It appears extreme measures will be required if the Oklahoma Department of Corrections is ever going to attract those who are looking for jobs — a $2 an hour increase in the starting pay didn’t do the trick.
With a statewide vacancy rate of almost 45 percent, the beleaguered state agency reported this week it would have to hire more than 600 people to fill every position. The news comes after a legislative initiative boosted wages for a new correctional officer to $15.74 an hour.
While increased pay probably lured a few more applicants through the doors, those who are more familiar with the peculiarities of corrections work say there are more factors at play than money alone. Prisons are dangerous places, and those dangers are exacerbated by staffing shortages that require employees to work longer hours each day and more days each week.
Frequent turnover among those at the top of the agency — three directors during the past six years — does little to provide stability throughout the ranks below. All of this, when combined with an environment created by an overcrowded prison population, it is not hard to see why a prospect might not rank corrections among the top of his or her career choices.
Bobby Cleveland, executive director of Oklahoma Corrections Professionals, said people “working behind bars” are “getting preyed on every day.” In addition to paying better wages, the agency needs to change its culture and show some appreciation for its employees — we agree.
If the state has a policy that deprives people of their liberty interests after being convicted of certain crimes, the implementation of that policy must be efficient, professional and just. Cultivating a workplace culture that values employees is critical to carrying out that mission.