An Oklahoma correctional officer recruit earns $15.74 per hour, on par with entry-level positions at convenience stores and chain retailers.

That could change by mid-summer. 

The Oklahoma Department of Corrections announced earlier this month that all agency employees will receive a market-based pay raise of at least 4%. Though exact percentages are not yet finalized, correctional officers are expected to get a 30% raise. Probation and parole employees should receive a 20% pay bump. 

The raises will be allocated in the Department of Corrections Fiscal Year 2023 budget, which is expected to remain relatively flat. The agency has saved money by closing the aging William S. Key Correctional Facility in Fort Supply and vacating a private prison in Cushing.

Last June, I took a deep dive into prison understaffing in Oklahoma and possible solutions to the issue. At that point, the agency employed 1,462 correctional officers and had 314 fully funded vacancies.

Staffing numbers have only worsened since then. State budget documents show the agency employed 1,135 correctional officers in late February, a 22% decline over nine months.

Oklahoma’s prison staffing woes aren’t unique. Correctional officers nationwide quit in droves at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, with many citing poor working conditions and an elevated risk of contracting the coronavirus. Prison officials have struggled to fill these vacancies.

Correctional worker unions in several states have successfully pushed for higher wages. Last fall Nebraska raised its starting pay for corrections officers from $20 to $28 per hour. A month ago Texas approved a 15% pay increase for all prison workers.

A possible sign of hope for Oklahoma prison officials: In Nebraska, correctional officer applications increased by 300% and resignations dropped off significantly in the months following the $8-an-hour pay increase.

Also being considered is House Bill 3671, which would give a 3% pay increase to all state employees making $80,000 or less. If enacted, the starting hourly wage for a correctional officer recruit would increase to approximately $21 an hour. The proposal has passed the House and is eligible to be heard in the Senate.

I’ll be keeping an eye on this bill and several other measures as we head towards the home stretch of the legislative session. As always, reach out to me via Twitter or Email with your thoughts and questions. 

What I'm Reading This Week

  • Former Oklahoma Jail Officer Convicted of Allowing White Supremacists’ Attack on Black Detainees: A former Kay County detention officer faces up to 10 years in prison for using excessive force and moving a Black detainee into the same cell row as white supremacist inmates. Matthew Ware, 53, will be sentenced in July. [The Oklahoman]
  • Beyond the Count: A Deep Dive Into State Prison Populations: The Prison Policy Initiative analyzed data from all 50 states and found that people struggling with poverty and substance abuse issues are more likely to be incarcerated. [Prison Policy Initiative
  • Candidates Crowd Oklahoma County, Pottawatomie County District Attorney Races: Six candidates are vying to fill the seat of  Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater, who plans to retire at the beginning of next year. In Pottawatomie County, two challengers are running against incumbent District Attorney Allan Grubb. [NonDoc]

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