Pay for Jackson County jail officers gets big increase in proposed budget

Wages would rise to $14.55 an hour for officers after a year

By Mike Hendricks
The Kansas City Star

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Now the lowest-paid jail officers in the Kansas City area, Jackson County corrections officers would receive a big pay boost if Jackson County Executive Mike Sanders’ 2016 budget recommendations are approved by the County Legislature.

Civilian Jackson County corrections officers still would make less than the sheriff’s deputies who watch over prisoners in those five other counties, but under the proposal Sanders submitted Monday, the 200-plus officers at the downtown jail would earn more than their civilian counterparts in the six-county area.

Starting pay would rise from the current $11.45 an hour to $12.60, then rise to $14.55 after one year on the job.

Wage increases were among several proposals that Sanders outlined in response to a citizens task force report issued last week that identified low pay for guards among many shortcomings at the Jackson County Detention Center.

Besides increased pay, Sanders also proposed more training for officers, expanding medical care for prisoners and hiring an ombudsman to better mediate prisoners’ complaints. He also proposed spending more than what was previously estimated to upgrade the detention center, keeping the facility “viable” for a decade while officials decide whether to replace it.

The task force report expressed concerns in all those areas.

Sanders’ proposals would add $2.7 million to the Corrections Department budget, which would increase nearly 10 percent, while the county’s overall proposed budget of $304.6 million is 4 percent larger than that of 2015.

County legislators didn’t weigh in on the suggestions Monday but can do so during three days of budget hearings Nov. 30 to Dec. 2. No tax increase is on the table.

“With the improving economy we need to make sure we are able to attract high-quality employees at the detention center,” Sanders said in a statement. “Creating a viable career path, with higher pay and more opportunities for advancement, will allow us to do that.”

Sanders formed the task force in late August on the day he revealed that the FBI was investigating the alleged use of excessive force by jail officers ​against prisoners at the detention center.

The task force’s job was not to look into those cases but investigate how the jail operates as the FBI continued its inquiry.

The five-member task force concluded early on that county corrections officers are underpaid and forced to work excessive overtimebecause of high turnover, a cycle that feeds on itself.

Joe Piccinini, the acting director of the Corrections Department, said the budget proposals all are aimed at achieving the task force’s top recommendation: getting accreditation from the American Correctional Association.

County officials let accreditation lapse nearly 20 years ago. Task force members said that lack of oversight allowed standards to slip.

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