Idaho correctional officers getting pay bump, bonuses
By RYAN SUPPE
BOISE — The Idaho Department of Correction is giving its officers pay increases and bonuses. The pay bump comes amid a severe staffing shortage and after a staffer was recently attacked by an inmate.
New correctional officers will be hired at $19 an hour, an increase from $16.75. New hires will also receive a $1,500 sign-on bonus and be eligible for a $1,500 yearly retention bonus during their first five years of employment, totaling $9,000 worth of incentives.
Current employees will receive a boost, as well. Ten positions will receive raises, ranging from $0.75 hourly for wardens and $2.25 hourly for correctional officers. The raises take effect Sept. 5.
Additionally, on Oct. 15, all current correctional officers will receive a one-time $1,500 retention bonus “in recognition of their dedication and service during this truly challenging time,” said Jeff Ray, the department’s public information officer.
“Attracting and hiring the right people to our security ranks is only one part of the equation,” Ray said in an email. “We’re putting an equal amount of emphasis on retaining the staff who have and continue to admirably serve the people of Idaho.”
The Department of Correction has 190 vacancies for correctional officers at its prison in Kuna. Statewide, 24% of correctional officer positions were vacant as of last month.
As a result, correctional officers often are working mandatory 16-hour shifts.
“It’s hard to have a life outside of work,” said Department of Correction Director Josh Tewalt during a meeting last month. “It’s hard on those folks.”
One reason for the staffing shortage is Idaho’s pay is not competitive with neighboring prisons, such as the Snake River Correctional Institution in Ontario, Oregon, which pays $22.64 an hour to new correctional officers, Tewalt said.
Rep. John Gannon, D-Boise, this month called for pay increases shortly after a staffer was attacked by an inmate at the prison south of Boise. A female paralegal was “savagely beaten” and required multiple surgeries, according to a Facebook post by James Du Toit, a correctional sergeant. News of the attack was first reported by the Idaho Statesman.
“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.”
When asked whether the attack had a factor in the pay increases, Ray said, “This plan has been in the works for several months.”
The raises will be funded using about $2.2 million in one-time and ongoing salary savings. The department also has approximately $5.5 million in the current fiscal year that can be used for COVID-related expenses, including allowable personnel costs, Ray said.