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Oklahoma Corrections Employees Will Receive Long-Awaited Pay Raise

An Oklahoma correctional officer recruit earns $15.74 per hour, on par with entry-level positions at convenience stores and chain retailers. 

That could change by mid-summer. 

The Oklahoma Department of Corrections announced earlier this month that all agency employees will receive a market-based pay raise of at least 4%. Though exact percentages are not yet finalized, correctional officers are expected to get a 30% raise. Probation and parole employees should receive a 20% pay bump. 

The raises will be allocated in the Department of Corrections Fiscal Year 2023 budget, which is expected to remain relatively flat. The agency has saved money by closing the aging William S. Key Correctional Facility in Fort Supply and vacating a private prison in Cushing.

Last June, I took a deep dive into prison understaffing in Oklahoma and possible solutions to the issue. At that point, the agency employed 1,462 correctional officers and had 314 fully funded vacancies.

Staffing numbers have only worsened since then. State budget documents show the agency employed 1,135 correctional officers in late February, a 22% decline over nine months.

Oklahoma’s prison staffing woes aren’t unique. Correctional officers nationwide quit in droves at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, with many citing poor working conditions and an elevated risk of contracting the coronavirus. Prison officials have struggled to fill these vacancies. 

Correctional worker unions in several states have successfully pushed for higher wages. Last fall Nebraska raised its starting pay for corrections officers from $20 to $28 per hour. A month ago Texas approved a 15% pay increase for all prison workers. 

A possible sign of hope for Oklahoma prison officials: In Nebraska, correctional officer applications increased by 300% and resignations dropped off significantly in the months following the $8-an-hour pay increase. 

Also being considered is House Bill 3671, which would give a 3% pay increase to all state employees making $80,000 or less. If enacted, the starting hourly wage for a correctional officer recruit would increase to approximately $21 an hour. The proposal has passed the House and is eligible to be heard in the Senate. 

I’ll be keeping an eye on this bill and several other measures as we head towards the home stretch of the legislative session. As always, reach out to me via Twitter or Email with your thoughts and questions. 

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