You Gets What You Pays For

by James A. Bacon

Virginia’s prison system is short 1,500 correctional officers. Turnover has increased to 25% a year, much higher than the average 15% church for other state agencies. And the situation is getting worse as remaining employees work double shifts and come in on days off. The shortfall is worst in urban areas where there is more competition for jobs.

Those numbers come from testimony by Harold Clarke, head of the Department of Corrections, Wednesday in a legislative committee meeting. So reports The Virginia Mercury.

Manpower shortages make conditions less safe. Working longer hours impairs performance and lowers attention rates.

Clarke proposes raising starting salaries for correctional officers from $35,000 a year to $44,000. By comparison, Virginia State Police start troopers at $47,000 a year, while most regional jails and sheriff’s office start at more than $40,000 a year. Clarke says his plan would cost $70 million, an increase of more than 5% to the department’s $1.3 billion operating budget.

Bacon’s bottom line. The credo of Bacon’s Rebellion is that government should do few things but do those things well. Law enforcement and corrections is a core function of state and local government. If you want a secure, humane, and corruption-free prison system, you have to pay competitive salaries to get good employees. Clarke’s request deserves serious attention.