Correctional officers and counselors in Tennessee will see a substantial pay increase under an amendment to the budget approved by the full Senate Tuesday. The budget was amended to include $5.5 million for a 7.5 percent compression pay increase for veteran employees currently working behind prison walls.
The amendment is in addition to $15.6 million presented by Governor Bill Lee in his original budget proposal to boost starting correctional-officers’ pay in Tennessee.
“While we fully supported the recommended needed increases in the starting salary, we believed we must do more for our veteran officers to reward the loyalty they have shown, and reflect the learned expertise critical to the success of our corrections system,” said Senator Ken Yager, a Kingston Republican on the Senate Finance Committee and State and Local Government Committee who pushed for approval of the amendment.
“I appreciate all the work done by our committees, particularly Chairman Steven Dickerson and Chairman Bo Watson, to ensure passage of these increases for our veteran officers and counselors,” Yager said.
Dickerson and Watson, both Republicans, represent Nashville and Hixson, respectively.
Tennessee’s correctional officers are currently among the worst-paid prison workers in the country.
The starting Correctional Officer I annual salary will be set at $32,500. On completion of the probationary period, the officer would be elevated to a Correctional Officer II position at an approximate pay of $34,000. The amendment would also increase the pay of Correctional Counselors I and II to approximately $34,000 and $37,000, respectively. This will bring starting pay more in line with other law-enforcement officers in the state, enabling Tennessee to recruit new employees to fill correctional vacancies. Tennessee currently has 300 unfilled prison beds due to staff vacancies, backing up local jails with prisoners awaiting transfer to state prisons.
“This budget, as amended, will benefit many correctional employees and will alleviate some of the problems we have experienced in filling and keeping correctional officers and counselors in a challenging job,” Yager said. “I am very pleased that it has passed, and looking forward to seeing it signed into law.”