ATLANTA -- Nearly half of the corrections officers in the state’s juvenile facilities have left for better jobs each year since 2010, according to a state audit that blames low pay, long hours and agency management.
With a $200 million budget, the Department of Juvenile Justice operates a network of 27 lock-up facilities, such as the two in Augusta that together hold 138 juveniles or the one in Savannah with 99 children and teens. A 2012 beating death at the Augusta Youth Development Center brought to light the systemic problems within the agency.
The high turnover rate costs taxpayers in extra hiring and training expenses, results in less experienced officers and makes it a challenge to have enough supervision for the number of juveniles in the system, according to the report from the Department of Audits & Accounts. Other states and other correctional systems in Georgia have lower turnover.
The review calculated the overall turnover rate to be 49 percent, but it was 57 percent for entry-level officers.
Pay is one issue. They start at $24,322 and receive a 5 percent raise after their first year, but future raises depend on promotions. The state budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1 will move up that 5 percent raise by six months and add an 8 percent raise on top of it one year later to $27,472.
Pay isn’t the only issue.
The high turnover rate makes matters worse because the vacancies mean one in five shifts had to be extended from 12 hours to 13 hours during a single month in 2013, and seven facilities extended shifts 30 percent of the time, the auditors discovered. Complicating the issue is the agency tells workers to take comp time instead of paying overtime, but the volume of vacancies only allowed officers to take about one-third of what they earned in time off, forcing Juvenile Justice to cough up $1.3 million in late overtime pay anyway.
The turnover also means there are fewer veterans to promote. As a result, managers with little training do a poor job, and one in five ends up being fired or demoted.
“The supervisors and senior leadership in DJJ facilities can have a significant impact on local turnover. In surveys and interviews, officers often expressed dissatisfaction with their managers,” the auditors wrote.
The need to fill vacancies is so great that DJJ officials admitted to the auditors that they sometimes hired minimally qualified applicants.
Auditors recommended better hiring practices, overtime pay and a program for training those with enough talent for eventual promotion.
DJJ Commissioner Avery Niles didn’t dispute the auditors’ findings and is considering its recommendations, according to agency spokesman Jim Shuler.
“Commissioner Niles says he and his executive staff have constantly reviewed recruitment-and-retention issues over the last year, set strategic goals to reduce staff turnover with changes in employee scheduling and increases in compensation, and improved hiring practices with the addition of more recruiting staff and plans for a statewide recruiting ad campaign,” Shuler said.
The full audit is available online at http://www.audits.ga.gov/rsaAudits/download/17114.