Audit: Crappy job, pay fuel DJJ officers’ alarming turnover rate
By JIM WALLS
Jan. 2, 2014 — Georgia’s juvenile correctional officers, frustrated by low morale, stingy pay and thin staffing, quit their jobs three times as often as other state employees, state auditors say.
Some 57 percent of DJJ’s entry-level officers resigned in fiscal year 2013, compared to 29 percent of their counterparts in state prisons and 18% of state employees overall. Training new officers, many of whom would also be expected to leave within the year, cost DJJ $9.7 million.
A self-perpetuating downward spiral might best describe personnel practices outlined in the just-released audit. DJJ officers’ turnover rate, though down from 2012, is still 50 percent higher than it was in FY2010. The constant departures weaken staffing levels, so the remaining officers will have to work extra hours for which they won’t be paid immediately, if at all.
The audit, released Monday, was performed at the request of the state Senate Appropriations Committee, which is looking at pay raises and other incentives. Auditors also looked at pay and turnover for state prison guards, probation and parole officer, but the problems appear most severe in the state’s juvenile justice system.
Retaining officers will become even more critical in 2014 for DJJ under reforms that will divert non-violent young offenders into community-based programs. Beds in juvenile-detention facilities will then be reserved for violent and repeat offenders.
Auditors cited several reasons for DJJ’s turnover. The most significant, though, appear to be low pay and the stress and hazards related t0 insufficient staffing.
Pay: Juvenile correction officers start at an annual salary of $24,322, among the lowest nationwide among their peers and $1,800 less, on average, than they’d make at a nearby city or county jail in Georgia. In some counties, though, starting pay is far less than at the local jail — $10,000 less in Chatham, $13,000 in Gwinnett. DJJ officers qualify for a 5 percent raise after a year, but the the only pay increase available after that would come if they win a highly competitive promotion to sergeant. (Most departing officers, by the way, tell DJJ that they believe promotions are granted due to favoritism rather than merit.)
Juvenile corrections officers, the audit found,
generally did not agree with statements about the agency treating employees fairly (19%) or giving promotions based on merit rather than favoritism (22%). JCO1s interviewed also indicated a lack of fairness with regard to promotions, breaks, and post assignments. In addition, JCO1s did not feel their views and opinions were respected or that the work/life balance was supported.
Twelve percent of DJJ officers told auditors that they believed they were paid fairly.
Staffing: If staffing is thin, DJJ officers can’t leave when their 12-hour shifts end, typically working another four hours. That leaves them less than eight hours until their next regular shift begins. For the extra hours, they get comp time that is only converted to cash when they quit, hit a 480-hour threshold or reach the end of the fiscal year. (Officers at Georgia’s adult prisons, by contrast, are paid immediately for overtime.)
JCO1s interviewed complained about the frequency of “holdovers,” or unplanned mandatory overtime to cover a vacancy in the next shift … JCOs frequently pointed to holdovers as an important contributor to employee dissatisfaction.
Most DJJ officers leave law enforcement altogether after quitting, landing administrative & support services jobs instead (most often as temporary employees or private security officers.
As long as funding is tight, simply raising salaries may not be enough to address the problem. A $1,000-a-year pay bump, for instance, would cost $10 million. To offset that expense, auditors said, DJJ would have to reduce its turnover rate to 45 percent.
The audit also discusses the use of retention bonuses, military incentive pay, and budgeting for overtime pay so officers are compensated quicker. DJJ, in its response to the audit, said it’s “developing near and long-term measures to improve elements of facility and community salaries; decrease turnover rates and workers’ compensation claims; and increase the percentage of employees who are satisfied with their employment.”
Here are the percentages of current correctional officers who agree with statements presented in a DJJ survey:
19% DJJ treats all employees fairly.
21% Management supports my need for work/life balance.
22% I am very satisfied with management.
22% I feel the views and opinions of employees are respected in the work environment at DJJ.
23% Promotions are earned, not given to favorite employees.
28% DJJ respects its employees.
29% All employees have an opportunity to earn recognition for their accomplishments.
35% Management plays an active role in my professional development and advancement.
37% I am always treated fairly by my management.
39% I receive useful and constructive feedback from management.
Read the full audit here. All the survey responses may be found in Appendix E.