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Will Pay Raises Keep State Prison Guards Out of Oklahoma’s Oil Fields?

Filed by KOSU News in State Impact.
September 11, 2012

Son of Groucho / Flickr

Oklahoma’s oil and gas boom has been hard on non-energy businesses, which are having a tough time competing for employees.

“Help Wanted” signs are going unanswered in western Oklahoma, where gas station clerks, cashiers and even Dairy Queen workers are leaving their posts for more lucrative opportunities in the oil patch.

It’s been especially tough on state prisons, which are severely understaffed. The crux of the problem: Oklahoma’s oil patch and its prisons often hire the same type of employee — and energy companies pay a lot better.

Could pay raises help solve the problem? The Department of Corrections hopes so.

The Tulsa World’s Barbara Hoberock outlines the issue:

To be a correctional officer, a person must be 20 years old, have a high school diploma or GED, be drug-free and have no criminal history, DOC director Justin Jones tells the paper.

“That is the same group that many other companies are recruiting from, especially in the field of energy,” Jones said.

State prison guards earn about $11.83 per hour, but entry-level oil-field jobs often pay around $20 per hour. Jones hopes that raising entry-level prison guard pay to $14 per hour will stop the bleeding and help fill more than 900 empty positions.

The total cost would be about $12.2 million, The World reports, and Jones is also seeking a 5 percent “across-the-board” pay increase for classified DOC employees.

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