CLAYTON, Mo. – A violent attack at the St. Louis County Justice Center had officers threatening to leave an already strained workforce. Just one month later, officers are lining up to work there.
More than 40 people have applied to become corrections officers after the announcement of $3 more per hour. St. Louis County is now competitive with other area jails.
“They finally did something. I’m very grateful for that,” said corrections officer Martha Wheat.
Wheat says the recently announced pay raise kept her from leaving.
“I was on the verge,” she said. “It was kind of scary around here.”
Like the Nov. 10 attack of a 29-year-old corrections officer who was jumped by an inmate. The victim’s mother, Melba Willis, told FOX 2 at the time that her daughter’s eyes were swollen shut.
Family told us she was the only officer in charge of an area with 72 inmates. Missouri State Representative Kimberly Ann Collins said low jail staffing allowed the beating to continue. She said the beating didn’t stop, “…after three hits, but 20 to 30 times, and it took for another inmate to push that inmate off.”
Scott Anders, director of St. Louis County’s Department of Justice Services, said help is on the way.
Anders has been fighting for pay raises and says inmates are jailed now for increasingly violent crimes.
“Two-thirds in jail here now are here on gun and crimes of violence, and so the level of risk is higher,” he said. “It’s important that we’re paying appropriate pay.”
St. Louis County Corrections officer starting pay is increasing from $37,752 to $43,992 per year.
Compare that to St. Charles County’s starting pay of $39,467 per year and St. Clair County, Illinois, which pays $45,425 per year. Only St. Louis City drags behind in the region now, with a starting yearly salary of $33,200.
Officer Wheat came from working at the St. Louis jail three years ago. Rather than leaving St. Louis County, she plans on staying because she says more money means more staff.
“It’s great. We have two officers in the unit right now, so it makes you feel a lot more comfortable than you being in there by yourself,” she said.
The Justice Center also recently acquired tablets for inmates. They’re a lot like iPads but without a connection to the internet. They help inmates stay in touch with family. Director Anders says they are another important piece of keeping everyone safe.
St. Louis County is holding a job fair on Dec. 16-17 where you can also apply for an apprenticeship program that comes with a $500 bonus.