Higher pay, bonuses attract more Idaho correction officers

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BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Pay raises and bonuses should help ease a shortfall of prison workers in Idaho, the state’s top prison official said.

Idaho Department of Correction Director Josh Tewalt told the Legislature’s Criminal Justice Reinvestment Oversight Committee on Friday that the agency has received more than 130 applications and that some officers who planned to leave are staying.

Corrections facilities have been staffed at 79%, leading to 16-hour shifts for officers, the Idaho Press reported. That could change with an influx of new workers.

“We are incredibly, incredibly encouraged by what we’ve been seeing,” said Tewalt.

He has previously said that the pay Idaho offers correction workers isn’t competitive with surrounding states. He said the Snake River Correctional Institution in Ontario, Oregon, pays its new correction officers $22.64 an hour.

New correction officers in Idaho will receive $19 an hour, up from the previous $16.75. New hires will also get $1,500 bonuses and be eligible for $1,500 bonuses annually during their first five years.

Current employees will see hourly raises ranging from 75 cents for wardens to $2.25 for correction officers starting Sept. 5. Also, on Oct. 15, all current correction officers will receive a one-time retention bonus of $1,500.

Most of the money is coming from $5.5 million in COVID-19 federal relief funds.

Still, Tewalt said, high housing prices and child care costs remain obstacles to hiring correction workers.

Republican Rep. Greg Chaney, who co-chairs the committee, said correction officer staffing will likely be taken up when the Legislature begins meeting in January.

“We either quit sending people to prison, or we do something about it,” he said.

Democratic Sen. Melissa Wintrow said the challenges faced by the Idaho Department of Correction are similar to challenges faced by other state agencies.

“We have to invest in our employees, as we have a rapidly growing, changing economy, where the market forces are competing with us, and we have to decide how we’re going to invest our state resources,” she said.

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