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$5 MILLION IN RAISES SOUGHT FOR CORRECTIONS OFFICERS

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The prison's walls hide some of society's worst criminals from the view and consciousness of ordinary citizens. But those same protective walls and razor wire also obscure the law enforcement officers who work inside.

Those officers are paid less than any other police agency on the Wasatch Front, and they say they often feel forgotten in the talk of better compensation for the cops who risk their lives for the protection of the public.Monday afternoon Rep. Steve Barth, D-Salt Lake, proposed recommending raises for corrections officers that would cost almost $5 million. He said no one asked him to go to bat for the officers.

"I knew that there was a need there," Barth said. "There's been a lot of talk of some extra raises for some people who've been neglected in the past. I think they deserve some catch up - as much as the highway patrolmen do."

Barth was referring to efforts made by Utah's Highway Patrol troopers to raise their pay to that of their counterparts in other states. They make slightly less than $11 an hour to start. Corrections officers start at slightly less than $9 an hour.

Gov. Mike Leavitt recommended officers in both agencies get 8 percent pay boosts. Leavitt also proposed giving each agency $1 million that would supplement officers' pay. That million would be shared among 429 troopers.

That same amount of money must be shared among about 1,400 corrections officers - which means the raise per person would be a lot smaller.

For the past three years, increasing salaries has been on the top of Corrections Director Lane McCotter's legislative priority list. And while the officers' pay has inched up, they're still 11 percent lower than all other law enforcement agencies.

Barth proposed the committee for executive officer, courts, corrections and legislature appropriations recommend the Executive Appropriations Committee find an additional $4.9 million for the Department of Corrections officers.

The extra money means corrections officers' pay would equal the troopers'.

Without the infusion, Barth said, "the Department of Corrections will fall further behind, and they're just as deserving."

Sen. Brent Richards, R-Riverton, spoke in favor of the motion, saying that while the price looks hefty it would, "save us money in the long run by reducing turnover."

The motion passed unanimously and the matter will now be decided by the Executive Appropriations committee, which makes final decisions on where tax dollars are spent.

Barth knows there's stiff competition for the state's money but believes the Legislature will find the cash needed for the pay raise.

"I think the issue is strong enough," Barth said. "They deserve it. In fact, they need it. I think we'll come through for them."