Public Policy
  Analysis, opinion & ideas from Steve Harry



Corrections officers "underappreciated"

May 13, 2017


On May 8, the Lansing State Journal had a story about the Fallen Officers Memorial outside the offices of the Michigan Corrections Organization at 421 W. Kalamazoo St. in Lansing. It says that "thirteen Michigan prison employees have died [in the line of duty] in the century-plus [124 years] history of state-run prisons." Two of the deaths were accidental, the result of an explosion. The other 11 employees were killed by inmates, but the Fallen Officers Memorial commemorates only the four who were corrections officers. The others were a warden, a deputy warden, a physician, a chief inspector, an assistant athletic director, a civilian prison worker and a food service supervisor.


The Michigan Corrections Officers Memorial at 421 W. Kalamazoo St. in Lansing


Any line-of-duty death is tragic, but four corrections officers killed by inmates in 124 years does not seem bad. The department currently has about 6000 corrections officers. (source) I suspect the homicide rate is higher for bank tellers and convenience store clerks. Four deaths hardly justifies the monument. The two killed in an explosion were corrections officers killed in the line of duty - that is, while at work - but the MCO apparently did not think an accidental death would generate enough public notice to justify carving the name in stone.


And make no mistake about it, the purpose of the monument is an attempt - a lame attempt - at gaining public support for corrections officers so the Legislature will make sure they are well compensated. It has the same function as the elaborate funerals for police and firefighters.


The day before the article about the Fallen Officers Memorial, this full-page ad appeared in the Lansing State Journal:



The ad says correctional officers are "underappreciated," but doesn't elaborate. Apparently it did not mean they were underpaid. Here's what the four of the Officer of the Year finalists received in the last 3 years:






Cary Johnson




John Klapish




Carolyn Holden




Phil Allen





Wage information comes Michigan government salaries database on the website of the Mackinac Center. I could not find Sherlyn Wilson's.


Corrections employees can retire at age 51 with 25 years of service. (source) The beginning pension is calculated as 2.0 percent times FAC (average of the highest three consecutive years of compensation) times years of service, but it drops to 1.5 percent times FAC times years of service at age 62, when a reduced social security benefit may be received. (source) So if your FAC is $60,000, your starting pension is $30,000 and it drops to $22,500 at age 62. This applies only to employees in the defined benefit plan, and to be in that plan you would have had to be hired before March 31, 1997.


Defined benefit retirees also get health, prescription drug, dental, and vision insurance. (source)


Minimum qualifications for a job as a corrections officer are as follows:

  1. At least 18 years of age and a high school diploma or General Educational Development (G.E.D.) certificate. 

  2. An educational background that includes at least 15 semester or 23 term college credit hours in Corrections, Criminal Justice, Psychology, Sociology, Educational Psychology, Family Relations, Guidance and Counseling, Pastoral Counseling, Social Work or Law Enforcement; or 30 semester (or 45 term) college credits in any academic or degree prerequisite area; or any bachelor's degree; or two years of satisfactory Corrections Officer employment at the state or federal level. 

  3. No felony or domestic violence convictions. Consideration cannot be given to an applicant who is on misdemeanor probation, has outstanding warrants, has a personal protection order against them, or has a controlled substance (drug) related conviction in any jurisdiction, including drug-related military discharges.

Hourly starting pay is $16.65 and progresses to $25.50. (source) At this time, there are 566 open officer positions in the Department of Corrections. (source) $16.65 per hour is $34,632 a year, not much more than the $30,000 pension a 51 year old retiree with a $60,000 FAC would get. If Corrections is having trouble attracting recruits, I'd suggest eliminating any post-employment benefits - matching contributions to their 401k, health insurance - and using the savings to increase starting pay. In other words, incentivize taking the job rather than leaving it.


I leave you with the Correctional Officer's Prayer, which is chiseled in stone on the Corrections Officers Memorial:



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