The Department of Corrections’ (DOC) top-priority budget request includes $2.6 million to fund the fifth year of the Certified Staff Pay Plan. In addition to any across-the-board increase approved by the legislature, this plan provides a 3% salary increase each year for all certified officers in the department. Lawmakers implemented the pay plan in an attempt to decrease turnover, retain experienced officers, and boost interest in DOC employment.
Despite the officer pay plan, a $6,000 sign-on bonus, and enhanced retirement benefits, the department continues to lose officers to local law enforcement agencies after completion of their training. The state invests countless resources to train law enforcement officers and DOC needs to retain that talent. The Draper Prison reported 115 vacant positions for certified officers because the department is unable to compete with the compensation levels offered by local law enforcement agencies. The accumulating vacancies and loss of experience results in an increased workload for the remaining staff; officers within the Utah Prison System alone worked an all-time high of 212,442 overtime hours in fiscal year 2019. The extra hours could lead to employee burnout and ultimately impact the safety of Utah citizens if the problem is not addressed.
During the department’s budget presentation for the Executive Offices and Criminal Justice Appropriations Committee, Director Mike Haddon detailed the recruitment and retention concerns and stated that this funding is a crucial step in their efforts to address the problem. The committee chair, Representative Eric Hutchings, R-Kearns, emphasized the importance of this request stating “Corrections has been struggling with recruitment and retention for [seven years or longer] … Corrections is so large that this is not a one-and-done fix. Just because we [funded the pay plan] for a year, doesn’t mean we finished it.” UPEA supports this budget request and will continue to update employees as the session progresses.