Tennessee is giving Department of Correction security staff pay raises and increasing starting pay for correctional officers, effective Thursday, Gov. Bill Lee announced.

Starting pay for correctional officers will jump 37%, from $32,524 annually to $44,500, and security staff will receive at least a 15% increase to combat staffing challenges, Lee said.

Former TDOC Commissioner Tony Parker said during recent budget discussions his department was struggling to hire and retain staff based on not having competitive salaries.

Parker, who has since retired, asked to bump starting pay to $37,654 and second-year pay to $39,541, starting next year, but said he wasn’t sure whether that would be enough. Parker's proposed increase would have required a $15.9 million annual budget increase.

"This pay raise will be included in the [fiscal year 2022-23] budget proposal, which will be delivered early next year," said Casey Black, press secretary for Lee. "Correctional officers are being recruited now to address urgent staffing needs and ensure public safety."

The TDOC and the governor’s office did not respond to questions about the total budget increase, the number of staff who will receive pay increases and how those increases will be paid for this fiscal year.

“As we face staffing shortages across the country, rewarding officers with competitive pay will ensure we recruit and retain the most highly qualified individuals in our workforce,” Lee said. “These Tennesseans play a crucial role in ensuring public safety and we remain committed to valuing their important work.”

The TDOC had 1,075 vacant positions as of Oct. 1, a number that steadily has increased since mid-2018, when it had 480 vacancies.

Tennessee ranked in the middle of the pack of nine surrounding states in an October comparison of starting pay for corrections officers. The top starting pay in the comparison was Virginia at $37,439, and the lowest was Kentucky at $30,000.

“The men and women who work in facilities across Tennessee are dedicated public servants,” interim TDOC Commissioner Lisa Helton said. “This salary increase makes our agency more competitive in attracting new talent and is a well-deserved raise for those currently serving our state.”

The TDOC will continue to offer a $5,000 starting bonus, along with full insurance coverage and benefits, paid holidays, tuition reimbursement options and holiday and overtime pay.

“This is great news not only for the deserving workers who receive the pay raise and their families, but for the safety of all Tennesseans,” said Sen. Ken Yager, R-Kingston, who has advocated for higher pay for correction officers. “These positions are extremely important to operations in our prisons and are some of the most challenging and dangerous jobs in state government.

"Governor Lee’s action to increase salaries is critical in keeping our veteran officers on the job whose valuable experience helps to make our prisons safe. The increase in salaries will benefit many correctional officers and help alleviate the problem Tennessee has experienced in filling and keeping correctional officers in a very competitive labor market.”