Academic journal article Public Personnel Management

The Georgia Department of Corrections: An Exploratory Reflection on Correctional Officer Turnover and Its Correlates

Academic journal article Public Personnel Management

The Georgia Department of Corrections: An Exploratory Reflection on Correctional Officer Turnover and Its Correlates

Article excerpt


In recent years, strategic workforce planning has played an increasing role in human resource related activities of many state public agencies in Georgia. The GDC is no exception. The GDC's strategic workforce objectives are aimed at anticipating potential gaps in employee competencies, diversity and staffing, which if unchecked, could potentially create work challenges for the GDC. The GDC has long recognized such work challenges, especially correctional officer turnover, and the consequent costs associated with it.

A recent strategic workforce planning report of the GDC noted that in fiscal year 2004, the turnover rate for correctional officers was approximately 20.45 percent, which was higher than the turnover rates for the entire GDC, which totaled 17.25 percent. Similarly, the Texas prison system--the Texas Department of Criminal Justice--indicated that in the four years preceding 2002, their security force attrition rates had exceeded 20 percent. (1) McShane, et al. (2) reported that turnover rates vary in prisons all across the country, from less than one percent annually in one state to 45 percent in others, and that the average rate for all states was approximately 17 percent.

Not only is the turnover rate for correctional officers high, but both the direct and indirect costs (3) associated with correctional officer turnover accounts for more than 50 percent of GDC's costs attributed to its employee turnover. This is based on GDC's strategic workforce report for fiscal year 2004. Ramlall (4) reported that costs for an exempt employee range from a minimum of one years' pay and benefits to a maximum of two years' pay and benefits. Below is the 2003 turnover and salary (direct cost) data for correctional officers of the GDC.

In response, the GDC has moved proactively in controlling turnover by gathering information on why correctional officers leave the agency voluntarily. The GDC gathers real-time information/data via the organizational Intranet on reasons why correctional officers leave. Elaborate exit interviews are used in this effort. However, exit interviews do have problems--one of which is whether all the correctional officers will report their true reasons for leaving or if the exit interviews will actually capture the information meaningfully. (5) In addition, management practitioners have also raised concerns about the reliability and validity of exit interviews. (6) Based on this, research surveys whose reliability and validity can be determined do a better job of capturing reasons why correctional officers leave the agency, especially while the officers are still employed. This contrasts with exit interviews, which capture comparable data after the officers have made the decision to leave. Nonetheless, research surveys can be quite expensive to conduct. Therefore, the agency must take time to think through the entire process before gathering the data. In this case, the data collected was not only important from a research perspective but also essential to the strategic workforce planning initiatives of the GDC.

The information gathered from exit interviews on correctional officers of this agency clearly illustrates two popular elements known for their association with turnover--organizational commitment and job satisfaction. The data gathered from the GDC Intranet information system indicates that the highest percentage of those who voluntarily left in 2003--42 percent--did so because of other job opportunities. Thirteen percent of those officers who voluntarily left indicated that they left the correctional agency because of job security, 11 percent indicated they left for leave availability, and 10 percent indicated they left for health insurance. Fourteen percent did not like the agency because of infrequent pay increases, while 13 percent felt their efforts were not well rewarded, and 12 percent felt their entry salary was too low. Sixteen percent of the respondents who voluntarily left concluded that better job offers influenced their decisions the most to leave. …

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