Gov. Matt Bevin on Thursday announced that most of Kentucky’s 460 Department of Juvenile Justice employees will get big pay raises in April.
Salaries for new employees will jump by 20 percent, with “commensurate bumps” for existing employees whose pay falls under the newly boosted levels, Bevin said at a news conference at the Fayette County Detention Center.
It will cost the state about $2 million a year to raise the salaries of about 420 youth workers, Bevin said, but the move could save the state money over time because the department spends a lot to train new employees who leave a few months later, feeling stressed and unappreciated. The $2 million comes from efficiencies found around state government, he added.
During 2016, the department hired 151 people while losing 180, Justice and Public Safety Secretary John Tilley said.
“It’s crushing to our operation here to deal with that kind of turnover,” Tilley said. “In the private sector, that’s unheard of.”
The department operates 10 youth development centers around the state for minors convicted as youthful offenders or committed to the state’s custody as public offenders, with a total of 440 beds. It also runs eight detention centers that hold minors who await trial, with a total of 356 beds, and it contracts with Jefferson County to provide youth detention services in Louisville.
Salaries in the department currently range from about $23,000 to $31,000. Like most state employees, the youth workers have seen few if any pay raises in recent years because of state budget cuts.
News of the forthcoming raises was welcomed by a dozen youth workers watching the governor’s announcement.
“It’s awesome across the board. Not just for my family, but for the residents here,” said Joset Irvine, 44, who started six months ago as a youth worker at the Fayette County Detention Center. “The high turnover rate affects the residents as well, because once they get attached to you and you leave, it feels like you have left them.”
Youth workers at the detention center sometimes offer children from troubled families the first words of encouragement they’ve heard in a long time, Irvine said.
“It’s hard to leave sometimes, because the kids want you to stay over — to stay with them until bedtime,” she said.
Bevin previously has provided pay raises to select groups of state employees, including social workers, state police and about 2,600 people in the Transportation Cabinet. More salary boosts may be coming as funds are secured, Bevin said Thursday.