MANCHESTER, NH – The NH Department of Corrections hopes partnering with a Manchester PR firm will help solve the chronic problem of insufficient staffing and retention of prison employees.
On Nov. 8 the Governor’s Executive Council approved by a vote of 4-1 a $324,000 contract with m5 Marketing Communications, Inc. of Manchester to develop an advertising strategy.
The dissenting vote was cast by District 2 Councilor Andru Volinsky, who noted that the solution goes beyond upping the prison systems public profile.
“I voted against the contract because I do not think a re-branding effort will overcome the insufficient wages paid to corrections employees or the refusal of the state to negotiate a fair contract with any of the three unions representing corrections employees,” wrote Volinsky, in a written rundown on last week’s meeting.
“The starting pay for correctional officers employed at the Men’s Prison in Concord is more than $1/per hour less than the starting pay for officers who work at the Merrimack County House of Corrections in Boscawen. Officers who work at the state prison in Berlin are paid $5/ per hour less in starting pay than the officers who work at the Federal Correctional Institution, two miles down the road in Berlin. The deficit in pay between prison correctional officers and police officers may be as much as $10,000/ per year,” Volinsky wrote.
Department of Corrections spokesman Joan Jepson on Tuesday said she was processing ManchesterInkLink’s request for the current number of unfilled positions within the state’s prison system, and would confer with new DOC Commissioner Heather Hanks.
In response to Volinsky’s assertion around the cause and effect of pay inequities in similar NH law enforcement jobs available, Jepson said, “I would note that comparisons between Federal, State and County correctional systems are difficult due to their differences in qualifications, benefits packages and pay scales.”
According to a June 29 press release issued by Teamsters Local 633, the shortage of correctional officers has created a statewide “major safety crisis” within the prison system. Their release includes some recent data provided by union officer Jeff Padellaro, which shows staffing is about 50 percent lower than what was recommended as optimal in a 2012 audit.
And to Volinsky’s point, Padellaro acknowledges that pay range differences are part of the challenge to recruitment and retention within the Department of Corrections:
“The Concord Prison for Men currently has 187 uniformed staff. The required level of staffing according to the National Institute of Corrections, that was cited in the Performance Audit of 2012, “requires 371 staff to operate at a normal activity level and a minimum of 277 staff to maintain critical operations.” All the facilities are short-staffed but the Concord Prison illustrates the critical nature of the current staffing level that must be addressed immediately by this administration. The state’s attempt to address this shortage through outreach and recruitment has failed. Two years of numerous work fairs and advertising for new hires have resulted in a net loss of six corrections officers over the past two years, after factoring in retirements and attrition. The numbers continue to go in the wrong direction.
Between 2015 and 2016, corrections officers working at the Concord Prison, collectively worked more than 10,000 hours of overtime each month. In 2017, workers have been logging more than 12,000 hours of overtime each month. Excessive amounts of forced overtime are causing serious strain on the correctional officers; exhaustion, depression, divorce, alcoholism and other issues are common.
One of the key challenges to recruitment of corrections officers is the historically low unemployment rate in New Hampshire and poor compensation for workers. State correctional officer salaries start at around $34,000 a year, which is $10,000 less than salaries at local police departments. It’s also significantly less than the starting salaries of corrections officers at New Hampshire’s federal prison ($46,000) or in state prisons across the border in Massachusetts ($56,000 a year).
The math is simple and the state’s math doesn’t add up – making recruitment very difficult. Relaxing physical standards for new corrections officers is not the answer. More competitive compensation is. We hope to work with the state to come to an agreement to create a sustainable solution to address this crisis.”
According to Teamsters Local 633 website, the union represents a broad segment of NH’s workforce, including: Anheuser-Busch brewery workers, UPS, warehouse, freight drivers, police departments, correctional officers, court security officers, public works employees, several municipalities, airport maintenance, school principals, concrete drivers, pipeline workers, bus drivers, sheriffs’ deputies and dispatchers, race track employees, power plant and beer distribution workers.
The DOC contract with m5 Communications was submitted Oct. 24 by the outgoing Department of Corrections Commissioner William Wrenn. Money for the $324,000 contract will be taken from the general fund, and the contract as written would be renewable for up to two years.
The request for proposals for advertising services was created “due to low unemployment and the need to hire additional staff for the new women’s facility, and would allow the PR firm to “develop a strategic plan to maximize recruitment efforts” using an “optimal mix of media” to “inform and engage target audiences in career options” with the DOC. Commissioner Hanks was among the five-member evaluation committee that reviewed the proposals submitted for the contract, eventually awarded to m5 Communications.
The DOC proposal document is embedded below: