View Full Version : Guard turnover rate 70 percent at adult jail

07-26-2005, 09:23 AM

7/26/2005 4:37:30 AM
Daily Journal

Daily Journal

TUPELO - The general public talks a lot about locking up criminals, but they rarely discuss the price of keeping lawbreakers in jail.

It's expensive. Salaries of correctional officers are the budget's biggest line item. And competition for trained officers makes it hard to keep them.

Lee County Sheriff Jim H. Johnson has gotten up close and personal with the cost. He has 38 people listed as guards in the Tupelo-Lee County Adult Detention Center for fiscal 2005, which ends Sept. 30. None earns more than $11.07 per hour or $29,120 per year.

The national average for a correctional officer is $34,000. Mississippi's median beginning salary for a correctional officer with no experience is $19,000 per year. The median is not an average, but the mid point between the highest and lowest salary.

"We have a 70 percent turnover rate because of the salaries," Johnson told Lee County supervisors Monday as he presented his budget request for 2006.

That means Lee County loses several ways, the sheriff added. Initially, the sheriff's department trains its correctional officers.

Once trained, that correctional officer can get work elsewhere and competition is keen nationally.

A study by the U.S. Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics gives a "favorable" rating to the job outlook for correctional officers for the next three years

"The need to replace correctional officers who transfer to other occupations or leave the labor force, coupled with rising employment demand, will generate thousands of job openings each year," the study reports. "... some local and state corrections agencies have experienced difficulty in attracting and keeping qualified applicants, largely due to relatively low salaries and the concentration of jobs in rural locations. This situation is expected to continue."

The demand will continue to increase much faster than the average for all other occupations through 2008, the study predicts, for several reasons. The inmate population is growing. The public has become more concerned about the spread of crime and illegal drugs, which results in more arrests and convictions.

"Moreover," the study says, "expansion and new construction of correction facilities also are expected to create many new jobs for correctional officers, although state and local government budgetary constraints could affect the rate at which new facilities are built and staffed."