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DOC Addresses Correctional Officer Recruitment and Retention Issues

Summary: Separating Officers’ Exit Surveys
68.5% left because dissatisfied with salary.

n 66.7% had a new job prior to leaving DOC.

n 34% went with another correction or law enforcement agency.

n 37% would have remained if salary, benefits and shift schedules had improved.

Recognizing the need to protect its valuable workforce, the Department of Correction recently implemented new initiatives to help address difficulties in recruiting and retaining correctional officers. 

Around the country, many states have experienced increasing difficulty in recruiting and retaining qualified applicants for entry level correctional officer positions and North Carolina is no exception. The shortage can be attributed to a number of factors, including the rapid expansion of a prison system, low pay, a booming economy that makes the prospect of working inside a prison less attractive and the risk of dealing with a more violent inmate population. 

The vacancy rate of correctional officer positions in the N.C. prison system was approximately 11 percent during the month of April 2000, and in some regions of the state the figure was more than 14 percent. This resulted in considerable overtime expenditures for the department, as well as placing additional stress on the remaining staff having to cover the extra workloads and having to work on scheduled off days. In addition, the attrition rate among correctional officers is rapidly increasing. Attrition rate is defined as the percentage of new hires separating from employment within the first 12 months. In the four-year period from January 1995 to January 1999 the attrition rate for correctional officers rose from 23.4 percent to 36.7 percent. Although the turnover rate decreases after the first year of employment, the problem of retention certainly doesn’t go away. A recent study of the correctional officers hired from January through June 1996 showed that only 52 percent were still employed with the department at the end of a three-year period. 

Exit interviews conducted by the Department’s Office of Testing and Research indicate a variety of reasons the officers are leaving, but chief among them is the issue of pay. 

With this information in hand, Department of Correction leaders developed some short- and long-term strategies to help alleviate the recruiting and retention problems. The initiatives being taken include:

Increasing the starting pay for correctional officers

Effective June 1, the starting pay for correctional officers increased from $20,951 to $21,999, an increase of 5 percent. A new 12-month pay adjustment (special minimum rate) to $22,879 has been approved and will be implemented simultaneous to the Fiscal Year 2000/01 legislative pay increases. These figures are expected to increase with the anticipated July 2000 legislative pay raises in an amount equal to the cost of living percentage increase.

Development of the Senior Correctional Officer concept and the Correctional Officer Mentoring Program

The mentoring program, modeled after similar programs in other states, targets the initial on-the-job training of new correctional officers, by providing intensive one-on-one training by a peer “senior” officer. Senior officers selected to serve as peer mentors will receive specialized training to facilitate their role as a trainer, role model and counselor to the new correctional officers. In addition, those individuals selected as senior correctional officers (mentors) will be required to perform other duties beyond the scope of the typical correctional officer, and as a result, will receive additional pay of $100 per month while serving in this capacity. The benefits of this program are expected to be two-fold. First, it is expected to lower the turnover rates among new officers by providing closer and more consistent training. And second, a similar result is anticipated with the senior staff by providing additional career opportunities.

Increases in the Shift Premium and Holiday Premium Pay for Correctional Officers

Beginning in June, all correctional officers (and related job classes, i.e., correctional sergeants, etc.) working regular, recurring weekend shifts will receive an increase in their shift premium rates. Employees working first shift during the weekend will receive a 10 percent shift premium rate, while those working second and third shifts on weekends will earn a 20 percent shift premium rate. In addition, the premium pay granted for working holidays is increasing from one-half to three-fourth’s the hourly pay for correctional officers and related classes. A number of programs and initiatives have already been implemented to address recruitment and retention problems. Five regional personnel employment officers were established to speed up the recruitment process. Further, a retirement utilization program (REUP) has been implemented which allows retirees to return to work on a part- time basis at facilities where critical shortages occur. The Department is piloting 12-hour work schedules and will evaluate the impact of these schedules on recruitment, retention and employee morale. Finally, a new performance standard has been developed which better recognizes the job functions of a correctional officer. While these new programs and increased pay incentives are expected to provide some improvements, Correction officials realize these initiatives will not solve the recruitment and retention problems. As additional funds are identified, future plans call for the establishment of a 24-month salary adjustment for correctional officers, as well as, additional equity adjustments for custody related staff.

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