BATON ROUGE, La. — Gov. John Bel Edwards is proposing more than $21 million in guard pay raises for Louisiana’s prison system next year as the state struggles with recruiting and retaining people for correctional officer jobs.
The Department of Corrections has more 400 unfilled guard positions — a vacancy rate of more than 36%. The positions that are filled face a constant churn, with a year-over-year turnover rate of 73%, according to Thomas Bickham, chief financial officer at the agency.
The Advocate reports the proposal involves a 10% pay raise for entry-level correctional officers that would bump the starting wage from $13.97 to $15.37 per hour. That would increase the starting salary for cadets to around $32,000 annually.
In addition, prison guards could be in line for a retention pay incentive that would add 50 cents to an officer’s hourly wages during the first full year on the job, followed by a 70-cent, 90-cent and $1 raise in subsequent years.
“The retention pay is to stop the bleeding and the (10% raise) is to get more fresh blood into the system,” Bickham said. “It’s hard to attract them and when we do get them, it’s hard to keep them.”
Louisiana’s lawmakers last approved a raise for corrections officers in 2018, but the Edwards administration said the short-term gains won by that increase have since worn away.
Staffing shortages have caused overtime costs at the agency to balloon, and are blamed for unsafe working environments for guards. A female correctional officer was raped at knifepoint last summer while stationed alone on a cell block at the Elayn Hunt Correctional Center in St. Gabriel.
The pay raise money is included in the Democratic governor’s budget proposal for the year that begins July 1. Lawmakers will decide whether to fund it in their legislative session that begins April 12.