DEER LODGE — In what some are calling a historic day, corrections officers are seeing a pay raise of as much as 45 percent, which they hope will increase retention and morale at the Montana State Prison.
“When they hit the money, it changes the whole atmosphere in the corrections facility and it makes it safer and people want to come to work; they’re not disgruntled,” said Corrections Officer Capt. Howard Wigert.
Gov. Greg Gianforte signed House Bill 3 at a roundtable discussion at the prison on March 15 which gives corrections officers an extra $2 per hour raise at Montana State Prison and a $3 raise to officers at the Montana Women’s Prison and Pine Hills Correctional facility.
Taken with two other bills, officers’ starting wages will increase from $16.46 per hour to $24.01 per hour by 2024.
“These officers have a really, really tough job. They see the worst of the worst, so for them to see the governor come out here numerous times and to sign the bill out here just means the world to all of us,” said Dept. of Corrections Director Brian Gootkin.
Wigert started at the prison 37 years ago and made just over $5 an hour. He said this pay raise will help retain experienced officers.
“It's great that you have people who know what to do, know what's going on, but you have to build the people to get to that point, so that when we do leave, myself and others, we leave good people behind us,” said Wigert.
The governor assured staff during the roundtable discussion that he plans to invest $200 million on much-needed upgrades to the prison.
“We’ve been kicking the can down the road for way too long. It’s time we have a safe environment both for the inmates and corrections officers,” said Gianforte.
The Montana Federation of Public Employees which represents correctional officers praised the spirit of cooperation with the administration on getting the pay raises.
“We’ve been plugging away for years to get them people up to what we believe is a livable wage for them that makes them competitive, especially with county detention centers,” said Larry Nielsen with the public employees union.
The pay raises will affect 427 corrections officers.