RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Virginia prison officials say they are experiencing a severe staffing crisis and are seeking to increase starting salaries for correctional officers by about 25% in an attempt to recruit and retain officers.
The Richmond Times-Dispatch reports that the Department of Corrections says it is facing a shortage of more than 1,600 correctional officers, a situation they say jeopardizes security and safety for inmate, staff and the public.
The COVID-19 pandemic, enhanced unemployment benefits, non-competitive salaries and the availability of less-demanding jobs have exacerbated the difficult job of recruiting officers.
When the pandemic hit, the number of vacancies rose an average of 56 a month to 1,390 as of this June and 1,621 on Friday.
“This is the worst staffing crisis the department has ever seen,” said Lisa Kinney, a spokeswoman for the department.
Although the state’s prison population has dropped from about 30,000 inmates to 24,500 over the past two years, DOC officials say that is temporary. They contend that they still need full staffing and cannot start shutting down prisons and facilities.
Other law enforcement agencies paying higher salaries are going after corrections officers, specifically recruiting them in job postings. Regional jail starting salaries range from $38,000 to more than $41,000. At federal prisons, the salaries start at $43,495, plus recruitment and retention bonuses, according to the DOC.
In response, the DOC is seeking starting salary pay boosts from just over $35,000 a year to $44,000, and increasing pay for supervisors with higher rank.