying job in the private sector.

The issue of low pay for prison guards has been at the forefront of discussion for some time. Jimmy LeBlanc, corrections department secretary, said some single prison guards, who were starting in their jobs, qualified for food stamps because their pay was so low.

Thankfully, correctional officers are getting a bump in pay, starting immediately.

The Advocate reported last week that the Louisiana State Civil Service Commission voted to boost correctional officers’ pay by anywhere from 2 percent to 10 percent. 

Entry-level prison guards will go from making $12.70 per hour to $13.97 per hour. Higher-ranking officers could see pay increases from 2 percent to 5 percent.

Thomas Bickham, chief financial officer for Department of Public Safety and Corrections, said the increase should cost $9.4 million.

Along with the pay hikes for correctional officers, rank-and-file state government civil service workers will get a raise ranging from 2 percent to 4 percent. That takes effect later in the budget year.

The focus now turns to making sure there is enough money to fund the raises. The Advocate reported that the Division of Administration plans to give $2.4 million to aid in the process. That amount is part of the $3.7 million in savings from the state lowering its prison population.

More savings could also come from less overtime being paid to existing guards, if the pay raise gives potential candidates the incentive to apply for the job.

It’s been a long time coming for correctional officers to get a much-deserved pay bump. The security of state prisons depends on qualified guards, and paying them more will provide an extra layer of protection for everyone involved.

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