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FOX 11 Investigates: state correctional officer pay lags behind counties, other states

GREEN BAY - The state of Wisconsin is having trouble filling vacancies among the ranks of those standing guard at our prisons. The trained correctional officers and higher ranking sergeants on staff at the state's 21 adult prisons are being forced to work back-to-back shifts to make up for the shortages.

Paul Oosterhouse is a sergeant at the Taycheedah Correctional Facility in Fond du Lac.

"This last week I worked three double shifts," explained Oosterhouse.

Oosterhouse admits it's a tough grind week after week.

"I'd like to see more people hired to help take up some of that slack," added Oosterhouse.

Department of Corrections officials refused to talk on camera for this report, but did issue a statement to FOX 11 Investigates saying in part: "We continue to carefully monitor vacancies, recruitment efforts, overtime and the impact not only to costs but most importantly DOC staff."

Records obtained from the state show permanent correctional officer and sergeant position vacancies rose to 403 this past spring. That's up from 88 four years ago.

All of the officers FOX 11 Investigates spoke with acknowledged pay is a major reason for the rising job vacancies.

Sergeant Rick Herrmann currently works at Oshkosh Correctional.

"The current changes going on now is after you've been hired, when you get to the second year mark, you're basically maxed out in pay," said Herrmann.

Here are the facts. Wisconsin correctional officers start out at $15.34 an hour. In comparison, in Iowa the wage is $18.02 and in Illinois the trainee salary is $20.57 an hour.

Many Wisconsin county jails even pay more to officers manning keep watch over those behind bars. The starting salary at the Brown County jail is $19.11 In Outagamie County the position pay starts at $21.18 an hour.

Back in 2011 the state's correctional officer and sergeant union was stripped of its power by the legislature like many public-sector unions in the state. Act 10 legislation also requires correctional officers now to contribute more out of their paychecks for the benefits they receive.

"Since Act 10 we've lost quite a bit. I mean we have a contract. When the union was there we were protected, now there's no protection," said Kenny Tilleman, a sergeant at Taycheedah.

Tilleman says those signing up to be a correctional officer no longer look at it as a career, making it harder to keep people in the job.

"Now it's just a stepping stone for some people, it's just filling a gap for right now," said Tilleman.

Gov. Walker on Monday signed a bill giving state troopers a 6 percent raise. State Patrol officials say they took have had a tough time keeping new recruits on the job, and believe the added pay will help.

Herrmann says without more competitive wages for new correctional officer recruits, and without public awareness to initiate a change, the problems facing overworked correctional officers and the prison staffing issues will only get worse.

"You walk in the door you're making the lowest salary you can make as a correctional officer and you're dealing with one of the most dangerous environments there is right now because of the short-staffed," said Herrmann.

There was no money set aside in the recently approved state budget for pay raises for correctional officers and sergeants. The DOC did receive authorization to to develop a new plan to offer added monetary compensation for in-demand workers--but no additional money has been allocated.



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