COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - The Department of Corrections (SCDC) is doubling its recruiting efforts. Understaffed, prisons push to hire hundreds of people to fill vacant, vital roles. The openings range from food and health service providers to corrections officers.
But Director Bryan Stirling says the state agency may not be funded enough to pay to fill more than half of some 800 openings for corrections officers alone.
At a job fair on Friday, 102 people signed their names as interested in working for SCDC. The drive to fill some 800 vacant corrections officers positions continues.
Recruiter Regina Mays was hard at work. She's been with the agency for nearly 20 years.
"You have to have heart, you have to have empathy, you have to be a strong individual to come here and work, you know," Mays says. "I mean, I started as an officer, I moved up you know I got promoted, moved to different areas of the institution," she explains.
Mays treats each of the vacant positions at SCDC as equally vital to running the department, though Stirling says correctional officers are a focus.
Challenges in hiring include low pay, and competing with surrounding law enforcement pay. This year, employees received a $1,500 raise when the General
Assembly gr anted more funds to the agency. SCDC operated on about $482 million in state funds this year. That puts starting corrections officers salaries at $30,000-32,000, instead of the $26,000 they were paid two years ago.
There's also overtime and bonuses available now, too.
Stirling is hoping this will help attract more hires this year. Last year, Stirling reports there were about 1,100 people hired, but that same number also left the agency.
"So, it's a one to one, and we're seeing this, this is not just a South Carolina issue," he says.
He says that of the people who left, some were employees retiring.
There are sometimes incidents that can factor into a turnover, as well. Recently, a staffer was fired after inmate Jimmy Causey escaped from Lieber Correctional Institution. Just this week, Corrections Officer James O'Neal was arrested and charged with introducing contraband at Lee Correctional Institution.
"I don't think you can put a price on integrity," Stirling says.
"That would be an individual that…really just didn't care about their job, you know. Doing something like that, that's a no-no, you know. Because not only that, you're putting your coworkers and stuff at risk. So, my thing is, come in here and do your job," Mays says.
Stirling says they have steadily lost on average 159 people each year 2011-2016, but this year so far are one employee down.
He plans to request more state funding from the General Assembly this year.