Pay increase proposed for correctional officers

David G. Lawson

DOVER — A Republican state senator on Wednesday called for raising salaries for correctional officers and hiring more guards in the wake of the inmate uprising earlier this month that left one officer dead at the James T. Vaughn Correctional Center.

“It’s time to do right by these corrections officers,” Sen. Dave Lawson, a Marydel Republican, said in a statement. “We can use existing funds to pay these officers a more competitive salary, and in the process increase the quality and depth of the pool of new recruits.”

Sen. Lawson’s plan would raise beginning salaries to $37,000 and give all current officers a $4,000 pay hike. The plan also calls for the agency hiring 180 new employees. The estimated cost totals $15 million.

The remaining funds budgeted for overtime could still be used to cover necessary overtime, Sen. Lawson said.

Because correctional officers’ salaries are collectively bargained the increases would likely come when the current contract ends if the state opts to pursue the proposal.

Starting salary for correctional officers in Delaware is $32,059, with a maximum salary of $43,147. Officers also get hazard pay of $3,120.

In comparison, the average wage for correctional officers nationwide is $45,320, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Pennsylvania and New Jersey pay higher salaries, something previously noted by Geogg Klopp, president of the Correctional Officers Association of Delaware.

Mr. Klopp says officers are overworked and underpaid with low salaries making it difficult to attract and retain talent.

“Everything leads back to staffing,” he said last week.

According to the Department of Correction, the agency has about 1,800 correctional officer positions, with 90 vacancies.

Eight officers have resigned since Feb. 1, while 10 have retired.

“It’s important to remember the DOC sees an average attrition rate of 11 officers per month,” spokeswoman Jayme Gravell said in an email. “These retirements cannot be directly attributed to the hostage event in Smyrna.”

Mr. Klopp has alleged — and the Department of Correction has denied — the staffing shortage played a role in the events that transpired Feb. 1, when inmates in Vaughn’s C Building took four correctional employees hostage and barricaded themselves in.

Around 5:30 the next morning, after a 19-hour standoff, law enforcement and correctional officers broke into the building. Steven Floyd, 47, who had worked as a correctional officer for 16 years, was found dead. His death has been ruled a homicide.

Mr. Klopp said Wednesday the union is grateful for Sen. Lawson’s “willingness to take the first step in starting this conversation.”

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