LINCOLN — State corrections officials took more steps Monday to improve recruitment and retention of prison staff.
The moves include a continuation and expansion of bonuses for newly hired employees at certain prisons, and incentives for referring and supervising new staff.
State Corrections Director Scott Frakes said “a broad range of approaches” is needed to address high staff turnover and a record-high need for staff to work overtime to fill empty posts.
“These programs are aimed not only at attracting new talent, but also showing appreciation for those individuals who have moved up the ranks to take on supervisory responsibilities,” Frakes said in a press release.
State Sen. Steve Lathrop of Omaha, who has led legislative probes into the problems in state prisons, said the announcement was a “good step.”
“It’s hard to tell if all of this is enough until we see the results, but it’s definitely doing more than we’ve done in the past,” Lathrop said.
Bonuses totaling $3,000 will be paid out to the first 100 new employees who stay at least a year at four prisons identified as having the biggest staffing problems: Tecumseh, the State Penitentiary, the Lincoln Correctional Center and the Diagnostic and Evaluation Center in Lincoln. New security staff are eligible for the bonuses, as well as caseworkers, counselors, nurses and other medical providers.
Current prison employees will get bonuses ranging from $50 to $400 if they recruit a new staffer, and supervisors can qualify for bonuses of up to $400 if a worker they supervise remains with the department at least a year.
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In addition, prison workers not represented by the Fraternal Order of Police, such as support staff, counselors, nurses and maintenance workers, will be eligible for longevity and merit pay increases granted to union members in their new contract.
The salary hikes for tenure, which are effective July 1, are 2.5% for one year of service, and an additional 2.5% after three, five, seven and 10 years on the job.
The prison system has been offering hiring bonuses since at least August 2016. That’s intended to combat security staff turnover that has risen above 30%, and to reduce the need to require staff to work overtime — sometimes two or three 16-hour shifts a week — to fill vacant posts. The incentives were expanded in 2017.
In addition, the agency began transporting officers from Omaha to Tecumseh in recent months to fill vacant posts at the rural prison.
Corrections paid a record $13.3 million in overtime expenses during the last fiscal year. In January, state officials announced that security staff turnover had declined for the first time in several years, but turnover was still high at 31%. Turnover of 15% is considered normal, prison officials have said.