Montana legislators back Corrections increase, but not prison officer raises

2013-01-25T19:00:00Z 2014-06-01T15:48:06Z Montana legislators back Corrections increase, but not prison officer raisesBy MIKE DENNISON Missoulian State Bureau missoulian.com

HELENA – A legislative panel Friday endorsed most of the state Corrections Department’s requested $30 million budget increase for the next two years, but did not approve any pay raise or increased staffing for correctional officers at the Montana State Prison.

Rep. Steve Gibson, R-East Helena, who chairs the joint House-Senate budget subcommittee reviewing the Corrections budget, said the panel may revisit the agency’s budget next month, before taking its final votes.

“We just need time to look at all of the other agencies (in public safety), all of the money, all of the needs,” he said after Friday’s votes. “That’s why we leave every section open until the end.”

He also said the six-lawmaker panel wants to see what happens with the overall state employee pay plan, before deciding whether to take specific action on pay raises for prison officers.

The Corrections Department is asking for a $30 million, 8.5 percent increase in its budget over the next two years. Included in that request are 30 new positions and a pay raise for the 340-plus correctional officers who staff the State Prison at Deer Lodge.

Prison Warden Leroy Kirkegard said this week that the starting wage of $12.57 an hour for correctional officers makes it hard to recruit and retain people for a difficult job, and that he currently has 37 vacancies.

Although the panel Friday didn’t approve any pay raise or extra personnel or programs at the prison, it did unanimously approve nearly 60 separate budget items for the agency for the next two years, totaling more than $25 million above its current two-year budget.

Those items included inflationary increases for most programs, higher payments for prerelease centers and contracted prison beds at regional prisons in Missoula, Great Falls and Glendive and the private prison in Shelby, and additional personnel at the state Women’s Prison in Billings.

Friday’s votes are the first in the lengthy budgeting process before the Legislature. The panel’s recommendations are forwarded in March to the full House Appropriations Committee, which decides whether to roll those recommendations into the main budget bill.

That bill then goes to the House floor and, eventually, to the state Senate for further review and action, before it’s sent to Gov. Steve Bullock for his signature.

Sen. Mitch Tropila of Great Falls, one of two Democrats on the six-member panel reviewing the Corrections Department budget, said Friday he was encouraged by the collaborative work by Democrats and Republicans on the Corrections budget.

“We put a lot of stuff into Corrections today,” he said. “Public safety is important; running prerelease centers and prisons costs money. Today was a good example of wise, prudent and judicious use of public money for public safety.”

Corrections Director Mike Batista said while his agency believes reasonable pay for correctional officers and other requested programs are “critical issues that need to be addressed in the budget,” he acknowledge that the panel supported many agency needs Friday.

“We’re looking forward to working with legislators as the process goes forward to ensure Montana’s corrections system is adequately funded for the next two years,” he said.

Missoulian State Bureau reporter Mike Dennison can be reached at 1-800-525-4920 or at mike.dennison@lee.net.

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(4) Comments

  1. crazylady71
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    crazylady71 - January 27, 2013 11:23 pm
    This is screwed up. I have friends and family that work for Montana D.O.C.. Why is it that other facilities other than Deer Lodge "ALL" start at a higher rate of pay but yet it comes out of M.S.P. Deer Lodge's budget...
  2. dman82
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    dman82 - January 26, 2013 6:21 pm
    Kudos to you montanamuralist, someone who knows what corrections is all about! Most correctional officers take pride in their job, but most people dont have a clue what the job is all about. Dealing with murderers, druggies, rapists, child molesters, mentally ill, putting your life on the line to protect the public, getting feces and urine thrown on you, spit on, all for a job where many still qualify for public assistance because of the poor wages our state pays! All that is asked is a wage comparable to other states in the area!
  3. Deadwolf
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    Deadwolf - January 26, 2013 4:25 pm
    Real cute. More money to expand the prison to lock more people up. They won't be happy until the entire state is behind bars. The system is out of control.
  4. montanamuralist
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    montanamuralist - January 25, 2013 9:42 pm
    Lets see...no major incidents in the prison in the last few years, dangerous job, average people..why would Republicans give them a raise? They don't have bills to pay, in fact they probably don't even have house payments. Work with dangerous thugs every day and put your life on the line to protect us from these killers etc...no need to give them a decent paycheck I don't know how anyone supports these jerks...the state employees, they just sit around and do nothing. Thank goodness the Republicans are there to keep these lowlifes in check and in their place. If one gets killed or injured we might p[ay the family a few bucks as a token but other than that........Republicans are just absolute hypocrites. Want people off the street and then don't want to pay people who gaurd them. Perfect thinking you brainless wonders. Good job people of Montana for putting complete idiots in charge of this state in the Legislature. Wonder what that says for a majority of the voters in this states brain cell function...not much.
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