Juvenile Detention Center’s deficient salaries hurting retention, hiring of staff

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By Jessica Johnston, Assistant News Director

Over the last year, the Muskingum County Juvenile Detention Department has lost 23 of its 41 full-time and part-time employees to other employment opportunities. The common denominator amongst detention officers leaving is low salaries.

In an effort to cut down on an over 50 percent turnover rate of employment, the detention center is asking for an increase of funding to make the correction officers’ job competitive with other, similar positions elsewhere.

The starting salary for a juvenile corrections officer at the detention center is $10.87 per hour, which is between $2.59 and $3.38 below the next lowest starting pay in comparison to similar positions across the state, according to a survey of 10 similar institutions in Ohio.

Robert Smith, Court Director of the Muskingum County Juvenile Court, said an increase of $0.50 per hour for each correction officer would total about an additional $36,000 annually, which makes an increase of at least $2.59 or more per hour over $210,000 annually.

“Our detention staff’s salaries have been historically low, and it’s cost us in recent months to have trouble retaining and hiring new employees,” Smith said. “We’ve had a full-time staff of 41 people. We’ve had 23 people leave us within the last year.”

During a meeting with the Muskingum County Commissioners Monday afternoon, Martin recommended the commissioners take the request for funding into consideration with a little more urgency than previous requests.

“I hope you recognize, I know the difference between a want and a need,” Muskingum County Probate Court Judge Eric Martin said during the commissioner meeting. “I’ve asked for a lot of wants, but I believe we’re at the place where this is a need.”

The 48-bed facility has contracts with neighboring counties that helped to foot the bill when the detention center was originally built. If those neighboring counties need more beds than their allotted amount, a fee per day is billed to that county which helps with operational costs.

“They deserve to make more than what we’re doing,” Allen Bennett, Detention Superintendent, said during the commissioner meeting.

The ultimate goal for the detention center is to increase the pay for its correction and detention employees by at least $2.59 per hour. But not all of the funding is needed tomorrow or even next year. The plan is to gradually increase salaries over a span of time.

Muskingum County Commissioner Jim Porter requested that the group submit a revised budget request before the commissioners moved forward with any decisions about funding Monday.