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Audit: Crappy job, pay fuel DJJ officers’ alarming turnover rate



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.





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4 Responses to “Audit: Crappy job, pay fuel DJJ officers’ alarming turnover rate”

  1. RhineStone Cowboy says:

    Ahem – good new year to you Mr. Walls – thank you for what you do and how you offer public opinion from the Nobodies to be written, read, and heard.
    Currently I have caught wind of a Federal Lawsuit against the State of Georgia regarding RICO etc… But it isn’t moving – as expected. I just wonder how many other suits are pending with these very same issues – too bad all of the citizens who reside in this crazy state can’t get together to come together regarding the fact that human, social, and judicial rights are being violated -there is no where to turn to – you can’t even hire a private attorney and get justice. As I understand it – the current Administration has used this current suit to move people around and to ignore the plea for justice from these folks and they are all sitting back smoking their stogies and drinking it up and laughing at the poor souls. In Georgia you can’t represent yourself – they won’t let you. In Georgia you can’t hire the only attorneys that you can afford and get justice because they take your money and say: “your honor, this client is not cooperating and making it difficult to represent them – I need to be off the case… And because they are all FRIENDS it’s done and you lose out on the several thousand that you did not have room to give in the first place. Don’t know what it’s going to take to get the exposure that’s needed to reveal these things and the conventional “investigative journalists” DO NOTHING – ALL THEY REPORT IS MURDERS, WEATHER, SPORTS, AND about A DOG or CAT that sounds like it speaks… I mean they report the most absurd things and call it “breaking news…”

  2. JCO says:

    I would like to confirm that everything in this article is still true in late 2015. Having a four year college degree did not earn me a pay bump or any promotional opportunities, as it would in almost every other government job. And, based on what I get for overtime (when I FINALLY gets overtime pay, months after earning it), which is roughly $15 an hour, they have to be claiming that I’m earning about $10 an hour for 50 hours a week to come up with that low of a figure. Is it worth $10 an hour to have non-stop riots, gang wars, and dealing with kids writing on the walls with their own feces?

    I was told that I was outstanding as a Cadet, and I did exceptionally well at POST training. All of the higher ups and office staff I had interacted with told me to apply for the open Sargent spots, because I was sure to get it with how amazing I was doing with everything. Well, about 2 weeks after finishing POST, without even bothering to interview me or look over my credentials, I was told that I don’t have enough experience to be promoted. It was literally used as a carrot on a string to keep me from quitting my job before completing my training, because there’s no way I believe that all of the people telling me to apply didn’t know this would happen.

    In the eight months I’ve been a JCO, there has only been one day where I was not held over, making my work days 14-16 hours long, and up to 80 hours a week, with up to 10 hours a week of driving and 5 hours a week of processing in/out of security for the facility. That’s all if you end up working a normal 5 day week. Most of the time, if you have a day off, they will start calling and harassing you to come in for that too. You would think that would generate some excellent overtime, but you only get it once every three months, and they find a way to not pay you most of it (b/s about being salary makes it an impossible battle to fight). So many problems would be solved if they just hired more guards and did 8 hour shifts 5 days a week instead of scheduling COs for12 hours for 5 days one week and 12 hours for 2 days the next – because, days off are worthless if you’re going to call me in anyways!

    I have had exactly two lunches since graduating from POST, despite the fact that I brought my lunch every day. You are ignored for breaks, and you are not allowed to eat and work, so you starve the entire time you’re in the prison. I think that also has something to do with the fact that guards aren’t allowed to use the bathroom either. Because, you know, if they let you eat, they’d have to let you use the toilet later too, which is a problem when they don’t properly staff their facilities and one officer ends up in charge of an entire block of kids. I’m pretty sure most of this violates federal labor laws, and guards should have at least some standards and rights, considering how many we have to cater to for the youth we manage – but the Georgia DJJ is somehow skating around any accountability for their behavior.

    The insurance is garbage as well. They claim that they recently fixed it, but, purchasing the best insurance plan they offer, which takes about 1/4 of my paycheck, I still have to spend $13,000 out of pocket before the insurance takes over the bill. Now, I make about $24k, so, on top of spending 25% of my checks just to buy the crappy insurance, I then have to use nearly 50% of my yearly income before it’s actually useful.

    Now, you do earn a decent amount of vacation/sick days, but good luck using them! You can’t just call the office and call off, you have to get the Captain to bless you with their permission. It seems to be a trend that you may call of once, and then the Captain will never answer the phone for your number again. If you do successfully call off, you will be bombarded with phone calls non-stop demanding to know how sick you really are and why you can’t come in. And god help you if there was a riot, because the Georgia DJJ won’t let you submit a form online, you have to drive two hours to work on your day off (always on your day off) to give a 10 minute statement on the event, because they say they need this to legally pursue action on the youth. Even though the COs have to jump through those hoops, the action against the youth is rarely taken.

    Another real issue is the lack of protocol that the chain of command are willing to follow. If you call for backup “too much,” or other JCOs are “too busy,” no matter how needed the assistance is, you essentially get blacklisted by your Sargent and/or Lieutenant and they will start refusing to come help you while you’re alone with 10 kids trying to jump you at the same time (btw, they will do this just because you’re white, so consider the very real racial factor before applying for this position). I can only do so much on my own, and I cannot control how much the youth act up on my watch. Even the warden is aware that this refusal to assist is happening, and simple devices like handcuffs are being withheld from MANY employees, yet they turn a blind eye so that a lowly CO has no place to turn to when safety issues like this need to be reported. Now, maybe it’s just me, but perhaps these kids shouldn’t be getting Xbox systems and expensive party days if the facility they’re housed in can’t even provide the JCOs with the most basic essentials to perform their job. And guards should be treated AT LEAST as humanely as we’re expected to treat the youth! I don’t know how OSHA hasn’t sued the state into oblivion over all of this yet.

  3. ME says:

    Just FYI as a former CO at an adult GA state prison CO’s are not immediately paid for OT/ bonus hours etc. we also received comp. time that we did not get paid for until we hit a certain number of house it was never time and a half and being able to use comp time was a joke you were lucky to be approved for any time off other than your scheduled days and even then 9 times out of 10 they would call you in to work on your off days.

  4. UnrecognizedJco says:

    As I read this in 2017, it’s sad that this is still happening and is considered an issue. If we’re not going to focus on the root of the problem, why even attempt to do anything. As a current employee, something needs to change. Higher salaries and more training for management!!