‘$11 an hour isn’t worth it.’ Public outcry leads to pay increase for detention workers at one Mississippi prison
Published 7:10 am Tuesday, June 29, 2021
Detention Officers at one Mississippi prison will receive a pay increase effective Thursday, July 1.
The decision comes after recent public outcry after the Warren County Sheriff’s Office published a job opening that advertised uncertified jailer pay as $11 an hour, and certified jailer pay as $12 an hour.
In a Monday morning work session of the Warren County Board of Supervisors, Sheriff Martin Pace said he sympathized with critics and presented a solution. Detention officer pay falls under the purview of the supervisors, as the jail is a county facility.
“We do have a secure facility, but it’s because we are killing these (officers),” Pace said. “They work very long hours and are a very dedicated group of individuals. I have deputies who are working their days off to help fully staff the jail. I have the greatest appreciation for our staff. They deserve now — and have long deserved — to be fairly compensated for the work they are doing.“
The jail currently has 14 hourly positions, and Pace said he needs to hire nine more officers. Since last Wednesday, the sheriff’s office has received three applications.
Some employees are working seven days a week, he said, and the cost of overtime hours is “soaking up salary positions.” The only comparable county jail that pays similar wages, Pace said, is Claiborne County.
As a recruitment tool and retention tool, Pace said his office reviewed its current budget and discovered funds that could be reappropriated to increase detention officer pay.
“We looked at what we have in the current budget,” he said. “We had allocated in this budget a housing allotment for housing inmates out of the county. By working with the judges, working with the district attorney, by moving the process along a lot more rapidly than it had been — a lot because of COVID — We have not had that cost that we have anticipated.”
The current fiscal year ends in September, and a new budget would be implemented in October.
One of the ways Pace said the sheriff’s office has kept housing costs low is that the Warren County jail is only housing pre-trial felony detainees. Those arrested for misdemeanor crimes are not detained in the jail. Warren County Jail is also no longer certified to house state inmates, which further reduces housing costs.
Because the Warren County Sheriff’s Office has not used approximately $98,000 originally earmarked to house inmates outside of the county, Pace asked the supervisors to approve the reappropriation of funds to use that money for a pay raise for detention officers. He also asked them to commit to factoring the pay raise into the upcoming budget discussions in October.
“It’s absolutely necessary. One of the most important and critical functions of the sheriff’s office is the management of a jail facility. It is absolutely a necessity that we run it safely and efficiently,” Pace said. “I cannot attract and retain jail staff at that pay. They deserve more than that. These men and women are verbally and physically abused. …It’s rough when they can go to McDonald’s or Chick-Fil-A (and make more).”
The proposed pay raise, which the Board of Supervisors agreed to unanimously, would raise starting detention officer pay to $12.75 per hour for uncertified employees and $14.75 per hour for certified employees. According to state law, uncertified employees have one year to become certified.
The certification course takes three weeks to complete, and Warren County detention officers are able to complete the course in Rankin County through a partnership with its sheriff’s office.
Pace said he hopes the increased hourly pay rate will encourage more career-minded individuals to apply to work at the jail — especially considering the county’s future plans for a new, modernized detention center.
“One of the things we have to consider is, we’re talking about a more modern facility. That facility will have to be staffed,” Pace said. “The more veteran officers you have going into that facility, the more safe and efficient it will be. …We desperately need to have people on the payroll who want to stay here and have a career in mind. The core group now will come on and be our supervisors in our new facility.
“It’s challenging our abilities to run this facility securely and safely with what we have,” Pace said. “I appreciate the board listening to my concerns and approving this pay adjustment at a time when we desperately need it.”
The new pay scale will go into effect July 1 and will be reflected on employees’ July 15 paychecks. The pay raise applies to hourly, not salaried, employees at the Warren County Jail.
The Warren County Board of Supervisors will discuss the change again at its July 6 regular meeting