Lyon County leaders, others push for mandatory pay raises for corrections, police staff

In a public service video, Lyon County Judge Executive Wade White says he wants you to stand up for those who stand guard for us. The video shows how hard state police and corrections employees work for what White says is very little pay.

"Not only is it important to Lyon County, it’s important state wide," White said about the video.

Lyon County is home to the state’s only supermax prison.  It’s also the oldest prison in the state and houses the Commonwealth’s worst convicted criminals. "When you’re guarding people who want to hurt you and are not where they want to be, prison, it’s a dangerous place," White said. 

He believes the employees are dangerously underpaid. Last year, the starting salary of corrections officers was just more than $23,000. "That’s unsustainable, and the reason people give when they leave is they say ‘We can’t afford to work here anymore,’" he said. 

That’s why White wants lawmakers to approve and permanently fund new salary requirements. Tom Simpson said low pay has plagued the Department of Corrections for more than a decade. "I think we can’t push it down the road. It has to be now," Simpson said about funding permanent raises. 

Simpson is a former prison warden and spent 30 years in law enforcement, including time at the state pen in Eddyville.  "During my career, I’ve seen multiple staff assaults. I’ve seen escapes. I’ve seen mass escapes.  I’ve had employees sexually assaulted. I’ve seen two employees murdered," Simpson recalled. 

Simpson believes the pay and stress often leads employees to quit within a year. The state even reports turnover rates are as high as 67 percent.  During the last year, there were 145 new hires at the state penitentiary in Eddyville. But, during that same time period, 164 employees left, creating what he calls an employment crisis.

"Many times an employee who has a family, one, can’t afford health insurance for that family and two, is on state assistance for the salary he is making," Simpson said. 

In 2002, lawmakers approved a retention program — a career ladder for corrections staff — with built-in raises, but lawmakers never funded it, leaving those raises in limbo. Simpson said many of the employees often work mandatory overtime, even six or seven days a week on a 16 hour shift.  "That can only go on for so long. However, the institution’s going to continue to be here and the operations have to continue to go on," he said. 

Simpson is urging lawmakers to make the investment because he said those who work for the state already have.

For more information about the video and funding proposals, click here

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