Tennessee prisons chief: $5,000 sign on bonus aims to hike applicant numbers, improve quality

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Department also offering $4,000 retention bonus

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WJHL) – Northeast Correctional Center in Mountain City and other prisons statewide are looking for more than a few good men and women to work on the inside — and they’re dangling a $5,000 bonus to try and help lure them.

“Finding qualified people to work these days is very difficult,” Tennessee Department of Correction (TDOC) Commissioner Tony Parker told News Channel 11 this week.

Like many employers, TDOC faces staffing challenges — but the department hopes the bonus will set it apart in the competition for good help.

“We feel like that it will put us in the ring with some other industries out there that’s looking for good people,” Parker said.

A large increase in base pay for COs went in place several years ago and stemmed high turnover rates, but the $32,500 starting salary hasn’t led to a satisfactory number of new applicants.

Parker hopes a $5,000 sign-on bonus will change that — and that a $4,000 retention bonus for existing COs will drive turnover even lower.

“We’re very hopeful it’s a step in the right direction,” Parker said. He said when an industry called him looking to recruit from freshly released former inmates that told him all he needed to know about the current labor market — as if 800-plus current CO vacancies statewide didn’t.

While the issue isn’t currently as severe at Northeast Correction Center in Mountain City, Parker said there are shortages there.

“They’ve had bumps in the road also but their numbers have not been as high a number of vacancies as we have in other facilities,” Parker said.

He said the department is looking to increase applicant quantity with the more important goal of improving CO quality.

“We’re not looking just to fill every position,” he said. “We want to make sure that we’re hiring the right people for corrections.”

He said that hasn’t always been the case the past several years.

“So we want to make a concerted effort to do that and I’ve asked it all of our wardens and associate Warden to sit on interview boards. to make sure that we are doing the best job we can do with hiring the right individual to work in the corrections environment.”

Parker said the “challenging, stressful work” is not for everyone. But he said those who stick it out for at least a year tend to have a much higher long-term retention rate.

New employees will get $1,000 pretty much off the bat. At the six-month mark, after they’ve completed the academy, they’ll get another $1,500. The final $2,500 will come after 18 months of tenure.

TDOC spokesman Robert Reburn said all current COs are in line for the $4,000 retention bonus, but when that will be paid out hasn’t yet been determined.

Anyone employed by TDOC who refers a new employee that sticks will also get a $1,000 referral bonus.

“We’re very hopeful that this will help us in the long run with retention and recruitment,” Parker said.

Information on TDOC jobs is here:

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