When I was younger my dad always said, “Kristi, we don’t complain about things. We fix them.” As Governor, I focus on fixing problems for our state every day, especially when it comes to public safety. I consistently look for new ways to make our communities safer.
I meet regularly with both Secretary Kellie Wasko in the Department of Corrections and Secretary Craig Price in the Department of Public Safety to plan how to continue improving safety in both our prisons and our entire state. Those meetings have paid off in a big way, with two big announcements for our law enforcement officers. In the last week, I was able to approve significant pay increases for security staff in our prisons and our highway patrol troopers out on the roads.
These raises are an investment in public safety for our communities. They will help us to retain the excellent officers that we already have and recruit new officers eager to give back to their communities by protecting their safety every day.
I won’t sugarcoat it: staffing has been a challenge, particularly in our state prisons. The security officers who work in our corrections facilities and the law enforcement officers in the Highway Patrol deserve the same opportunities as all other employees: to take vacations, spend adequate time with their families, and avoid burnout and unnecessary work-related stress. That hasn’t always been the case for a correctional officer at their post or a trooper out on the road. They often miss birthdays, weddings, or baseball games on extended shifts or mandatory overtime. I’m hopeful that these pay increases will help recruit new staff, which will help improve the work/life balance for current employees, too.
There are more challenges left to take on. Many of our prisons need to be renovated, expanded, or completely replaced. This might not be particularly exciting, but new prisons are safer prisons, which will lead to safer communities. New facilities will help us take on these challenges, and I look forward to working with the legislature to accomplish it.
These new facilities will also help us to focus on rehabilitation, assist and counsel inmates struggling with chemical dependency, and improve educational programs so they can leave prison as more productive members of society. Most inmates will someday be back in their communities, so these services are critical. We need more staff – and to improve morale – to accomplish those goals safely and effectively, and we need facilities that are equipped to achieve these goals.
I want you to watch your kids and grandkids grow up in the freest state in America knowing that they will be safe in their communities. I know we haven’t “fixed it” yet (as I would tell my dad), but with these pay increases, we are one step closer to getting it done.