Georgia officials hope pay raise will slow corrections officer turnover

Georgia’s corrections agencies say a 10% pay hike that Gov. Brian Kemp has proposed for guards could go a long way toward cutting down on turnover.

Commissioners of the Department of Juvenile Justice and Department of Corrections said they have struggled to retain officers and often cite the low pay as one reason many leave. For example, DJJ officials said during fiscal 2020, 97% of new corrections officers left the agency.

Juvenile Justice Commissioner Tyrone Oliver said that by not filling nearly 300 vacant positions, the agency is saving about $2.5 million, enough to cover the cost of the raise for about 840 officers without requesting additional money from the state. Department of Corrections officials will also not fill positions to pay for the raise in their agency.

“I believe if we have good quality applicants and good quality employees and we pay them enough, hopefully we will be able to retain them,” Oliver told lawmakers during a budget presentation Wednesday.

Oliver said during exit interviews, low pay and benefits are always listed as the top reasons officers leave the agency.

“It speaks volumes to our employees to let them know that we’re actually listening to them,” he said. “And we know how much this means to them as well.”

An entry-level corrections officer at an adult or juvenile detention center makes $27,936. With the increase, officers starting out will make $30,730.

“That’s going to be a real big shot in the arm for the Georgia Department of Corrections for those well-deserving men and women who’ve been on the front line during this pandemic fighting this invisible enemy,” Corrections Commissioner Timothy Ward said.

If approved by the General Assembly, the raises would go into effect April 1.