Correctional officers are exhausted from being overworked. They need better benefits.

Correctional officers have one of the most challenging jobs in America. Every single day, they put themselves in harm's way while trying to manage a prison population, often putting in hours of overtime due to staffing shortages.

Over the past two years, our state has seen an increase in inmate attacks, total exhaustion from being overworked and staff shortages at all of our facilities in the state.

We represent correctional officers across the state via the Kansas Organization of State Employees and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters. KOSE represents all correctional officers in the state executive branch except for juvenile corrections, and the Teamsters represent correctional officers at the Kansas Juvenile Corrections Complex and local correctional officers in Shawnee.

We’ve visited every facility we represent in the last year, and we hear the same story: Correctional officers are tired, exhausted and rundown. Two pay raises in 2019 and 2021 were welcome and much needed, but more must be done.

In her 2022 budget, Gov. Laura Kelly is advocating for another positive step in the right direction, which KOSE and the Teamsters support wholeheartedly: Moving correctional officers to the Kansas Police & Firemen’s Retirement System from the Kansas Public Employees Retirement System. This move would impact current and future correctional officers in the state.

All correctional officers, except those at KJCC, hired after July 2009 participate in Correctional KPERS Tier 2, a subgroup of KPERS Tier 2. Correctional officers contribute 6% of their paycheck, vest after five years of service and receive benefits based on this formula: final average salary, multiplier and years of service. The multiplier for Correctional Tier 2 is 1.85%, and the final average salary is an average of the five highest years.

Here is an example: $50,000 x 1.85% x 20 = $18,500 annual benefit.

Sarah LaFrenz
Sarah LaFrenz

Correctional officers hired after January 2015 at KJCC participate in the Tier 3 cash balance retirement system. Tier 3 is not a full pension plan but a hybrid-style retirement plan in which public employees and their employers contribute money each paycheck to KPERS, who invests the money.

Public employees earn credits that grow as time does. KPERS pays a monthly benefit at retirement based on the account balance and credits earned. As KPERS notes, someone who works 30 years in public service will only see a 27% replacement rate of their final pay in retirement if participating in Tier 3.

With KP&F benefits, correctional officers would contribute 7.15% of their paycheck to the plan, vest after 15 years of service and be based on: final average salary, multiplier and years of service. The final average salary would be an average of the three highest of the last five years, and the multiplier would be 2.5%.

Micheal Scribner
Micheal Scribner

Here is an example from KPERS, which administers KP&F: $50,000 x 2.5% x 20 = $25,000 annual benefit.

As you can see, this enhanced benefit would provide correctional officers better retirement security, while encouraging retention and bettering recruitment in our correctional facilities. Both are essential steps in solving the many issues our correctional officers face.

We encourage state lawmakers to take up this critical proposal this year.

Sarah LaFrenz is the president of the Kansas Organization of State Employees, and Michael Scribner is the president of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters Local 696.

This article originally appeared on Topeka Capital-Journal: Kansas needs to address benefits for overworked correctional officers