- Associated Press - Thursday, August 17, 2017

EL DORADO, Kan. (AP) - Workers at Kansas state prisons will get pay hikes in the wake of inmate disturbances that have drawn public attention to staff shortages at the facilities, Gov. Sam Brownback announced Thursday.

Uniformed officers across the state would receive about a 5 percent raise. Officers at El Dorado Correctional Facility will see raises of about 10 percent. The increase would kick in later this month if the employees’ union agrees.

The move would boost pay from $13.95 to $14.66 per hour statewide, and to $15.74 per hour at El Dorado. Corrections Secretary Joe Norwood says the higher pay in El Dorado facility is due to the tighter job market in that area.

Brownback and Norwood were flanked by corrections officers when they announced the pay raises at the El Dorado prison, which has seen at least three significant disturbances in recent months.

Lawmakers and the state employees’ union have urged the administration to address chronic staffing shortages and low pay among Kansas corrections workers.

“We believe this is a good first step toward providing the resources that Kansas corrections officers need and deserve to do their essential work of keeping our prison facilities secure and our communities safe,” Robert Choromanski, executive director of the Kansas Organization of State Employees, said in an emailed statement.

The Department of Corrections has confirmed three inmate disturbances at the El Dorado prison in May and June and a pair of inmate-on-inmate stabbings on July 28. The maximum-security prison is struggling with an annual turnover rate among uniformed officers of 46 percent, and they are sometimes working 16-hours shifts because of staffing shortages. El Dorado has the highest turnover rate of any prison in Kansas, Norwood said.

Norwood insisted Thursday that the staffing shortages did not cause the disturbances but acknowledged that they “brought some increased attention to our staffing needs.”

Brownback says the state can fund the raises in the short term for this fiscal year but lawmakers would have to find money next session to continue them.

“Addressing recruitment and retention will require commitment from the Legislature, and I encourage them to work with the Department of Corrections in the 2018 legislation session,” Brownback said.

The union said while the move provides a raise for corrections officers, it leaves out non-uniformed staff who are also critical to the department. All corrections officers deserve the 10 percent adjustment in the interest of fairness and equality, it said.

Choromanski also cited poor wages that permeate throughout the state’s psychiatric hospitals and the entire state workforce.

“While we are grateful that the governor and state corrections officials have finally recognized that action was needed to address this crisis, we are also keenly aware that further steps will be necessary to really solve the department’s operational problems,” Choromanski said.

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