Republican senators question prison pay -- and rattle some cages

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Bill Cadman.
It's no secret that private, for-profit prison operators such as Corrections Corporation of America pay their employees far less than what correctional officers earn in the public sector. But Republican state senators have managed to put thousands of state workers on their guard, as it were, by suggesting that the 33 percent disparity isn't about lowly, underpaid CCA turnkeys but rather overpaid Colorado Department of Corrections staffers -- whose hefty salaries could become a major target for fiscally minded lawmakers looking to slash the state budget.

A recent letter to the state's personnel director, signed by state senate minority leader Bill Cadman and the other fourteen Republican senators, complains that the official state salary survey is misleading in its claim that state employees are underpaid "compared to market averages." Cadman and company note that the survey made no comparison between typical DOC salaries and those of private prison employees in the state.

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Senator Kent Lambert is among those who signed the letter.
And the difference is significant: The average annual pay of a staffer (not just correctional officers) at a private lockup is $34,500, versus $51,357 for someone working in a state-operated prison. "Other major factors of total compensation, especially discrepancies in comparisons of retirement benefits, overtime (or shift differential) compensation, and employee perks such as using government vehicles to commute to and from the workplace, have also been found to have been largely ignored," the letter continues.

The letter doesn't actually propose cutting state corrections workers' salaries by any specific amount; it merely wants these factors taken into account in the next salary survey, which is used in shaping the state budget. But that didn't stop the state employee organization Colorado WINS from urging members to deluge the senators with letters denouncing a "proposed" salary cut of one-third of their pay, or more than $17,000 a year on average, to bring them in line with the private-sector pay.

Or, as one scathing paragraph of the "open letter" puts it:

"Are you kidding me? This isn't just wrong, it's dangerous and insulting to me and my fellow officers. You think protecting Coloradans from murderers, rapists, and violent criminals should be done by people making just over minimum wage? You think I should put our citizens' safety, my personal safety, and my family's safety, at risk for $12 an hour? You think corrections officers should be paid so little they qualify for public assistance, like many for-profit prison workers?"
The letter goes on to remind the lawmakers of the 2004 riot at CCA's Crowley prison, during which the skeleton crew of private guards deserted their posts, leaving the state to end the disturbance. A lawsuit filed by non-rioting inmates against CCA over the injuries they suffered was recently settled for $600,000.

Whether all of this sniping will lead to some constructive debate in the next legislative session about prison salaries remains up in the air. It's probably a safe bet, though, that the glaring discrepancy bemoaned by the senators won't prompt the private sector to give double-digit raises to their front-line employees.

More from our Prison Life archive: "Crowley inmates settle riot lawsuit for $600,000."


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11 comments
wholewoman2002
wholewoman2002

Totally a lesson in capitalism at its finest. No financial downturn was ever solved by a cut in pay and no human being ever wanted to do a good job while barely surviving. 

This doesn't even begin to touch on how this issue really effects the prisoners themselves, their quality of life, their daily struggle to be safe, none of it.

This reminds me of a campaign going around by some local Denver artists. A movie about the struggle of getting out of prison and getting better.

http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/city-dreams/x/2122595

JuanLeg
JuanLeg

Why aren't they going after the inmates pay ???!!!

The seven cents inmates make per hour is OUTRAGEOUS !!! Especially considering a 13inch color T.V., sells for ONLY $350 !!!

Alan, why do you insist on civil rights stories for imprisoned Americans ??? There's more than enough room for your accommodation on the 'HATE-BANDWAGON' !

Sarcasm aside, 

Alan, your work is most appreciated & admired in a publication that continues to spiral downwards in hopes of becoming the Denver Post's lil' sister !.......

Suni Daze
Suni Daze

We need to ABOLISH MANDATORY PAROLE as well !! It would save the state so much money !! Colorado is one of the ONLY state to still have it !! GET RID OF IT !!

Mane Rok
Mane Rok

...again, are we surprised? The proper capitalist business model is to lessen expenses. The privatized prison owners will use this as a way to convince folks how they can save tax dollars...

Josh Makelky
Josh Makelky

How difficult is it to raise a family on $34,500!?!? To do THAT job?!? Crazy. Republicans are FOR PROFITS. They could give a rip about who goes to jail or the people charged with their welfare. Just ship the prisoners off to China like you did with our jobs!!!

Juan_Leg
Juan_Leg

I do hope the guards voices are met w/ deaf ears as is the case w/ inmate needs or grievances !

Juan_Leg
Juan_Leg

@Suni Daze  

To add to your extremely powerful statement, due to the installment of 'Mandatory Parole', the average citizen does not understand Colorado's sentencing and it's application of parole .

I'll give it a shot ;

When a person is convicted and sentenced to prison, there are actually two parts to the sentencing . One being the sentence, & the 2nd,  the MANDATORY portion of the sentence .  Unlike in EVERY OTHER state in the nation, parole is NOT included in the initial sentence and MUST be served SEPARATELY !!! This ALONE, keeps the prisons over-flowing w/o sign of an intelligent solution for ALL involved !

The key, just as 'Daze' stated, is REPEALING MANDATORY PAROLE IN COLORADO !!!!!

JuanLeg
JuanLeg

@Suni Daze 

" We need to ABOLISH MANDATORY PAROLE as well !! "

COMMENT OF THE YEAR !!!

YOU COULD NOT HAVE PUT IT ANY MORE SIMPLE FOR THOSE WHO REMAIN IGNORANT TO THE REAL PROBLEM W/ THIS STATE'S JUDICIAL SYSTEM !!!

michael.roberts
michael.roberts moderator editortopcommenter

@Mane Rok Thoughtful post, Mane Rok. Thanks.

michael.roberts
michael.roberts moderator editortopcommenter

@Josh Makelky Strong words, Josh. Thanks for sharing them.

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