Amid a nationwide shortage, Iowa looks to Missouri for prison workers

Starting pay for COs in Iowa is an estimated $6,000 more than what Missouri pays

By Kurt Erickson
St. Louis Post-Dispatch
JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Amid staffing shortages in prisons across the nation, Iowa has expanded its employee recruiting efforts to target residents of Missouri.

Help wanted ads for prison jobs at a facility 30 miles east of Des Moines began appearing in recent days in the Jefferson City News-Tribune seeking correctional officers for the Iowa Department of Corrections, where a lack of officers was linked to a deadly outbreak of violence earlier this year.

Missouri is facing similar staffing woes, but it hasn't launched plans to advertise for guards in out-of-state publications.

Missouri CO Shelby Lightner speaks about her transition from the military into a job with the DOC in a promotional video. Despite some improvement, staffing problems within the state's prisons remain
Missouri CO Shelby Lightner speaks about her transition from the military into a job with the DOC in a promotional video. Despite some improvement, staffing problems within the state's prisons remain "serious." (MODOC)

Officials, however, are not ruling it out.

"Our recruitment efforts have been focused on Missouri residents so far, but we're open to all options," said Missouri DOC spokeswoman Karen Pojmann.

The Iowa jobs include a starting wage of $42,000 for a position that has a starting salary of $36,000 in Missouri.

Missouri Gov. Mike Parson's administration, along with the Republican-controlled Legislature, has been attempting to address staffing woes through increased pay and department-specific perks, such as paid academy training, education discounts and wellness program.

The starting pay rate has increased by 24% over the past four years. In addition, a new officer who works one additional shift per week now can make $46,800 per year, Pojmann said.

Staff members also receive an automatic 1% pay increase for every two years of service up to 20 years.

The department said the added investment is beginning to pay dividends.

"This summer, we have seen a gradual improvement in our staffing levels; we are gaining new staff faster than we are losing staff to retirement, relocation or resignation," Pojmann said.

The department, which operates 20 prisons across Missouri, also has seen an increase in new applications since the pay increase went into effect.

During the week of Aug. 15, Pojmann said there was a 20% boost in weekly applications for correctional officer positions compared to the week of June 15.

And, at the agency's central region training center, the department had to split a new training class into two sections because the incoming class was "unusually large."

Nonetheless, Pojmann said the staffing problems remain "serious."

At the women's prison in Vandalia, located in northeast Missouri, the department has closed down a portion of the facility to accommodate a decrease in the number of inmates and a chronic inability to fill jobs.

The state also closed a prison in Cameron and is converting it to a training facility.

While Iowa has taken to searching for workers in other states, Missouri is sticking to in-state recruiting at career fairs and hiring events, Pojmann said.

In addition, the department also is offering a $1,000 recruitment incentive for current staff who successfully recruit new corrections officers or food service workers.

Iowa and Missouri aren't alone in their search for workers.

Nebraska state officials are offering incentive packages worth up to $15,000 to try to get people to work in the state's prisons, veterans homes and other facilities that require around-the-clock staffing.

Specifically, Iowa is advertising in Missouri for open positions at the Newton Correctional Facility. The medium-security lock-up, one of nine in Iowa, is home to more than 1,000 offenders guarded by 265 employees.

Iowa DOC research director Sarah Fineran said the department is actively recruiting individuals for a variety of positions within the 7,790-inmate system.

"The DOC has launched several recruitment efforts on a variety of platforms to target interested applicants from across the nation. The IDOC has advertised position openings on local radio stations, social media, various hiring sites, career fairs, newspapers, etc. Recruitment efforts are wide in nature to ensure that the IDOC hires the right people for the right roles," Fineran said.


McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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