TOPEKA, (KSNT) — Short-staffed Kansas correctional facilities are pointing to salary and wage issues, making it hard to retain and recruit workers.

Kansas lawmakers in the House Transportation and Public Safety Budget committee, held their first round of hearings on the issue on Wednesday.

Some of the people that testified emphasized that the wages and salary issues are a direct link to some of the staffing shortages in state prisons. Amy Gaura, a parole officer for the Kansas Department of Corrections, said that the money some workers are getting paid isn’t adding up to the level of work they’re putting in.

“There have been many staff that have quit just over the last year in part due to pay issues,” Guara said. “We have had trouble recruiting and hiring new staff because they have backed out of job interviews because they find out what the wages are.”

During the meeting, Guara said about 31 staff retired over the last year. She said only six retired, while the rest resigned.

Corrections agencies in Kansas are just one of many industries that are experiencing critical understaffing during the pandemic. According to testimony from Sarah LaFrenz, president of the Kansas Organization of State Employees, correctional facilities are among those that have been hit the hardest, since they have to operate 24/7, 365 days a year.

“Workers at these 24/7 facilities are exhausted—not only because they have challenging jobs, but also because they have been stretched thin with mandatory overtime to cover the increasing staff vacancy rates and working at close quarters in congregate settings as essential workers during the COVID-19 pandemic.”

SARAH LAFRENZ, PRESIDENT OF KANSAS ORGANIZATION OF STATE EMPLOYEES (KOSE)

During Wednesday’s hearing, presentations from the Kansas Department of Corrections showed that the staffing shortages have already required modified facility operations, with more adjustments to come.

According to the department, in adult facilities, there are 466 uniformed vacancies and 157 additional people on extended leave due to coronavirus illness; some are new hires that cannot fill a post.

Over the past year, there’s been an average decline of 28 staff per month.

Kansas Governor Laura Kelly’s budget recommendation pushes for a 5% salary increase for all employees, who, according to the department, have only had three pay increases in the last 10 years.

The Republican-led Legislature will need to decide whether that’s something they plan to sign off on when they approve a final budget before the end of the session.

View the full hearing in the House Transportation and Public Safety Budget committee online.